A type of pasta, meaning in Italian "little ears", which should give you an idea of their shape. They also look like diaphragms to me, but I guess, given the choice, I'd rather eat an ear than a diaphragm.

Orecchiette are small dome-shaped circles of pasta that usually take 10 to 15 minutes to cook, depending on the brand. Orechiette come from Apulia in southern Italy, and though they were once rarely seen outside of their native habitat, they have now become rather common. In fact, I'm eating some right now. The traditional pairing is with broccoli rabe (noded as broccoli raab, a spelling my Joy of Cooking does not include), though I have forged out on my own in preparing the dish I am consuming as I node: these are tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, olives, fresh basil, and feta cheese, and they are delicious.

I didn't make my orecchiette, though. Should you feel inclined to do so, there's a recipe at
http://italianfood.about.com/food/italianfood/library/weekly/aa041699.htm,
and of course the good sneff, who I wish lived closer to me so I could eat, instead of just read about, his recipes, has a general recipe posted at pasta.

Orecchiette are apparently among the more difficult pastas to make; they are formed by cutting a small round of pasta dough and flicking it around the end of your thumb. I would guess that the size of the resulting nubbin would be dictated by the size of said digit, so little old me might make small orecchiette, while someone else might make big ones. I confess, though, that I will continue to buy my orecchiette in a box. It works for me.

I was once very intimidated by the prospect of making pasta from scratch; it seemed a project more worthy of the likes of Mario Batali or Giada De Laurentiis. Finally, though, I found a likely looking recipe for orecchiette. It didn't require a pasta machine, a rolling pin, or even that "make a well" method involving lots of eggs. Imagine that! I got up my nerve, winged it, and was surprised and quite happy with the result.

The pasta shapes I made were thicker than I was used to, with far more mouthfeel, but overall I found these to be good changes. The pasta suddenly became something to be enjoyed in its own right, not just a mere conveyor of sauce1. Its texture stood up to meats and vegetables and let you know it was there, instead of lying placidly down and providing flaccid bulk as storebought pasta frequently does even when cooked al dente.

The recipe does require a special ingredient, semolina flour2, and either a food processor or an extremely strong arm. That being said, I am going to disagree with anthropod. While somewhat time-consuming due to the shaping, making orecchiette is a fun and easy project in which even children could participate. I encourage you to try this recipe at least once!

Orecchiette is the name for a small pasta shape that looks like a slightly flattened sewing thimble. The cup shape makes orecchiette a good choice for hearty sauces with chunks of meat and vegetables, since it can catch up bits of them and thus be a good conveyor of texture and flavor into your mouth. This makes orecchiette a very good refrigerator cleaner-outer for both fresh food and leftovers. Keep the pieces of vegetables and/or meat substance relatively small so that at least some of them can be taken up into the cup shape.

One traditional and excellent pairing is broccoli raab3 with garlic and cracked red pepper. However, since I'm not a traditionalist, I say, it goes with almost anything! Asparagus goes wonderfully, as do bell peppers, summer squash, or just about anything else you can imagine; it's all good. What do I do? Honestly, it depends on what I have in my refrigerator and/or freezers. Ground, cubed, or shredded meat or poultry, and whatever veggies I have on hand.4

Ingredients

  • 1-3/4 cups (425 ml / 14 fl oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup (175 ml / 6 fl oz) semolina flour

  • approximately 3/4 cup (175 ml / 6 fl oz) hot water, plus more as needed

  • (optional) seasonings as desired; I use a small amount of dried oregano, but leave it to the cooking water to convey the salt

  • a large pot filled with about 4 quarts (8 pints / 3.78 litres) of hot water

  • 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml / 1/2-1 fl oz) of salt (sea salt, preferably) for the cooking water

  • whatever you intend to serve along with the pasta -- sauce, meat and/or vegetables5

Method

First of all, decide what you will be serving your pasta with. Plan your preparation so that the sauce will be done before the pasta, and keep it warm. The sauce should always wait for the pasta!

Set your pot of water on to boil. Once it does, add the salt, clap a lid on it, and turn off the heat. Or, if your time management skills and/or BTUs are better than mine, you can do this later, but I prefer to get the water really hot first. That way, when I'm ready for it later, the water doesn't take very long to return to a boil.

Fit your food processor with the metal chopping blade and measure the flours into the food processor bowl. Pulse it briefly to combine the flours.

Switch the food processor to run continuously. Slowly pour the hot water through the access tube until a very rough dough forms. A fully formed dough ball is not necessary.

Turn your dough out onto a clean surface (scatter some flour if you want; I've found I don't need it). It should be very stiff and dry, and will probably have some loose dry floury bits still with it. Knead until the ball is smooth and elastic. This may take a minute or two. If it needs it, add more water, but avoid doing so if possible. It'll be dry, dry, dry, but enough kneading, or lifting and slamming, should make it come together. Good therapy!

So, you've got this pretty little ball of dough now. Shape the dough into a square block as best you can, or, I suppose, a big log might work, too. Using a bench scraper or the (dull) back spine of a knife, split the dough into eight portions as equal as you can make them.

Take each portion and, just like playdough, roll it between your hands into a rope about 1/2 inch (~1.3 cm) in diameter. I find this is easiest to do mid-air between my hands, not on the countertop, letting the newly rolled material drop downward as I roll it. This is a good place to get the kids involved, if that applies. The ropes do not have to be perfect. As you produce each rope, tuck it under a dampened paper towel to keep it moist.

Now walk away, for at least an hour or so, to let the gluten relax. (I've skipped this step before, and while the results are edible, the pasta is more tender if you allow it to rest.)

After some time has passed, cut each log into 1/2 inch (~1.3 cm) lengths. An older child can do this with a plastic knife. As you slice, tuck the cut pieces under that dampened paper towel.

Cook's Illustrated's method for forming the actual orecchiette cup shape involves a table knife, but I was less than impressed with the results. Here's my version, which I think works better:

  • Take a cut piece of dough.

  • Briefly roll it between your palms to form a ball. It doesn't have to be perfect.

  • Place the ball in the palm of your non-dominant hand, and poke it with the index finger of your dominant hand, creating a deep dimple in it. A little gentle handling can even out the walls of the dimple.

  • Turn the dimpled piece of dough inside out against another finger, and tweak if necessary. For some strange reason, it's the inside out business which really creates a sturdy, deep pocket shape.

  • Place your shaped pasta piece onto a baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with flour.6

  • Rinse and repeat.

Once you've finished shaping your pasta, begin to reheat your sauce, and bring your pot of water back to a hard boil. That should not take long. Add pasta to the pot of water and boil for 6-8 minutes.7 Drain the pasta, briefly return it to its pot over moderate heat to dry it out, then get it off the heat again. Combine it with the sauce, or serve the pasta and sauce separately to taste. Add your favorite condiments -- some parmesan, maybe? -- and enjoy!

Yield

Enough for 2-3 extremely hungry people, I suppose, but I get 4-6 main course servings from one recipe if serving a hearty sauce and a side dish or two.

Storage

Cook's Illustrated warns that while this uncooked pasta can last a number of days, if left in its fresh state it will eventually dry out and take far longer to cook. Therefore, freezing is recommended for long term storage. Freeze the uncooked pasta on a wax paper covered cookie sheet (don't let them touch each other, lest they stick together), then transfer them to a ziptop bag and put back in the freezer. No information was given, but I'd expect you should let them warm to room temperature before boiling, or allow for a longer boiling time.

Allow any cooked pasta leftovers to cool. Spray or drizzle lightly with vegetable oil to prevent sticking, toss it a bit to distribute the oil, and refrigerate promptly in an airtight container.


Footnotes

1: Depending on where you call home, you might call the substance served on or with pasta "gravy" or "sauce". I know it as sauce. Deal with it.
2: Seminola flour can be found in most major supermarkets in the US, usually in the "fancy and/or organic" section. I use the "Bob's Red Mill" brand. Once you buy some, keep the flour in the refrigerator or the freezer to extend its shelf life. Let it come to room temperature before using it.
3: Also known as broccoli rabe, broccolirab, broccoli de rape, broccoli de rabe, brocoletti di rape, brocoletto, rappi, rape, raab, rapini, cima di rapa, cima di rabe, choy sum, and Chinese flowering cabbage.
4: This is an eggless pasta recipe.
5: What... after all that, you want a suggestion anyway? Try sauteeing up this: extra virgin olive oil, 6 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and minced, a small onion peeled and diced, a green bell pepper, trimmed and diced, and a large handful of sliced up button mushrooms. Let that go a bit, season it well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. When that has cooked down to become aromatic and tender, remove it from the pan. Remove 6 links of turkey sausage from their casings, break up the meat, and add this into the pan, with another small drizzle of olive oil if necessary. Fry up the meat until it's nicely browned, then add a carton of unsalted Italian tomatoes (26.455 oz/750g) (or a similarly sized can of whole tomatoes, broken up, if you can't find the good stuff) and 1-2 tablespoons of Emeril's Essence or your favorite spice mixture. Warm it up, then add back in the onion/garlic mixture. Mix gently, then adjust seasonings.
6: I put them in a bowl. But I can see the point of the original recipe in that, if you were working in a very warm and/or humid environment, the floured baking sheet might be necessary.
7: This cooking time is longer than that for most fresh pastas, since the shape is thicker.

References

Adapted and modified from Cook's Illustrated magazine, January/February 1994, pages 19-21.

Cook's Thesaurus entry on broccoli de rape
http://www.foodsubs.com/Greenckg.html

Pasta Recipes (pasta with meat)

Recipes from K to O


kalen: Made this last night - great!

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