On Making Orecchiette

Orecchiette, Puglia's Signature Pasta

Orecchiette, Puglia’s Signature Pasta

Orecchiette are Puglia’s signature pasta shape, and while they do vary in size from one part of the region to the next, you can be certain of finding them most everywhere. The name orecchiette means “little ears,” and if you look at them makes perfect sense.

Commercially or artisinally prepared dry orecchiette are about 3/4 of an inch across (freshly made are generally somewhat broader), slightly domed, and their centers are thinner than their rims, a characteristic that gives them an interestingly variable texture, soft in the middle and somewhat more chewy outside.

In discussing them in La Cucina Pugliese Luigi Sada says, “making them takes experience, ability and practice,” an observation that leads to the conclusion that you may want to buy them ready made. This is a much easier proposition than it was even ten years ago – Italians living in other parts of the Peninsula are discovering the Southern Italian cuisines and as a result there is a market for southern specialties; the major industrial pasta producers such as Barilla or Voiello have joined the small artisan shops in making them, and they are therefore readily available throughout Italy, while I have seen them in the United States as well. When you buy them, check the best used before date to be sure they’re still fresh, because I’ve heard that overly old orecchiette can be problematic to cook.

Truth be told, while making Orecchiette will take practice, the demonstration organized by the Masserie Didattiche di Puglia in the course of the 2013 edition of Vinitaly was fairly straight forward. Antonella, of the Masseria Palombara used stone-milled grain of the Senatore Cappelli cultivar they grow; she said it was developed on the one hand to be of uniform height with good grain production and easy to harvest, and on the other to be relatively low in gluten.

Orecchiette and the Ingredients for a Sauce

Orecchiette and the Ingredients for a Sauce

Here we have the orecchiette she made, with the fixings of a simple pesto sauce with which to season them: Sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, arugola, almonds, and (not pictured) olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Orecchiette: Cutting The Dough

Orecchiette: Cutting The Dough

Orecchietta dough is straight forward: A kilo (2 1/4 pounds) of flour, and slightly less than a half liter (1 pint) water. Mix well, and knead until it is firm and pliable.

Orecchiette: Cutting the Snake

Orecchiette: Cutting the Snake

Once the dough is ready take a piece and roll it into a thin snake; using a knife cut blebs a bit larger than the size of your thumbnail.

Spread a first bleb across your work surface with the knife, then lift the pasta with a flick of the thumb and turn it inside out, as it were; doing so will make the center of the bit of pasta form up into a dome, and the oreccietta is done. Lay the orecchietta on your work surface and repeat the process with the next bleb.

This is one of those cases in which pictures give a better understanding than words, and the photos below will explain the process better than I can.

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife, Another View

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife, Another View

orecchiettaunderknife

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife

Rolling an Orecchietta Under the Knife

Turning an Orecchietta after Spreading It

Turning an Orecchietta after Spreading It

Rolling an Orecchietta Off the Thumb

Rolling an Orecchietta Off the Thumb

An Orecchietta Rolled Off the Thumb

An Orecchietta Rolled Off the Thumb

Orecchiette With Tomato (and More) Pesto

Orecchiette With Tomato (and More) Pesto

A demonstration wouldn’t be complete without a taste, and Antonella prepared a dried tomato pesto sauce for her orecchiette using dried tomatoes, garlic (just a little), arugola, and almonds. She didn’t give proportions, but said to grind the ingredients – go by eye – in a mortar, adding a splash of olive oil to keep the sauce from being dry, and seasoning everything to taste with salt and pepper. The picture will give you an idea of how much of the various ingredients she used; in particular there is enough arugola to add a bitter accent, but not so much as to turn the sauce green.

A couple of things:

Mr. Sada notes that there are large and small-sized orecchiette, and says that if you do not roll the ball of your thumb over the spread pasta, but rather leave it flat, you will have what is called a  strascinato, which is interchangeable with an orecchietta. If you instead just cut the piece of pasta from the snake without spreading it out you will have what is called a megneuìccje, which would (I think) be better suited to soup.

Regardless of the shape you make, let the pasta rest for a few hours before you boil it in abundant lightly salted water.

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Categories: Apulian Recipes, Illustrated Recipes And More, Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi... Minestre Asciutte

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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