I have recently developed a rather healthy obsession with a little-known variety of pasta called Orecchiette. It literally translates to ‘Little Ears’ in Italian. Orecchie = ears, ette = tiny.
This incredibly pleasing variety of pasta originated in Puglia in the south of Italy on the Adriatic coast (although some would argue it originated in France during the middle-ages) and is still being made (painstakingly) by hand by many of the traditionalists in the region of Puglia to this day. Most of us pasta-snobs outside of Italy can find Orecchiette in specialty Italian food shops or in other ethnic grocery stores who stock import foods. You certainly won’t find Orecchiette at the Tesco or Safeway, so don’t go hunting for it there.
One of the qualities I love about Orecchiette is the texture and size. If made correctly, and boiled for the right amount of time, you’ll end up with a lovely, al dente, bite-size pasta morcel that will go brilliantly with a variety of sauces. After making this batch of Orecchiette a friend of mine from Puglia suggested I dress it with a sauce composed of rapini (rabe), garlic, white wine, olive oil, and pecorino cheese. This sauce recipe will come later. But first, let’s step into the shoes of ‘le nonne pugliese’ and learn how to make some Orecchiette, shall we? It’s a labour of love but the end-result is so rewarding.
- 2 cups of all-purpose white flour
- 1 cup of durum/semolina flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 eggs (beaten)
The first tool you’re going to need is a good ol’ heavy-duty hand-crank pasta roller, the kind you attach to your counter with a vice. Mine is a Marcato Atlas Pasta Roller and Cutter. You can find them in any good culinary supply shop for about $50-$75 depending on where you live.
Make your dough on the counter (by hand) or in a food processor. Once the dough has been made and formed into a nice tight wad, cut the dough into four pieces and place it in a mixing bowl with a damp rag or saran-wrap over top to keep it moist. Take a quarter-section of the dough and begin to roll it. Start at level 1 (thick) on the roller and roll the dough as evenly as possible. Level by level (1 to 6) you’ll turn that wad into a nice strip of dough that is quite thin. It should be fairly dry as well and won’t stick to any surface. Once the dough has been thinned on level 6 it’s time to lay it on a floured cutting board and begin making the orecchiette.
The next tool you’ll require is a cappelletti stamp but you won’t find anything like this outside of Italy nor will you find one in New York City, I discovered recently. So what I did was walk up to my local culinary supply shop and a buy a pastry nozzle (for a piping-bag) that has the same circumference as a cappelletti stamp on the larger end of approximately ¾”.
As you’re punching out each circle, drop it into your palm and make a convex shape with it by gently pushing your little finger into the centre of it to create an indentation. Once you’ve formed an orecchietta place it on parchment paper or a floured surface or sheet to dry. You should end up with approximately 100 orecchiette when you’re done. It’ll take about an hour to make the pasta so roll your sleeves up and put some tunes on!
Boil for 12 to 13 minutes for perfect texture.
Buon Appetito! Good eating to you…
Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions about this recipe below.