Orecchiette with Nduja and Eggplant (Aubergine)

Orecchiette with Nduja and Eggplant; recipe from Southern Italy.

If you like spicy pasta recipes then orecchiette with nduja and eggplant is one to try.  The tomatoes, nduja, eggplant and ricotta salata combine to make a dish that is full of rich, bold Southern Italian flavour.

Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

This orecchiette with nduja and eggplant may seem to be a Calabrian dish. After all, the spicy soft salami, known as nduja is typical of Calabria. In reality, this is a dish that contains the culinary traditions of three Southern Italian regions; obviously Calabria, but also Puglia where orecchiette originated. In addition, Basilicata, the small southern region between Calabria and Puglia, where orecchiette is also a traditional pasta type. As is the addition of spicy sausage and peperoncino to pasta and other dishes.

Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

So, what is nduja?

As I mentioned above, nduja is a spicy soft salami from Calabria. It’s produced with pork meat, a bit of fat, salt and a lot of peperoncino (Italian red chilli pepper).  Ndjua is one of the most well-known and exported of Calabrian foods. The word nduja comes from the French ‘andouille’, meaning sausage.

ingredients for Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

Calabrians eat nduja in frittata, on pizza, on bread or melted into a tomato based pasta sauce like in this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant recipe. However, in Calabria, the pasta is usually fileja. Neighbouring Basilicata is where you are more likely to find orecchiette with nduja.

pieces of eggplant with salt in colander

The pasta.

Although orecchiette, meaning little ears,  is originally from Puglia and traditional in Basilicata, it is a popular pasta throughout Italy. In the south, housewives still make it by hand. However, both fresh and dried orecchiette can be found everywhere in Italy.

eggplant pieces cooking in oil in pan

For this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant recipe, I used ready made fresh orecchiette from Giovanni Rana. You can use dried pasta instead, or even make your own. For more about the history of orecchiette pasta and how to make it click here.

fried eggplant pieces on kitchen paper

Eggplant, aubergine or melanzane!

Did you know that eggplants, or you may call them aubergines, are actually classified as a berry? The Arabs introduced them to Sicily in the Middle Ages. In Sicily and much of Southern Italy, they are used in many many dishes, including pasta recipes. In fact, here on the blog I have a number of other eggplant pasta recipes including  pasta parmigiana and pasta alla Norma.

uncooked cherry tomatoes, onions and nduja in frying pan

I usually have different types of eggplant available at my local supermarket or greengrocer’s; the very dark oval or long ones that most people know, oval zebra eggplants which have a striped skin and the lighter coloured rounder Sicilian variety. I used the latter for this orecchiette with nduja recipe. This type of eggplant has a dense white flesh and less seeds than the more common type. However , you can use whichever kind you prefer.

tomatoes, onions and nduja cooking in frying pan

Making this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant recipe.

As is typical in Southern Italian cuisine, tomatoes form the basis for the sauce in this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant recipe. You can use just tomato passata or make the sauce only with fresh tomatoes. I like to use fresh tomatoes and passata together. The tomato sauce for this dish is enriched with onions,  fried eggplant and nduja.

tomato and nduja sauce cooking in frying pan

You can, of course, cook the eggplant in the oven, but it will be less flavourful. However, it’s a good idea to use salt to degorge the eggplant pieces before frying them so they absorb less oil (see recipe for instructions).

sauce for orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

A little nduja goes a long way. So, it’s best to start with less if you don’t like very spicy food or have never used Nduja before. You can add more to the finished sauce or just add some peperoncino flakes if you prefer it spicier! Nduja has become very popular outside of Italy in recent years and can be bought in both Italian food stores and online.

Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

Let me know what you think.

My hubby is Sicilian so he loves this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant dish. He says the flavours make him feel nostalgic for his ‘homeland’!  Those of you who have been to Southern Italy, will know what he means. If you haven’t this, recipe will introduce you to the fabulous flavours that can be found in the Southern Italian kitchen!

Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

If you do try this orecchiette with nduja and eggplant 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 orecchiette recipes on The Pasta Project

  1. Orecchiette alla Barese with beef rolls.
  2. Pasta with Romanesco broccoli
  3. Orecchiette with speck and zucchini
  4. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe (rapini)

Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)

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5 from 22 votes
Orecchiette with Nduja and eggplant (aubergine)
Orecchiette with Nduja and Eggplant (Aubergine)
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
1 hr

This spicy nduja and eggplant pasta recipe is full of rich and bold typical Southern Italian flavours! Perfect for spicy food loving foodies!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Basilicata, Calabria, Italian, Puglia, Southern Italian
Keyword: aubergine, eggplant, nduja, orecchiette, pasta recipe, spicy, spicy sausage
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g orechiette (14oz) fresh, dried or homemade
  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 tbsp nduja
  • 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 250 g cherry tomatoes (9oz) cut in half
  • 300 g tomato passata (10oz) I prefer to use Cirio rustico which is chunkier
  • 50 g ricotta salata (2oz) grated
  • extra virgin olive oil as required
  • salt as required
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 handful fresh parsley chopped
  1. Cut the eggplants into small pieces , sprinkle with salt and let them purge in a colander for at least 30 minutes.

  2. While waiting for the eggplant, prepare the sauce. Peel and cut the onion finely and cook it in two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over a low heat. Then turn the heat up to medium and add the cherry tomatoes cut in half and a pinch of salt. Once the tomatoes have started to soften add the nduja.

  3. Continue to stir over a low heat until the nduja has melted. Then add the tomato passata. Stir and let the sauce simmer over a low heat for about 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Rinse the eggplant well and pat dry with a cloth. Fry the eggplant pieces in plenty of olive oil. Remove as soon as they start to brown , without cooking them completely. You can place them on some kitchen paper to drain some of the oil.

  5. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again. Cook the orecchiette al dente according to the instructions on the packet. Before draining save a little of the pasta cooking water.

  6. Add the eggplant pieces to the pan with the sauce and cook for another 5 minutes over a medium heat.

  7. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of grated ricotta salata and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley. Mix everything together then add the cooked orecchiette to the nduja and eggplant sauce. You can add some of the pasta cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. 

  8. Mix together well and serve immediately sprinkled with more cheese and parsley,

Recipe Notes

If you can't find orecchiette, this recipe is good  with other short pasta such as penne, casarecce or cavatelli.

I used ricotta salata but a semi-aged provola would be typical too. Otherwise i would suggest pecorino.

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orecchiette with nduja and eggplant

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  • Avatar
    February 12, 2019 9:57 pm

    Hearing Nduja for first time..I’m amazed to see different varieties of pasta here…and this one with eggplant and tomatoes looks delicious

  • Avatar
    February 11, 2019 4:59 am

    I was thinking of making something with nduja for a long time now but I guess I just couldn’t find a good recipe to go with it… until now! The combination of nduja, tomatoes and eggplant must be so good and create so much flavor! Definitely something I need to put my hands on this week.

    • Jacqui
      February 11, 2019 4:21 pm

      I’m happy you’re planning to make this nduja pasta recipe Mimi! I’m sure you’re going to love it!

  • Avatar
    February 11, 2019 4:56 am

    I haven’t made a lot of spicy pasta dishes lately. In fact, not even one that I remember of. But this orecchiette makes me want to run to the kitchen to start cooking – it is so delicious!

    • Jacqui
      February 11, 2019 4:22 pm

      Thank you April! Yes this is a great spicy pasta recipe. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it if you try it!

  • Avatar
    Maman de sara
    February 11, 2019 12:37 am

    It is my first time I hear about Nduja, had to google it lol! Your recipe looks easy.

    • Jacqui
      February 11, 2019 4:25 pm

      Nduja is a typical spicy soft salami from Southern Italy! Nowadays it’s become a bit trendy so is available in other countries too but not as well known abroad as in Italy! I hope you’ll get to try it. Nduja pasta recipes are pretty fast and easy to make!

  • Avatar
    February 10, 2019 5:48 am

    I love how you provide the regional details about the dish. It’s so interesting to learn how a particular dish can pull from so many different areas. Plus, it looks amazing!

    • Jacqui
      February 11, 2019 4:27 pm

      Thanks Jori! I love finding out about the origins and history of ingredients and recipes. Italian cuisine has lots of history! And it’s fun to share it!

  • Avatar
    February 8, 2019 4:58 pm

    I love anything spicy (and pasta) so this is a perfect dish for me! Now I’m on a mission to get nduja and get this pasta on the table.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:42 am

      I love spicy food too Linda! In fact, the spicier the better! I’m sure you’ll love nduja and this recipe when you try it!

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    February 8, 2019 4:04 pm

    Absolutely stunning! I also love spicy pasta and I can’t wait to try this recipe.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:43 am

      Thank you Kelly! Spicy pasta is soo good! Am sure you’ll really enjoy this dish!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 8:50 pm

    This looks fabulous!! I’ve not heard of that sausage. If I can’t find it I might try chorizo instead. Can’t wait to try it.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:46 am

      Grazie Christie! Chorizo would be great too but it doesn’t melt like nduja! You should be able to buy nduja in Italian food shops or online. Depends where you live, of course!

  • Avatar
    Jessica Formicola
    February 6, 2019 8:40 pm

    I’ve never tried nduja, but I can;t wait to because man does this look good!

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:48 am

      Thank you Jessica! I hope you’ll find some nduja (it’s quite widely available nowadays). Am sure you’ll really enjoy this dish!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 7:42 pm

    Oh yummm. I spent about 5 months in Italy but I never went farther south than Rome and apparently I missed out on the nduja!! This dish looks incredible!

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:50 am

      Wow 5 months in Italy sounds like a lovely trip, Tracy! Nowadays you can find nduja in many parts of Italy. I can buy it here in Verona, but it’s only traditional in the South.

  • Avatar
    Taylor Kiser
    February 6, 2019 7:41 pm

    I love everything about this pasta dish! Looks so delicious!

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:50 am

      Thanks so much Taylor! Yes this is seriously yummy!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 7:32 pm

    What an informative post. I’ve never heard of nduja before; I’ll certainly be on the lookout for it. This pasta sounds quite delicious, too. Will definitely try it once eggplant is in season.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:51 am

      Thank you dear Rae! I’m sure you’ll fall in love with nduja when you try it! It adds great flavour as well as spice to a dish!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 7:20 pm

    Such and informative post and the pasta sounds delicious. I had no idea eggplant was classified as a berry!

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:53 am

      Grazie cara Jill! I was surprised to when I read eggplant is botanically a berry! Sounds strange! But, whatever it’s classified as, it’s delicious, especially with pasta!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 5:24 pm

    OMG this looks amazing. I really want to go to Itay one day…just to EAT!! What a delicious way to enjoy eggplant. I need to make this soon.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:54 am

      Aww thanks so much Gloria! Yes Italy is THE country to eat in! So much good food!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 4:47 pm

    You had me at spicy pasta! And orechiette is one of my favorite pastas — what a great dish! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 10:56 am

      Happy you like this recipe Amanda! I love orecchiette too! Love the way the sauce collects in the middle of each piece of pasta!

  • Avatar
    Amy | The Cook Report
    February 6, 2019 4:01 pm

    This looks delicious, I love nduja but have never cooked with it, this looks like the perfect recipe to try it out

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 11:53 am

      Thank you dear Amy! Nduja is fabulous to cook with as it literally melts into the sauce!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 3:47 pm

    This dish is making my mouth water! It looks so wonderfully fresh and full of flavor and love the addition of the nduja. Spicy is my middle name so I’ve got to find some of this sausage! And just have to tell you, I learned a lot about Italian regional cuisine from reading this. Thanks for all the background info.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 12:10 pm

      Thanks so much Linda! I’m happy you like the recipe and the post! Nduja is a really tasty soft spicy salami. I hope you’ll manage to get your hands on some and try this dish out!

  • Avatar
    February 6, 2019 2:47 pm

    Oh boy, that sauce looks just divine! I love nduja, and we are lucky enough to have a local producer of it here in Cornwall 🙂

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 12:11 pm

      Thanks so much Jane! Yes this dish is divine! Great to hear you can get nduja in Cornwall! Hope you’ll give this recipe a try!

  • Avatar
    Byron Thomas
    February 6, 2019 2:31 pm

    Oh, I love pasta like this! It’s so elegant in essence, but yet, so rustic and homey. I have a friend who was born and raised in Foggia, Italy, and he prepares a similar dish to this one – complete with the orecchiette and the eggplant! I think it’s time I prepared the dish and invited him to dinner. I’m sure he would be very pleasantly surprised!

  • Avatar
    Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry
    February 6, 2019 1:49 pm

    This sounds like such a delicious and flavourful dish! I don’t use eggplant as much as I perhaps should.

    • Jacqui
      February 9, 2019 12:12 pm

      Thanks a lot Bintu! We love using eggplant here in Italy. It’s a very popular veg and there are some great Italian recipes with it!

  • Avatar
    Danielle Wolter
    February 6, 2019 1:49 pm

    you had me at spicy salami! this looks just incredible, what a great medley of flavors. and i love the orecchiette pasta!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    February 6, 2019 1:35 pm

    That spicy salami nduja sounds delicious! I love spicy food, and have a tendency to spice up my pasta dishes. This looks so tasty!

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