Fresh orecchiette (translated as “little ears”) is a thing to behold, a taste that most people have never experienced. If any fresh pasta speaks to the importance of texture, especially when compared to lesser storebought versions, it’s orecchiette.
The value of this pasta is found in its stretch marks, the hallmark of any hand-made orecchiette. Stretch marks perform the invaluable role of gripping the sauce, a prized quality that becomes most apparent in handmade pastas that have been made on porous wood.
Orecchiette are made with semolina dough, which is made only with flour and water–no eggs. It’s a super-rustic style that hails from southern Italy, and compared to its eggy counterparts, the dough itself is very dense. In fact, it’s so dense that orecchiette–and similar shapes made with this semolina dough, like cavatelli–are cooked differently, and longer, than other pastas. With these pasta dishes, we only cook the pasta halfway in the water; the other half of the cooking is done in the pan, while steadily adding stock, like one might cook a risotto.
Since the pasta is so hearty, it can stand up to big flavors, especially the spicy ones that are common in southern Italy.
No special equipment, not even a pasta machine, is needed to form orecchiette from scratch, which makes them especially good to make at home with a group of friends. All you need is a blunt-tipped knife and some practice.
- 1 recipe Hand-Rolled Semolina Dough (see page 14)
- 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
- ½ pound rabbit or other savory sausage, uncased and formed into 1-inch balls (227 grams) ½ cup diced red onions (66 grams)
- ½ cup finely diced carrot, about ½ small carrot 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- ¼ cup white wine (60 milliliters)
- 1 cup chicken stock (240 milliliters; see page 169)
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup sliced Padr6n peppers (69 grams)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. for finishing
- Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside.
- To make the pasta, cut off a small, 2 inches by 5 inches, chunk from the semolina dough and cover the rest of the dough with plastic wrap. With your hands, roll the piece of dough into a rope about 1 foot long and ½ inch wide (similar to a thick pen’s width).
- Cut off a ½ inch piece of dough from the rope. Using a butter knife, push down very firmly on the far edge of the dough with the sharp edge of the blade, and with your other hand on the flat part of the blade held over the pasta, drag in toward your body, Basically, you’re rolling the blade over the pasta.
- When the dough has almost wrapped around the knife tip, insert your finger into the “dome” of the pasta. Make sure to scrape the whole piece of dough through, even as it starts to encapsulate your index finger. It should fold onto the tip of your finger. Keep it there.
- Invert the dough over your other hand’s thumb, creating an inverse dome. The orecchiette should be uniform in thickness. Stretch marks are good, because it creates a wrinkly surface that’s great for catching sauce. Lift the orecchiette offyour thumb with the fingertips of your other hand. Arrange the orecchiette on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve run out of dough. You should have 80 to 90 pieces.
- Leave the pasta uncovered to air dry at room temperature until ready to cook. You can keep them unrefrigerated for up to a day, but wrap the tray in plastic.
- Bring large pot of seasoned water to a boil (see page 18).
In a 12-inch sauté pan on high heat, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add the sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, about I minute. Add the onions and carrots. Cook until the onions are slightly translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, continuously stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once translucent, after about 90 seconds, add the wine. Cook the wine until the pan is almost dry, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and decrease the heat to low.
- Drop the fresh orecchiette into the boiling water. Once the pasta is cooked 80 percent through, until almost al dente, about 2 minutes, transfer to the sauté pan. Reserve the pasta water. Stir to incorporate the pasta and increase the heat to high.
- Add the 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil to the simmering pan sauce and fold in the Padrón peppers.
- Let the pasta finish cooking in the meat sauce. When the pasta is tender, add the butter to the pan and stir quickly to emulsify. Add the sherry vinegar and season with salt to taste. Remove from the heat.
- To serve, divide the pasta and sauce between four plates. Finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.