Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale

$7.74 recipe / $1.94 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.87 from 23 votes
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This Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale is a variation on one of my favorite fast weeknight dinners, pasta + parmesan + vegetable. If you’re a Budget Bytes veteran you probably have this formula memorized, but for all my new friends, this one will change your dinner game! I’ll list some variations and link to some of my favorites in the past, so you can see how this easy formula will help you make weeknight dinner effortless.

Overhead view of a shallow bowl full of Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale

What Kind of Sausage is Best?

For this recipe I used an Italian style chicken sausage from Aldi, but this recipe is so flexible that you can use just about any flavor chicken sausage, regular pork Italian sausage, or even a vegetarian sausage (Aldi makes a great vegetarian sausage, too). If you want your dish extra spicy, choose a sausage that contains red pepper.

Can I Make This Non-Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale?

Yes, absolutely. I love the extra spicy kick, but this recipe is definitely delicious enough to hold its own without any heat. To make this recipe not spicy, make sure your sausage does not contain red pepper, skip the red pepper flakes below, and reduce the amount of freshly cracked black pepper.

Can I Use a Different Pasta Shape?

Definitely. Orecchiette can sometimes be hard to find and is definitely a bit more expensive than some other pasta shapes, so feel free to swap it out with whatever you have available. My second choice would be either thin spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti (that nutty flavor goes great with Parmesan), or even wide egg noodles. Penne is also an easy and convenient choice.

What Can I Use in Place of Kale?

Fresh spinach is great, as is other green vegetables like broccoli florets or asparagus. I’m not against throwing a few grape tomatoes in there as well!

Make it Vegetarian!

This Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale is actually pretty easy to make vegetarian! As mentioned above, Aldi makes a great vegetarian sausage that is very similar to chicken sausage. I also make this recipe quite often without any sausage at all, and still love it. For the Parmesan you can either use some nutritional yeast flakes straight, or whip up a batch of vegan parmesan. Here are a couple recipes for vegan parm from a couple of bloggers that I trust: How to Make Vegan Parmesan Cheese—Minimalist Baker, Easy Vegan Parmesan Cheese Recipe—Cookie+Kate.

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Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale

4.87 from 23 votes
Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale is a fast, easy, and filling weeknight dinner that will always satisfy. Plus, leftovers reheat beautifully!
Overhead view of a shallow bowl full of Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale
Servings 4 about 1.5 cups each
Prep 5 mins
Cook 15 mins
Total 20 mins


  • 8 oz. orecchiette ($1.33)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.32)
  • 12 oz. chicken sausage ($2.99)
  • 2 Tbsp butter ($0.27)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced ($0.16)
  • 8 oz. chopped kale* ($2.14)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan ($0.44)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper ($0.02)
  • 1 pinch salt ($0.02)
  • freshly cracked pepper to taste ($0.05)


  • Cook the orecchiette according to the package directions. Before draining the orecchiette in a colander, reserve about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water.
  • While the orecchiette is cooking, begin preparing the rest of the recipe. Slice the chicken sausage into medallions.
  • Add the olive oil and chicken sausage to a large pot and sauté over medium until the chicken sausage begins to brown (about 5 minutes).
  • Add the minced garlic and butter to the pot with the sausage and continue to sauté for one more minute.
  • Next, add the chopped kale and reserved pasta water. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook and stir until the kale has wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Use your spoon to dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the pot as you stir.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cooked and drained orecchiette. If the pasta and kale are still steaming heavily, let the contents of the pot cool for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release steam. You want the Parmesan to coat the pasta, but not melt.
  • Once the pasta and kale is hot, but not steaming, add the grated Parmesan, crushed red pepper, salt, and about 15-20 cranks of a pepper mill. Stir to combine, then taste and add more salt if needed. Serve warm.

See how we calculate recipe costs here.



*I use pre-chopped bagged kale because it is extremely convenient and usually still very inexpensive. The brand I used for this recipe was organic and still very affordable.


Serving: 1.5CupsCalories: 468.75kcalCarbohydrates: 48.15gProtein: 24.1gFat: 23.08gSodium: 850.65mgFiber: 3.48g
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Scroll down for the step by step photos!

Overhead view of a shallow bowl full of Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale

Want More Recipes with this Quick Dinner Formula? Check out Bacon and Spinach Pasta with Parmesan, Bowties and Broccoli, One Pot Sausage and Sun Dried Tomato Pasta, or Simple Portobella Pasta.

How to Make Orecchiette with Sausage – Step by Step Photos

Starchy pasta water being removed from a pot of cooked orecchiette

First, cook 8 oz. orecchiette according to the package directions. Before draining the pasta, reserve about 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water.

Browned chicken sausage in the pot with minced garlic and butter

Slice 12 oz. chicken sausage into medallions. Add the chicken sausage to a large pot along with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Sauté the sausage over medium until it begins to brown (about 5 min), then add 2 minced cloves of garlic and 2 Tbsp butter. Continue to sauté for one minute more.

Fresh kale in the pot with pasta water being poured over top.

Add 8 oz, chopped kale to the pot along with the reserved pasta water. 

Wilted kale with chicken sausage in the pot.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to stir and cook until the kale has wilted. Use your spoon to dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the pot as you stir. 

Orecchiette stirred into kale and sausage, Parmesan and pepper added on top.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir the cooked and drained orecchiette into the kale and sausage. If the pasta and kale are still steaming hot, let it cool for about five minutes because you don’t want the Parmesan to melt when added, you just want it to stick to the pasta. Once it has cooled a bit, add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper, a pinch of salt, and some freshly cracked pepper (about 15-20 cranks of a pepper mill). 

Finished Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale in the pot

Stir until everything is combined and coated in Parmesan, then taste and add another pinch of salt if needed. 

Front view of a shallow bowl full of Spicy Orecchiette with Chicken Sausage and Kale

Serve warm and enjoy!!

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  1. So easy and tasty! I used garlic chicken sausage, which worked nicely with the kale.

  2. My chicken sausage wasn’t precooked, so I couldn’t do the medallions; I just removed the casings, broke it up, and cooked it that way. Followed the recipe exactly as written otherwise. Came out delicious! Really great flavors and just the right amount of kick from the red pepper flakes. Thanks again for another hit, Beth!

  3. This was amazing!! I made it tonight with a tomato basil chicken sausage, zucchini and grape tomatoes from the garden, along with frozen kale, chickpea pasta and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Wowza!! Hearty, delicious, amazing!! I omitted the red pepper flakes because I’m not big on spice but even so it’s incredible!! I added extra cheese because, well, cheese, but I will definitely make this again!!

  4. Delicious! I’m always weary when I see so few ingredients but this pasta is amazing! I used chicken apple sausage and the slight sweetness add was a great balance to the spiciness. 10/10 will be making again. Thank you!

  5. I stumbled upon this recipe and had all the ingredients at home so I made it. I am so glad I did because the dish is flavorful and simple enough for a stressful weeknight. The only changes I made were to remove the sausage casing and I added the pasta water before the kale to deglaze the pan.

  6. I’ve made this many times now and love it! I honestly thought it would be bland for the recipe description, but it’s not. The seasoned sausage, red pepper flakes, and parmesan give it good flavor. Super easy and fast!

  7. I  used  what I had. Substitutions I made: jumbo elbow pasta and  sweet earth plant based green chile  sausage. I didn’t have red pepper flakes nor butter. I also used a spinach and kale blend. This recipe was quick and easy to make!

  8. I’m going to make this for my ex husband and pretend it’s an old family recipe…it was so good, my 91 y/o Italian mother liked it now that’s saying a lot! 

  9. Made this tonight, doubling the recipe. Absolutely fantastic. Fast prep, fast cooking, and delicious eating. We always find winners on your website. Thank you!

  10. We all loved this! Added some mushrooms too. This will definitely be added to our dinner rotation. 

    1. Five stars! I made it my own with hot italian reindeer sausage, added butter beans and grape tomatoes with wide egg noodles and half spinach. Hubby didnt even turn his nose up at the kale. Seasoning was just right.

  11. This was easy and delish! I used spinach instead of kale. It heated up well in the microwave too.

    I can’t find this recipe in the app though. I’ve tried searching by the same terms as the online version.

  12. I’ve made this a number of times, it’s very yummy for how easy and simple it is!

  13. Literally, at least three of my coworkers walked past me while I was eating this at work and asked me what smelled so amazing. I have never had this happen with other food at work. It was simple and very good. I upped the kale just slightly to get some more vegetables in. It was definitely a little drier than I usually eat pasta, so it may not be your favorite if you’re a sauce-lover. But the flavors were nice and it felt like a balanced meal.