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Making pasta by hand is sensual. First you knead the dough, hugging it with your fingers to pull it toward you, then digging the heels of your hands into it and pushing it away, in soothing rhythm. Then, after a period of rest, you shape the pasta. Sometimes you roll it first. In the case of orecchiette, you cut it into pieces and make pencil-thin ropes, cut those into short segments and then shape each segment. It's a meditative task. After a while, your eyes lose themselves contemplating the wisdom of your hands. Each piece of pasta comes out a little different, unique. Making pasta by hand is joyful. (Originally written for this post.)
I was looking forward to reaching Puglia (Apulia) with the Abbecedario culinario d'Italia (Italian Culinary ABC) to try my hands at making orecchiette, one of the great classic pasta shapes of the Italian cuisine. Orecchiette (literally, small ears) are made with ground durum wheat. Things then get a bit complicated, because durum wheat (grano duro) is ground into (from coarser to finer) semola di grano duro, semola di grano duro rimacinata and farina di grano duro, and people use only semola or a blend with mostly semola, depending on their family tradition. The one common trait is the use of warm water to make the dough.
In the US, ground durum wheat is available as semolina flour and durum flour. I have some semola di grano duro rimacinata that I brought back from Italy, and that is what I used to make the orecchiette you see in the photos.
I have watched a number of videos showing how to shape orecchiette and decided to follow this one (the shaping part starts at 2:35), because it uses only the fingers. Most commonly, the dragging part of the shaping is done with the help of the tip of a knife. This very short segment shows my hands making one orecchietta:
As I have said in the past, if you want to try, start with a small amount of flour, so you don't get overwhelmed. Then, when you are comfortable with the process, you can run with it.
Ingredients for the pasta (I recommend weighing both flour and water because the quantities involved are small):
- 100 g / 3.5 oz. semolina flour of good quality (see above for details)
- 50 g / 1.75 oz. warm water
- a pinch of salt
Ingredients for the tomato sauce:
- olive oil
- a shallot, minced
- leaves of a sprig of thyme
- a small garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 2 cups strained roasted tomatoes (thawed, if frozen)
- sea salt, to taste
- freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
Make a dough with the first three ingredients and knead until nice and smooth. [This post (with video) talks about how to make semolina pasta dough] This is a bit of an exercise, since the dough is fairly stiff (you are making pasta, not bread). The dough is of a lovely pale yellow color. Let the dough rest, covered, for at least half an hour.
Roll the dough into a thick salami and cut it into pieces. Keep them covered while you shape the orecchiette. Roll each piece into a pencil-size snake (3/8 inch / 1 cm thick), then cut into 1 cm / 3/8 inch long pieces. Shape each small piece into an orecchietta using whatever method suits you. I drag the piece of pasta over the kneading board with my right thumb away from me, then, with my left hand, I turn it inside out over my right index finger and lay it out to dry.
In a small saucepan, warm up a bit of olive oil, then add shallot and thyme. Cook gently for a few minutes, then add garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes. Adjust salt, to taste. Note that this will make more sauce than you need to dress the orecchiette, but once you have the sauce ready, I am sure you'll find ways of using it, like making more handmade pasta.
Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then toss the orecchiette in it (what in Italian we call: buttare giù la pasta). The orecchiette will come to the surface as they cook. The time needed is a bit variable, depending on the type of flour used, the size of orecchiette, how dry they are, etc., but it is short, so don't wander far away from the pot. Taste and stop the cooking when the orecchiette are ready. Pour a glass of cold water in the pot, stir and drain the orecchiette. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle a bit of the cheese on them and stir briefly, then distribute some tomato sauce and toss. Finally, sprinkle some cheese and serve immediately. The recipe makes two small portions.
Note: if tomato season is ongoing in your area, you can make tomato sauce using crushed tomatoes, adjusting the cooking time to get a sauce of the right consistency. And if you have fresh basil, you can add a bit of it to the sauce.
I have never been to Puglia, but through my blog, I have met some people in or from that region and I would very much like to visit their beautiful area. Finally, I want to mention that Gianrico Carofiglio, one of my favorite Italian writers, is pugliese. Some of his novels are available in English translation and Peter of Detective Beyond Borders has written about him. Carofiglio is one of the possible guests in my artist's book Dinner Party.
This is my submission for the 12th installment of the Abbecedario culinario d'Italia (Italian Culinary ABC), an event organized by Trattoria MuVarA that will bring us to visit all the 20 regions of Italy using the alphabet as guide. O come Otranto (Puglia) is hosted by Patrizia of La Melagranata. This page contains the list of all the recipes submitted to the event.
I am also sending this to the #275 edition of Presto Pasta Nights. The event was created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and is hosted this week by the creator herself. This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the orecchiette al sugo audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
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pasta, tomato sauce, Italian recipe
orecchiette al sugo
Fare la pasta a mano mi diverte e mi rilassa. È una sorta di meditazione, durante la quale gli occhi si perdono a seguire i movimenti delle mani.
Non vedevo l'ora di arrivare in Puglia con l'Abbecedario culinario d'Italia per provare a fare le orecchiette. Questa pasta si fa con il grano duro, e mi sembra di capire che ci sono diverse tradizioni, su base familiare: solo semola oppure un misto con un po' di macinato più fino. Comunque, l'acqua dell'impasto deve essere calda.
In California non mi è facile trovare gli ingredienti. Ho della semola di grano duro rimacinata che mi sono portata dall'Italia ed ho usato quella per fare le orecchiette che vedete nelle foto.
Ho guardato diversi video che fanno vedere come vengono fatte le orecchiette e ho deciso di seguire questo qui (la signora comincia a formare le orecchiette dopo 2' e 35"), perché usa solo le dita. Gli altri video fanno vedere il metodo più comune con la punta di un coltello. Questa breve sequenza mostra le mie mani al lavoro:
Come ho scritto in passato, il mio suggerimento a chi vuole cimentarsi è quello di cominciare con una quantità modica, gestibile. Poi, quando ci si sente pronti, aumentare le dosi a piacere.
- 100 g semola di grano duro (per ulteriori dettagli, vedere il testo in alto)
- 50 g acqua calda
- un pizzico di sale
- sugo di pomodoro a piacere
- Parmigiano-Reggiano grattugiato, o altro formaggio a piacere
Lavorare i primi tre ingredienti fino ad avere un bell'impasto liscio, dal colore giallo pallido. [Questo post (con video) descrive come faccio l'impasto per pasta con la semola] Farlo riposare, coperto, per almeno mezz'ora.
Formare un salsicciotto e tagliarlo a pezzi da lavorare uno alla volta, mentre gli altri rimangono al coperto. Rotolare fino ad ottenere un serpentello grosso come una matita (anche qui ho notato un po' di variabilità, ma questo è quello che ho fatto io) e tagliarlo a pezzetti di 1 cm. Fare ad ogni pezzetto di impasto la forma di un'orecchietta usando il metodo che preferite. Io trascino il pezzetto di impasto con il pollice destro allontanandolo da me e poi lo rivolto sopra l'indice destro aiutandomi con la mano sinistra. Lasciar asciugare per un paio d'ore.
Preparare un sugo di pomodoro come volete. Questa è la stagione dei pomodori, quindi usarli freschi è un'opzione. Nel mio caso, avevo della passata di pomodori arrosto e ho usato quella.
Cuocere le orecchiette in abbondante acqua salata, condirle con sugo e formaggio a piacere. Mi piacerebbe poter usare un formaggio pugliese per onorare la regione che ci ospita, ma ancora non ne so fare nessuno e quindi ho usato del Parmigiano-Reggiano. Questa ricetta fa due porzioni piccole. Adesso che l'ho ripetuta tre volte con successo mi sento pronta a raddoppiare le dosi.
Confesso di non essere mai stata in Puglia, ma attraverso briciole ho incontrato delle persone speciali originarie di questa bella regione e spero un giorno non lontano di visitarla. Per finire, uno dei miei scrittori italiani preferiti è pugliese: Gianrico Carofiglio. La sua fama è arrivata anche qui e alcuni dei suoi romanzi (quelli con l'avvocato Guerreri e anche "Il passato è una terra straniera") sono stati tradotti in inglese. Carofiglio è uno dei possibili invitati a cena nel mio libro Dinner Party.
Con questo post contribuisco anche all'Abbecedario culinario d'Italia, un evento organizzato dalla Trattoria MuVarA che ci porterà a visitare tutte le regioni italiane utilizzando come guida l'alfabeto. O come Otranto (Puglia) è ospitata da Patrizia de La Melagranata.
Su questa pagina trovate la lista delle ricette contribuite all'evento.
It looks delicious but sounds scary. Where does the 00 durum flour I normally buy for making pasta fit into the scheme of Italian flours?
Posted by: Alicia (foodycat) | July 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM
OMGosh! You are my hero! I LOVE homemade pastas and handmade food. Where do you live. I have to look again. If you were closer, I would have you teach in my cooking school, if you would. Incredible!
Posted by: A Canadian Foodie | July 28, 2012 at 06:06 AM
That looks fantastic! I haven't made pasta by hand in ages.... I may try this winter (too much other work in summer LOL)
Posted by: Katie | July 28, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Oh! To be able to make my own pasta! That would be really cool! I love orecchiette pasta. Your dish looks delicious.
Posted by: Paz | July 28, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Anche io leggo con intenso piacere Carofiglio!! Tu sei bravissima! Pur essendo la prima volta, hai creato orecchiette superbe!!
Un abbraccio affettuoso
Posted by: Patrizia | July 29, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Thank you for a wonderful tutorial on one of my favorite pasta shapes - now I can even try to make some at home! And thanks for being such a great Presto Pasta Night chef.
Posted by: Ruth | July 29, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Great lesson! Being part pugliese, I love orecchiette, of course! But I never did master the technique of making them. Mine come out too thick. You have inspired me to try again. :=)
Posted by: Frank | July 29, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Grazie per aver partecipato alla nostra tappa pugliese! Trovi tutte le ricette che hanno partecipato qui: http://abcincucina.blogspot.com.es/2012/07/o-come-otranto.html.
E ora tutti in Lombardia!!!
Posted by: Aiuolik | July 30, 2012 at 09:28 AM
Hi Alicia. In the email I forgot to mention that I have not seen the label "00" attached to durum flour. In general, "00" means very finely milled.
Thank you so much, Valerie, for the kind words. I am afraid we don't live close enough to each other to contemplate a quick visit, but you never know, visiting your country is on my wish list.
Hi Katie. I am sure your hands are full right now between the house, the garden and your dogs. Making pasta evokes the indoor.
Ciao Paz. I suggest you give it a try. It is a fun activity.
Let me know if you do, Ruth. It is always a pleasure to contribute to Presto Pasta Nights.
Ciao Frank. I was really lucky in the result of my first few attempts. I suspect that if I were to try the blade method I would not be as happy with the outcome. On the other hand, I really like the movement of dragging the pasta in both orecchiette and the strascinati I made a while ago. I suggest you give it another try.
Grazie Aioulik! Arrivero' presto in Lombardia.
Posted by: Simona | July 30, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Ha! I made an orecchiette pasta last night. So impressed that you make it by hand. One day, I shall try ...
Looks so delicious with a simple tomato sauce.
Posted by: Lori Lynn | August 01, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Ciao Lori Lynn. I was a bit intimidated at first, but really it is a matter of having a bit of patience and a small amount of dough to start with. Then, it's fun.
Posted by: Simona | August 02, 2012 at 10:13 AM
Brava on all of your adventures in making pasta by hand! I've done as you suggested and brought bags of rimacinato back from Italy with me — you were right, it was the type of semola used in the cooking course I attended in Puglia. Have you found a source in the US for the rmacinato, or can suggest what is the closest substitute?
Posted by: diary of a tomato | October 27, 2012 at 07:40 AM
Welcome back! I am sure you had a great time in Puglia. I suspect that you can buy some semola rimacinata from an online gourmet store, but I have found that the semolina flour that is sold in bulk at the local Co-op is nicely ground and works well. The brand is Giusto's.
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 28, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Lucky you to have Giusto's as your local brand! Also brought back a small bag of grano arso — let me know if you'd like me to send you some to try!
Posted by: diary of a tomato | November 03, 2012 at 09:18 AM
I am a bit envious about the grano arso: I looked for it in Perugia and could not find it. I'll be totally honest and say that I would love to try a small amount, but I am also a bit shy about depriving you of such a precious product. I'll send you an email and we can talk more about this. Thanks!
Posted by: Simona Carini | November 03, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Hello from Bari, Have you ever tried orecchiette with turnip tops They are hard to find but very tasty
Posted by: orecchiette e cime di rapa | September 08, 2014 at 12:41 PM
I know that they are tasty, but, as you say, they are hard to find. I wish more farmers grew them.
Posted by: Simona Carini | September 11, 2014 at 06:18 AM