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Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Eat Your FoodFamily-FriendlyQuick and EasyItalian SausageKale

This Sausage and Kale Orecchiette is a great weeknight meal. It uses just a few ingredients and can be made quickly. Great for kids, too!

Photography Credit: Nick Evans

By my rough calculations, my kids are 1/8 Italian. My grandmother on my mom’s side was off-the-boat Italian, and it has been diluted ever since. That means that my kids are guaranteed to eat at least 1/8 of any pasta dish I put in front of them, even if it has kale in it!

This Sausage and Kale Orecchiette is a great beginner pasta dish. It has just a few ingredients, with the pasta water itself playing a star role. (Yes!) It also comes together quickly and will make you feel like a cooking rockstar even on a tired Wednesday.

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale

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  • Orecchiette: I like this pasta shape for this dish. The “little ears” cook quickly and do a good job of holding onto the light sauce, but feel free to substitute farfalle, penne, or even orzo! 
  • Sausage: I recommend using an Italian sausage, either sweet or hot, for this recipe. (I prefer sweet if I’m feeding it to my kids and hot if I’m not.) You can use bulk sausage or sausage in the casing. If you buy the sausage in the casing, remove it before cooking the sausage. 
  • Greens: I really love kale in this dish (I like Tuscan), but Swiss chard would be a perfectly delicious substitute or even baby spinach in a pinch. If you can find a big bunch of kale, though, use it. 

Sausage and Kale with Pasta Dinner

Use the pasta water – it’s key!

The key to making this dish work is to season the pasta water well with salt and then use some of that water at the end when you are tossing all the ingredients together. (I like to use about a tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water.)

Pasta water is basically starchy water, so when you add it to a hot skillet with other ingredients, it’ll cling to those ingredients and form a light sauce over everything. If you leave this step out, you will notice it in the final dish. Dry pasta is the worst.


This pasta dish keeps really well for 5-6 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat it either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Either way, add a splash of water to it to bring it back to life while it reheats.

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale recipe

Eat Your Food - Dad AddTHE DAD ADD: Crispy Parmesan Breadcrumbs!

This is one of my go-to pasta toppers. Mix breadcrumbs and parmesan together in a small bowl, then add them to a skillet with some butter to form little crispy bits. So delicious!

Kids try pasta with kale and sausage

Eat Your Food - Kid Report v2REPORT CARD

The key to this dish, especially if you have younger, finicky eaters, is to give them small portions of the pasta and, most annoyingly, separate the ingredients.

Yes, I painstakingly separated the pasta, sausage, and kale in this dish and piled each on a plate for my kids. But you know what? THEY ATE IT. They even tried the kale. Sometimes a little extra work goes a long way!


Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings


  • 12 ounces orecchiette pasta
  • 14-16 ounces bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 large bunch purple or Tuscan kale, de-stemmed and leaves chopped
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup salted pasta water
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • Salt, to taste

For the Crispy Parmesan Breadcrumbs

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)


1 Make the crispy parmesan breadcrumbs: Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. In a small bowl, toss together breadcrumbs, parmesan, and red pepper flakes to avoid any huge parmesan clumps. Pour into skillet and stir to coat with butter. Cook for 3-4 minutes, tossing occasionally, until browned. Set aside until ready to eat.

2 Cook the pasta in salted water: Fill a large pot with water and set it over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt) per quart of water. The water should taste seasoned, but not seawater-salty. It’s important to get the salt level right in the water because we will be using it to finish the dish.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir it rapidly to separate the pasta, since orecchiette has a tendency to stick together. Cook until al dente, probably 9-11 minutes. Scoop out a cup of the pasta water (don't forget!), then drain and rinse the pasta to stop the cooking.

Orechiette pasta funny ears pasta

3 Cook the sausage: While the pasta cooks, add the Italian sausage in small chunks to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, letting the sausage render out fat, for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through.

At this point, there should be enough fat from the sausage in the skillet, but if your skillet is very dry, add a drizzle of olive oil before the next ingredients go in.

Brown sausage for Sausage and Kale Skillet Dinner recipe

4 Add kale, shallot, and garlic: Add the chopped kale, shallot, and garlic to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook for 2-3 minutes until kale is wilted.

Kale in pan for Sausage and Kale Skillet Dinner

5 Add cooked orecchiette and pasta water: Add the cooked orecchiette, 1/2 cup pasta water, and lemon juice to the skillet. Toss to combine and heat until the pasta water thickens to form a light sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add more pasta water.

Serve pasta in shallow bowls garnished with crispy breadcrumb topper.

Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale recipe

Store leftovers in the fridge for 5-6 days. Reheat in the microwave with a splash of water or over the stove in a skillet on medium-high heat.

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Nick Evans

Nick has been writing delicious recipes for the home cook for almost a decade. He lives in Denver, CO and embraces a delicate balance of diaper changing, trail running and beer drinking. His website is Macheesmo and his first book is Love Your Leftovers.

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2 Comments / Reviews

No ImageOrecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Tom Campbell

    Great recipe that’s easy and relatively quick to make! I used really good mild Italian sausage and drained the fat after cooking it though. I then added the remaining ingredients. I did not not put the water in from cooking the pasta and just can’t recommend it (enough starch already and my Italian grandmother would roll over in her grave!) but I did put chicken broth in as a replacement…yum! I did not make the crispy parmesan bread crumbs either as I added freshly grated Parmesan and Romano cheese on top at the end!


  2. Fran

    Easy to make and a hit with the family.


Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and KaleOrecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale