This Orecchiette with Chickpeas Spinach and Feta is a simple and quick dinner that tastes incredible! In the time it takes to boil the pasta, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients and have dinner on the table in a flash.
Vegetarian | Vegan Options | Gluten Free Options
Once the ease of summer has passed and shorter days seem busier, I start breaking out my easiest and quickest dinner ideas. This orecchiette is one that I love. Orecchiette, or little ears, is a small round pasta, popular in Southern Italy. Its shape perfectly cradles the chickpeas and cubes of feta, making the most of every bite!
This simple recipe is so adaptable. Use your favorite pasta, try using broccoli rabe or arugula for the spinach, add a splash, or more, of white wine or throw in a few spoonfuls of capers or sun dried tomatoes.
How to Cook Perfect Pasta
As simple as it is to cook pasta, there are a few basic tips that yield the best results…
Use plenty of water when cooking. For every pound of pasta, use four to five quarts of water. This gives the pasta room to cook without clumping and sticking together.
Salt the cooking water generously. As the pasta cooks, it absorbs the water. If the water tastes like nothing…so will the pasta. This is the best time to season your pasta all the way through. Use between one and one and a half tablespoons of coarse sea salt for every four quarts of water and one pound of pasta.
Bring the water to a rapid boil before adding the pasta. This will help begin cooking the pasta quickly so that it doesn’t end up mushy. Be sure to return the water to a rapid boil after adding the pasta. Keep your burner on high heat the whole time.
Stir, stir, stir. Stirring frequently, will prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot or to each other. This is especially important during the first few minutes of cooking when lots of the starches are just beginning to release.
Always keep a cup of the pasta water. The cooking water, especially at the last minute of cooking, is full of starches that can really make a perfect sauce. In recipes like this one, the pasta water creates the sauce, but it’s wonderful to have on hand with thicker sauces too. You can always add some pasta water to create a smoother sauce. I grab a heat safe measuring cup and dip it into the pot just before draining. It’s great to have just in case you need it.
Follow the suggested cooking time…well…sort of. Use the cooking time on the pasta package as a guide, but begin testing the pasta during the last two minutes or so. Pasta should be cooked through, but still, have a bite to it…hence, al dente.
Drain your pasta quickly. As soon as the pasta is done, quickly drain it into a colander just until you’ve removed the water and immediately pour it into your sauce. To get the flavors to really meld together, cook the pasta in the sauce for a minute or two. And…unless you’re making pasta salad…never rinse your pasta. The starches on the outside of the pasta help the sauce to adhere to it, making it the perfect pasta.
- 1 pound package Orecchiette
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- pinch or two red pepper flakes
- 15 ounce can (1½ cups cooked) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3 cups (or 3 to 4 large handfuls) fresh baby spinach
- 4 - 6 ounces feta cheese, cubed and crumbled a bit
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- lemon zest, fresh basil, red pepper flakes and coarse salt for serving
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt. Add the orecchiette, stirring gently and return to a boil. Cook the pasta, stirring frequently, for about 12 to 15 minutes, testing for doneness during the last two to three minutes. Just before draining, remove 1 cup of pasta water using a heat safe measuring cup. Set it aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for just a minute or so, just before the garlic begins to become golden. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper. Add the chickpeas and toss to coat. Cook the chickpeas for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the spinach, and toss until it begins to wilt.
- As soon as the pasta is done, drain it quickly in a colander just until drained. Immediately pour the pasta into the sauté pan and toss to coat. Add a ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Allow the pasta to cook in the sauce for a minute or two.
- Remove from the heat, add the feta cheese, lemon juice and toss. Top with some lemon zest, basil and red pepper flakes, if desired, for serving.
- As the pasta sits, you may want to add more of the pasta water. Keep it on hand for reheating, as well!
To make this vegan, either omit the feta cheese completely, replace it with vegan cheese or use a generous sprinkling of nutritional yeast.
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