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Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Pickled Peas

Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Pickled Peas

Renée Robinson

Simple, Yet Thoroughly Satisfying Comfort Food

When it comes to frozen vegetables, there are only a couple I eat, but frozen baby peas are my favorite. I don’t get good fresh peas in my markets, no matter the time of year. They’re mealy and not nearly as good as the frozen ones. So, I always keep a bag in the freezer and this recipe is one of the ways I enjoy them.

I start off by cooking some sherry vinegar, a little sugar, and some salt in a large skillet. I let it cook to a syrupy consistency and then I add frozen peas, only letting them cook for a few minutes until they’re tender. After removing them from the skillet and adding black pepper, they sit in what’s left of the vinegar until I add them back into the finished dish.

Pickled Peas

The rest of the recipe is easy, too. You brown crumbled Italian sausage in the same skillet, add some sliced onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes and let it cook for a few minutes until the onion is softened and the sausage is fully cooked.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in as little water as possible. You want the pasta water to contain starch because you’ll use some of it for the sauce. I particularly like orecchiette in this recipe because the shape of those little ears perfectly holds the peas and sausage pieces. Drain the pasta, saving one cup of the water. Put the pasta back into the same pot and stir in the sausage mixture. Add the pecorino handful, by handful, stirring in enough reserved pasta water (I used almost 3/4 cup) in order to moisten the pasta and create a light sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt accordingly.

Serve the pasta topped with the pickled peas, Aleppo pepper, black pepper, additional pecorino, and chopped mint.

The peas add a bright and slightly sweet balance to the richness of the other elements. This is comfort food. No doubt about it.


Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Pickled Peas

Recipe by Renée Robinson

4 - 6


It only takes a few minutes to quickly pickle a bag of frozen peas. Adding them to the already delicious, but familiar pasta and Italian sausage takes this to a new level.

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  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for the pasta water

  • 10 ounces frozen baby peas

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 1 pound Italian sausage, mild, removed from the casing and crumbled

  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin

  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

  • 3/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

  • 1/2 cup/50 grams pecorino cheese, grated, plus more for topping

  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

  • Aleppo pepper

  • black pepper, freshly ground

  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta


  • In a 12 inch skillet, cook the sherry vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt over medium high heat until it gets syrupy - 3 to 4 minutes. Add the frozen peas, stir, and put the lid on the pan. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. The peas should taste lightly pickled. Add more vinegar or salt, if needed. Scrape all the contents (including any liquid) into a small bowl.
  • Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for cooking the pasta. Use as little water as possible, so that the water will contain starch from the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Place the pasta back into the pot in which it was cooked.
  • In the meantime, put the skillet back on the stove and heat at medium high. Add one tablespoon olive oil. Put the crumbled sausage into the hot skillet and let cook for a couple of minutes without stirring, until it starts to brown. Stir the sausage and let the other side brown. Add the onions, garlic, hot pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pan. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onions have softened and the sausage is fully cooked. This should only take 5 minutes or so.
  • Scrape the sausage and onions into the pot containing the pasta. Stir and add the pecorino, a little at a time, adding the reserved pasta water little by little until all the cheese is added and the pasta and sausage are coated in a light sauce. I used almost 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if necessary.
  • Place the pasta in a serving bowl, topping it with the reserved peas, a drizzle of olive oil, additional pecorino, a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper and black pepper, and the chopped mint. Enjoy!

24 Responses

  1. I already told you I loved this, but I thought you might like to see my attempt. Not as gorgeous as yours, but it couldn’t have been more delicious.

    1. Oh, I think you’ve done me proud here. Looking at this makes me wish I had that bowl right in front of me at this minute. Yeah, I’m hungry.

  2. Renee, you’ve done it again. Made this for dinner tonight, and my husband and I both loved it. I toned down the pepper for him, but other than that, made it just as written. This will be made again and again, as it has 3 of his favorite ingredients, peas, italian sausage, and oricchette. The mint at the end is delightful!

    1. Terrific, Jeanne! Yep, this is one of my favorites, too. So happy to hear you and your husband enjoyed it!!

  3. Can’t recommend this recipe highly enough… 5/5 stars!! From the pickled peas to the pecorino sauce to the Aleppo pepper to the fresh mint. Every ingredient sings and is a perfect compliment to each other. A simple and extremely satisfying dish!

    1. Gary, I’m so glad you made it and liked it! It’s so simple, isn’t it? And the leftovers held up really well, too. Thank you!

      1. So easy to make yet really different and good enough for company! This is a great recipe to have in the back pocket! Thank you!

  4. I have been remiss in not getting back to you after my initial comment to tell you that I made this wonderful recipe the other night, and it was a huge hit. Of course I loved the orecchiette and those cute little ears that grabbed all the good stuff – sausage, cheese and those peas. Speaking of those peas, so innovative and delicious. I want them on their own. Just a wonderful recipe that I know I will make often. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. I made this for dinner last night and everyone liked it. I had a few minor execution errors, entirely my fault, but the result was still delicious.

    The combination of flavors is amazing. The Romano blends nicely with the starchy water to coat and enhance everything without being too assertive. The peas work perfectly. Initially, I found the pickling to be quite subtle. The flavor is cumulative, though, and provided the perfect counterpoint. The mint just turned the dial to 11.

    Due to the spouse’s spice intolerance, I left out the pepper flakes and only put a light dusting of Aleppo pepper on hers – a ‘bit’ more for me. Next time, I’ll add maybe 1/4 tsp. pepper flakes. The heat is needed to complete the background flavors. This is definitely a dish that we will be having again and again.

    1. Well, Daryl, I couldn’t be happier to hear this! It’s an easy recipe to have in your back pocket, isn’t it? And it’s nice to be able to individually add spice per each person’s tolerance. Once again, I’m so happy you enjoyed it!

  6. You have my ear, Renée. How amazing does THIS sound! Tomorrow’s dinner sorted! Thank you!

  7. Pickled Peas….that’s such a great idea! I admit to tossing in some fried capers instead of adding salt….I turned around to tidy up, and the serving bowl was scraped clean….fortunately I had been given a portion or I’d have called shenanigans with my guests! This is such a quick yet delicious dinner…I paired it with a chaved Fennel and arugula salad and foccacia….terrific!!

    1. I love the addition of capers, Charles! Great idea and so happy you enjoyed it. Your other pairings were perfect, too. No surprise there. At all.

  8. Ok, the idea of pickled peas, and wondering how you made them, made me first look at this recipe. I drooled my way through it and was not disappointed at all – must get some Italian sausage and orrechiete (like you, I always have frozen peas in the freezer). I realized when I finished reading, that your other magical step was almost hidden at the end with the addition of mint as one of the finishing touches. Bravo! Will be trying this as soon as I can get the sausage and correct pasta!

    1. I’m really fond of this recipe. The peas are only lightly pickled – just enough to give them a little kick. It gives the rest of the dish a touch of brightness. And then the mint seals the deal. I really hope you get around to making this one, Elizabeth. Thank you!

      1. Tonight was the night – even after an afternoon slogging in the garden this was simple to make, and packed a wallop of flavour. It was hoovered up by all. I couldn’t get orecchiette so instead used a pasta that looked like darling little tea towels with ruffled edges. Sadly, the local mint crops have not made it to the market yet and the foreign mint at the supermarket was very sad, so I had to leave it out. Soon my own mint will be ready and I’ll be able to include it the next time we make this dish. Which we will!

        1. Elizabeth, I am never going to forget your “darling little tea towels with ruffled edges”. Lol!!! You are simply the best! I’m so happy to hear you all liked it. Including Carl? I’m assuming the answer is yes, seeing as it contained no cilantro.

          1. Carl’s eyebrows twitched when I mentioned how the peas were prepared (by the way, I have been reminded how much I LOVE sherry vinegar – isn’t it gorgeous!?) but he gobbled it up. We had the leftovers yesterday for lunch, which were just as scrumptious given a light fry up in a cast iron skillet. Very restorative on a blustery day working in the garden!

          2. “Carl’s eyebrows twitched”. OMG, Elizabeth!!! I’m so happy to hear they didn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of this dish. Lol!! I was amazed at how well it held up for leftovers. We ate this 3 times!

  9. This sounds so delicious! I can’t wait to make it. As a matter of fact, I just checked and have all the ingredients. Dinner tomorrow night. Thank you.

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