Orecchiette with pancetta and peas

A fast and fabulous, fork-friendly pasta sauce.


This is one of my favourite pasta standbys, not least because it’s very easy to keep everything on hand to make it. That it’s also sensational to eat – sweet peas, salty pancetta – doesn’t hurt, either.

If you were making orecchiette – “little ears” – by hand, you would put a small disc of pasta dough into the palm of one hand and twist it with the thumb of the other, producing a tiny bowl. Home-made or bought, it is the perfect fork-friendly pasta shape for this sauce and any pasta dressing with ingredients more substantial than a liquid.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and will repeat here, frozen peas are the way to go unless you have them growing outside your kitchen door and the time and patience to shell them. Put the peas in the colander you’ll be using to drain the pasta and run them under cold water for a few seconds, then set them aside to drain and let them defrost a little.

Orecchiette with pancetta and peas


Serves 2.

4 teaspoons butter, divided
1 shallot or small onion, halved and sliced
100g (4 oz) pancetta, cut into small batons or dice
200g (7 oz) orecchiette
150g (1 cup) peas
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
80ml (⅓ cup) dry white wine or white vermouth
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan, finely grated

Get plenty of lightly salted water boiling for the pasta. As is often the case, bringing the water to the boil takes more time than the rest of the recipe combined.

In a small saucepan, melt 2 teaspoons of butter over medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the shallot and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion takes on some colour.

Put your pasta on. It will take about 10 minutes (be guided by the pack, but start checking for doneness two minutes before the recommended time), which is enough time for the sauce to finish.

Stir the peas and parsley into the oniony pancetta and pour the wine in. Cover, turn the heat down and let it simmer away gently until the pasta is ready.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it – but not too well, as the water that clings to it will make for a better sauce. Transfer it to a roomy bowl.

Toss the pasta with the remaining 2 teaspoons of butter. Tip the sauce over and toss thoroughly, until everything is well mixed. Finish by adding the Parmesan and a good grinding of pepper, giving it a quick stir, just until the cheese has melted in. Serve straight away.