Pugliese orecchiette pasta with beef-rolled celery

STEPS 5 INGREDIENTS 11 TIME 50-55 MINS I learned this orecchiette pasta recipe from a friend of my mamma-in-law’s called Rosetta Chirico. A traditional ‘Pugliese’ dish (i.e. from the Puglia region of Italy), this flavorful treat is packed full of contrasts.

You get the meaty taste and firm consistency of cooked and rolled beef. Inside this is a smidge of garlic and the surprisingly strong kick of celery leaf. This roll then sits atop a bed of supple al dente orecchiette (little ear) pasta, which is smothered in a tomato, bacon and cheese sauce.


Talk about an interesting mix… this orecchiette pasta is really quite unlike most pasta dishes.

Note: Because you first fry the beef and bacon, then throw in the tomatoes and ‘reduce’ (thicken) the sauce, this ‘orecchiette alla pugliese’ takes a while to cook. But don’t worry – the steps involved are as simple as ever.

Serves 2

Ingredients: (For a printable PDF shopping list click here, or right-click this link and choose ‘Save target/link as’ to save the list for later.)

200g/7oz orecchiette pasta

500g/17.6oz fresh, medium-size tomatoes

2 very thin slices (roughly 300g/10.5oz) of beef

1 teaspoon of green capers

2 leaves of celery (the small leaves from the top of 1 stick)

8-10 black pepper corns (just buy ground black pepper in a
twistable/grinding container)

30g/1oz parmesan cheese

Half a garlic clove


Extra virgin olive oil

25g/0.9oz pancetta/belly bacon bits (or use chopped normal bacon)

Optional/Ideal: Pugliese ‘formaggio ricotta’ cheese (from an Italian delicatessen)


Large pan/skillet (for boiling pasta)

Small/medium pan/skillet (for making sauce)

4-6 toothpicks (to fix the meat rolls)

Cheese grater


Optional: food mixer/blender or strong potato masher

STEP 1 – First, let’s prepare the ingredients:

– Wash and shake 2 of the largest celery leaves.

– Drop the capers in a glass of warm water to dissolve away the salt.

– Chop the ends off the garlic clove and half it. Peel one half, then slice chop this as thinly as possible.

– Grate the parmesan cheese.

STEP 2 – Making the beef rolls:

– Lay out the beef slices and place a leaf of celery in the center of each.

– Twist 2 grinds of black pepper corns onto each.

– Now sprinkle half a teaspoon of parmesan and half the garlic bits over each slice.

– Finally, drop 3-4 capers and a pinch of salt onto each.


STEP 3 – Tightly roll each beef slice and secure them by sticking 2 or 3 toothpicks in each.

Tip: Make sure each toothpick sticks out evenly from each side of the roll. (These rolls will be turned in the pan, so this is important to make sure they stay in place.)

STEP 4 – Time to make this orecchiette pasta’s delicious sauce.

– To peel the tomatoes, boil a kettle, pour this water into the pasta pan or a mixing bowl, and drop in the tomatoes. After 2 mins, drain the water and peel the toms.

– Cover the base of the smaller pan with oil, heat this up, then turn down to Medium and throw in the bacon. Fry for just 2 mins until it turns pink.

– Turn the heat now to low and add the beef rolls. Fry these, carefully turning them occasionally, until brown all around (approx 7-8 mins). The bacon bits should be nicely browning now too.

– Then add the toms and a teaspoon of salt. Turn heat to medium and simmer gently (slight bubbling), stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens and becomes less liquid (approx 20-25 mins).

Note: If you have a food mixer, give the toms a quick 30-sec whiz in this now. This will speed up the sauce’s final cooking time.


STEP 5 – After 20 or so mins of the sauce’s final cooking stage, boil your kettle again and fill your big pan with boiling water. We’ll get the pasta cooking and ready to eat.

– Put this pan of water on a high heat hob and add half a handful of salt.

– Check the orecchiette’s cooking time and when the water is boiling throw this pasta in. Also now add 1 tablespoon of oil. (Orecchiette are prone to sticking together, but the oil prevents this.)

Note: When the sauce has thickened, remove this from the heat.

– When the pasta is done, drain it.

– Now remove the beef rolls from the sauce, and mix in the pasta. Heat through on a medium heat hob for 2 mins.


To serve: Pour the pasta into your bowls and serve with the beef roll on top. Sprinkle on any remaining grated parmesan cheese.

In Puglia, they would now sprinkle on a handful of grated local ‘formaggio ricotta’ cheese.

Enjoyed this orecchiette pasta recipe?

Then try…

• The daddy of real meat pasta dishes – spaghetti bolognese

• Another bacon-bit beauty – my favourite pasta with ricotta

• The best starter lasagna out there – my wife Laura’s beef lasagna.