Orecchiette Pasta with Zucchini and Speck

Orecchiette pasta with Zucchini and Speck.

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck is a real tasty combination of summer vegetables, smoked cured ham from Northern Italy and fresh orecchiette pasta from Southern Italy. It’s easy to make and can be eaten tepid or cold as a pasta salad.

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

Orecchiette con zucchine e speck

Much like other cuisines around the world, traditional Italian recipes are very often seasonal.  This is because many were invented at a time when refrigeration wasn’t an option. Neither was buying the raw ingredients out of season or having access to ingredients imported from other parts of the country, let alone the world.  People ate what they could grow or purchase at local markets.

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

In the winter months, when there were no crops to pick, they made use of ingredients they had preserved in salt or oil or by smoking or drying etc. Despite the fact that today Italians can find non-local or even imported food in their supermarkets, the habit of using locally grown, seasonal ingredients is still second nature here.

The climate also very much dictates what Italians eat. In winter, food is heartier, sauces richer and quantities consumed greater because its colder, especially in the north! At the time of writing, summer vegetables and seafood hold court. It’s just too hot for those heavier meals!

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

I have been wanting to make orecchiette with broccoli rabe (the most traditional way to serve orecchiette) for a while, but I’m going to have to be patient. Broccoli rabe isn’t available now.  So, this recipe is for a more seasonal orecchiette dish. In other words, with ingredients that are in season now in summer.

After tomatoes and eggplants, I would say that zucchini are the Italians’ next favourite summer vegetable. Much more abundant in summer than winter, zucchini find their way into numerous dishes at this time of year, especially pasta recipes.

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

Christopher Columbus and Zucchini!

In English, zucchini are also known as summer squash or by the French word ‘courgette’. However, everyone seems to be familiar with the word zucchini. Rightfully so, because the zucchini most people eat in Europe and USA are originally Italian. In fact, when zucchini started to become popular around Europe, the French snubbed them for a long time!

The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash. Ancestors of zucchini had been eaten in South and Central America for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus, apparently, brought the first seeds to the Mediterranean region and Africa. But, the zucchini we all know and love were developed in Italy in 19th century!

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

Pasta with Zucchini recipes.

Zucchini are loved throughout Italy and used in pasta recipes in every region.  In Sicily, zucchini and mint are a popular pasta dressing combination, often eaten with spaghetti or penne. Whereas in Campania, spaghetti alla Nerano is a modern classic made with fried zucchini. In Puglia they like pasta with canned tuna, mint and zucchini or orecchiette with zucchini and mussels.  In Lombardy, they serve pasta with zucchini and saffron or zucchini and bresaola! The list is endless!

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

What is speck?

Recipes for pasta with zucchini and speck or pancetta are also popular in many parts of Italy. I decided to use speck which comes from the area in Northern Italy called the Alto Adige or Südtirol. Speck is one of the most well-known food produced in the Südtirol. It is a distinctly flavored, smoked, cured ham which is more robust than the delicate prosciutto made in San Daniele and Parma. A kind of cross between bacon and ham! I love it and so do most of the Italians, North and South. However, if you can’t find speck, you can also use pancetta in this recipe.

Buy speck in US?

For readers in US, I know that Italian speck from the South Tirol can be bought online from SupermarketItaly.com

Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck

I came across this recipe for orecchiette with zucchini and speck when searching Italian recipe sites for another good summer recipe for orecchiette (the one I made before with roasted tomatoes was a real winner). This sounded delicious and it was! Of course, it can be made with other types of pasta but having made it with orecchiette I don’t think I’d repeat it with a different pasta. The pairing was perfect!

If you do try this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon Appetito!

Some other delicious pasta recipes with zucchini.

  1. Pasta with zucchini flowers, saffron and ham
  2. Farfalle pasta with smoked salmon and zucchini
  3. Spaghetti with fried zucchini alla Nerano
  4. Pasta with saffron and zucchini

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orecchiette with zucchini and speck

5 from 18 votes
Orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck
Orecchiette pasta with Zucchini and Speck
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Total Time
1 hr

A delicious combination of summer vegetables, smoked cured ham from Northern Italy and orecchiette pasta from Southern Italy. It’s easy to make and can be eaten tepid or cold as a salad 

Course: Main Course, Salad
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 2-3 zucchini depending on size
  • 150 g speck or pancetta slices or in one piece
  • 320 g orecchiette pasta preferrably fresh
  • 1 onion
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes
  • 50 g parmesan grated
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 basil leaves
  • salt for cooking pasta and to season
  • black pepper to season
  1. Slice the onion thinly, cut the zucchini into small strips, half the tomatoes, chop the basil and cut the speck into small pieces.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or skillet and add the onion. When the onion starts to soften add the zucchini strips and, after a few minutes, the chopped speck. 

  3. Let the ingredients cook until the speck and zucchini start to brown a little then add the halved tomatoes and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes. 

  4. Before the sauce is ready, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped basil. Set the sauce aside or let it simmer on low.

  5. Cook the pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Save a cup of the pasta cooking water. Strain the orecchiette and add them to the frying pan. 

  6. Mix everything together and continue cooking for a couple minutes. If the sauce is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.

  7. Serve with grated parmesan or grana cheese and a little more olive oil is desired.

Recipe Notes

This dish can be eaten as a salad and is still delicious the next day if kept covered in the fridge. 

For readers in US, I know that Italian speck from the South Tirol can be bought online from SupermarketItaly.com

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  • Avatar
    Angela Greven | Mean Green Chef
    August 8, 2019 11:45 am

    This looks like a divine meal, love the addition of speck and this totally belongs on our menu! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Avatar
    Heather Behrends
    August 8, 2019 5:49 am

    I love how fresh and simple this dish is (and looks)! Your pictures really highlight the dish, and the flavor combination sounds heavenly!

  • Avatar
    August 7, 2019 8:46 pm

    I love, love, love all your pasta recipes. I learn something new everytime. My orecchiete recipe is very simple and my kids are happy with it, but I’d love to try your orecchiette pasta with zucchini for myself and my husband:).

  • Avatar
    Patrice Rutledge
    August 7, 2019 10:50 am

    Love orecchiette (all pasta, really)! Looks like a dish my family would really like. Enjoyed reading your story behind the dish too. Makes me miss Italy!

  • Avatar
    August 5, 2019 5:31 pm

    Your recipes teach me a new pasta variety every time. Thanks for this amazing recipe.

  • Avatar
    August 4, 2019 11:30 pm

    What a perfect summer recipe! I love that it can be eaten as a salad the day after, left overs have the best flavors!

  • Avatar
    Cathleen @ A Taste of Madness
    August 4, 2019 9:14 pm

    Anytime I saw pasta with speck in Italy, I would buy it. I loved that combo so much, so I would be all over this pasta!!

  • Avatar
    Jenni LeBaron
    August 4, 2019 4:54 am

    This pasta recipe looks delicious. I was unaware of what speck was so I’m glad to learn about the distinction to pancetta.

  • Avatar
    Vidya Narayan
    August 3, 2019 3:11 pm

    Jacqui, this looks amazing and what a riot of colours! I enjoyed reading the trivia about Columbus and Zucchini too!

  • Avatar
    August 3, 2019 2:25 pm

    Zucchini and speck – they go so well together. I remember mixing them in one of my rice meals, and they were amazing. I am sure this combo works well with pretty much anything – I will need to try the pasta.

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    August 2, 2019 11:07 pm

    This orecchiette pasta with zucchini and speck will be a crowd favorite all summer long.

  • Avatar
    August 2, 2019 8:34 pm

    This looks and sounds super delicious I Make a vegetarian version will definitely give this version a go!

  • Avatar
    Sara Welch
    August 2, 2019 6:58 pm

    What an amazing recipe! A restaurant worthy dish, indeed!

  • Avatar
    August 2, 2019 6:55 pm

    My favorite type of pasta. What I really like about it is that I can enjoy it as a hot main or refill myself with a bowl of cold salad during a hot summer day. So versatile.

  • Avatar
    August 2, 2019 6:46 pm

    I love all your pasta dishes. The colors of this recipe are so pretty.

  • Avatar
    Beth Neels
    August 2, 2019 6:26 pm

    I have everything I need to make this pasta in my garden and pantry except for the speck! Headed out to get some now, so that I can make this for dinner! Such a delicious recipe!

  • Avatar
    August 2, 2019 6:03 pm

    I loved reading about the history of this dish! It’s also great that this can be served warm or cold – yum!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    August 2, 2019 5:12 pm

    This is a beautiful summer dish. So easy and flavorful. I love zucchini in the summer months. Sometimes it is difficult to really understand what’s in season and not because it’s always available, so I can only imagine how it would be cooking before the refrigerators.

  • Avatar
    May 6, 2018 4:23 am

    We had this for dinner tonight (with pancetta). Everyone loved it!

    • admin
      May 7, 2018 7:24 am

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m thrilled you tried and loved this recipe. I hope you’ll find some other inspiring recipes to try as well! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

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