Keep orecchiette from sticking together??

I love oriecchiette pasta, but every time I cook it, I find myself having to stand over the pot almost the whole time, frantically trying to stir things so that the litte ears don't stick together in stacks. I've even taken to prying as many stacks apart as I can, while everything's cooking - but even doing this, I *still* end up with some orecchiette overcooked and some undercooked because so many are all stuck together. I have tried putting both butter and/or olive oil in the water, but it doesn't make any difference. Suggestions?

Salt Tooth


maeveoh June 18, 2013
I was worried today cooking orecchiette, but thanks to this post, I had almost no sticking. My water was at a HARD boil, I used plenty of water a large (and wide) casserole, and stirred regularly (especially at the beginning). It worked! DeCecco was the brand, and it came out great.
Maedl February 8, 2013
Handmade orrechiette is somewhat irregular, but if they are properly made, they should be fairly close to the same size and not large and thick. No one is saying how big a pot he or she is using for water or how much pasta is added to the water. Perhaps you are cooking too big a quantity of pasta for the amount of water. Read the directions on the pasta package to make sure you are using enough water.

Just because the pasta comes from Italy, doesn't mean it is good. Italian food is regional, and northerners often know bupkes about southern Italian food. What are the ingredients? Maybe the pasta comes from up north, outside of orrechiette country, and something is just off. I am not sure how orrechiette is mass produced, but in making other pasta shapes, the better pastas are extruded through brass dyes. This produces pasta that has more texture to it than the new industrial grade pasta machines and helps sauces coat the pasta better. I don't know how it affects cooking the pasta, thoughh.

I asked about the ingredients in the pasta, because barley or farro flour would make the pasta stickier, but at the price you are paying, I doubt that those flours are part of the ingredients. Perhaps try a different brand. Puglia is orrechiette country, and I often see brands that come from Bari, so perhaps that might be an option. If you have a good source of southern Italian foods, try there. I am not familiar with the Tuscan store you mention, but Tuscany is not southern Italy, nor is it really pasta coutry--that is more bean country. Hope this helps get you in the right direction and I'd like to hear if you find a solution!
Bad O. February 7, 2013
Unfortunately I don't have the time or patience to make my own. I've come to discover that there is a huge difference between some store bought brands and handmade orrechiette. The brand I most often have used comes from Trader Joes or Tuscan Italian market in Atlanta.(Both say product of Italy, so they should be acceptable, no?) They are clearly stamped (mass produced) pastas, so the shape is uniform, identical size and shape, which causes them to act like little suction cups with no way to detach once they've come together. No amount of stirring seems able to prevent it. I've seen the homemade ones and they're very rustic and uneven, so it's obvious why THOSE don't cause this problem. I think the store bought manufacturers would do well to create a way to add some variance in the shape of their orrechiette to prevent them from sticking together. My employer has the handmade but it's 9.50 a pound, compared to the Trader Joes at less than 2.00 a pound. Wonder which one I choose?
Maedl February 7, 2013
Is the orecchiette fresh pasta or dried pasta? Where is it made, and what kind of flour is in it? Real orecchiette should be made from a mixture of semolina and either barley or emmer flour, and of course, it does not have eggs in it. I have made them using this combination. They should sit for about six hours after you make them and then should be cooked in a HUGE pot of quickly boiling salted water. Stir them as you add them to the water and don’t forget to stir them as they cook. Do not add oil or butter because that will prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta. This link gives a recipe from an expert on Pugian cooking:
Bad O. February 6, 2013
What was the outcome? I have always had this same issue with orecchiette and have tried ALL of these answers, but to no avail. It's something that seems to be inherent in this shape of pasta. They suction to one another in the pot. I wonder if any of these people have themselves tried cooking orecchiette? It's not like typical pasta. If anyone who HAS cooked orecchiette successfully would kindly share their technique, many would be grateful!
QueenSashy September 18, 2012
A lot of water, at least three times as much as orecchiette. And a strong boil. That should help.
Salt T. September 14, 2012
thanks! I'm going to try to tweak all these things and will report back!
ChefJune September 14, 2012
Don''t overlook Half Pint's last statement. Be sure you are cooking your orecchiette in enough water. You need a BIG pot and LOTS of hard-boiling water to achieve success.
Reiney September 14, 2012
The key is have the water at a HARD boil when you add the pasta, and throughout the cooking process. The movement of the water should keep the pieces from sticking. Give it a quick stir to ensure nothing settled at the bottom, and let it go until done.

The water should be salty enough to taste like the sea (this is just general pasta cookery and not specifically about pasta sticking).

Never add olive oil or butter to the water - it's just a waste of money.
Salt T. September 14, 2012
I do always salt the water, and I actually agree about olive oil and butter not being necessary - I just got so desperate with the orrechiette problem, that I tried throwing them in there anyway! It really does seem to be a problem I only have with orrechiette, and it's just a shame because I like it so much. :)
HalfPint September 14, 2012
This is what I usually do for any pasta to prevent sticking (to each other, to the pot):

When the water comes to a hard boil, add the pasta and start stirring. I stir gently, scraping any pasta that's stuck at the bottom & dislodging any pasta that are stuck together, for about a minute or so, just until the pasta softens a bit and it's surface is slippery. You can tell when that happens. As you stir the pasta stops sticking to the pot and each other, like it's been lubricated even though you haven't used any oil or butter. Lower the heat until you've got a gentle boil. Then I stop stirring, start my timer. Half way through, I give the pot a few stirs as a way to check the cooking progress and make sure that nothings still stuck to the pot. When it's done, I just drain and proceed with my recipe.

There's always a few pasta that get stuck together and 1 or 2 to the pot, but the majority of the batch aren't stuck so that they're stacked together. This method works with all pasta.

Of course, I'm going under the assumption that you're using enough water (plus a little more just in case).
Salt T. September 14, 2012
Thanks - I will see if changing the amount of water makes a difference, and I'll watch for the magic moment when things loosen up! :)
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