Orecchiette with Sausage & Grapes

26th April, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in easy, pasta

I was describing this dish to a friend the other day, explaining that, yes, grapes and Italian sausages really do work wonderfully together, and found myself getting hungry for it. I knew what was going to be for dinner!

The sweet, slightly tart grapes really enhance the flavors of the sausage, and add a wonderful textural element to the dish. It’s a fairly quick dish to put together, especially if all the preparation is done prior to turning on the gas.

To my palate, sweet sausage, adding in some heat by toasting red pepper flakes in the oil, offers a better balance of flavors than using hot sausage, and brings more life to the party. The orecchiette (little ears) pasta is a perfect vehicle for the sauce, and makes a lovely presentation. The yellow bells add wonderful flavor – red or orange will do just as well. It’s a great dish for a spring supper, and the kids will love the grapes!

Ingredients – Serves Four

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small onion, diced about 1cm
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, cut into small strips, about 1cm wide, 2cm long
  • 0.25 tsp red chili flakes – more if you like it spicy!
  • Splash of dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 4 Tbsp (2floz) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 pound red seedless grapes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dry orecchiette pasta
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you can’t get the Pecorino)

Method – About 45 Minutes

Cook the sausage…

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the sausage, browning on all sides, about 8 minutes. Don’t overwork the sausages while they’re cooking, but give the little bites a chance to form a crust and begin to caramelize. Add the chili flakes, onions and bell pepper, cooking until done and richly colored, about 5 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry vermouth or dry white wine, scraping the pan and dissolving the wonderful fond that’s formed during the cooking of the sausage and peppers. Take a moment to enjoy the explosion of aroma that rises from the pan!

Add the balsamico, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook gently until nicely reduced. Add a little salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

While the sauce is cooking

Put a pot of water on to boil, with 2tsp salt, and cook the pasta accordingly until al dente.

Finish it up!

When the pasta is done, add the grapes to the sauce, tossing gently to warm them through. Don’t overcook them, or they’ll lose their wonderful color and delightful texture. You want a little pop left in the skins! Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan, tossing to combine.


Put the finished pasta in a large bowl. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and freshly grated Pecorino Romano. Serve with extra cheese at the table. Enjoy!

Serve with a simple salad of spring greens with a light vinaigrette. A bottle of a Rhône style red is a perfect accompaniment, or be bold and daring, and serve with a chilled, crisp, slightly off-dry Riesling.


If you can’t find orecchiette locally, substitute farfalle or campanelli. Then, order some orecchiette! It’s a wonderful pasta to explore.

For variety, I like to use sun dried tomatoes, adding them with the peppers and onions. The oil-preserved ones are my faves, but the dry ones, steeped to soften in hot water for 20-30 minutes before using, are almost as good.

Green seedless grapes are also delicious, but they don’t look as pretty!

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