Orecchiette pasta is my favorite short pasta. I tried in a restaurant years ago and have loved it ever since. I don’t buy it very often because its hard to find and usually quite expensive. I also found the store bought Orecchiette can be a bit tough as well.
Orecchiette is actually from the region of Puglia (the heel of Italy). It’s name translates to ‘little ears’, because that is what it looks like. It is made of only semolina pasta, water and salt. It is often paired with broccoli, turnip greens or tomato sauce (vegetarian or with ragu/meatballs/brasciole) or strong sheeps cheese. In the city of Cisternino (Puglia), there is a variant of this pasta, which is a bit larger and has deep internal ribs, which looks more like an ear. It is called recch’ d’privt, which means ears of the priest. This variant uses soft wheat flour.
The origins of Orecchiette is not actually from Italy, but from the south of France, during in the Middle Ages. Back then it was a made of a thick paste, which was shaped into discs and hollowed in the center using the thumb. They made it this shape because it was easily dried. It was used during times of famine and was also loaded on ships and sent abroad.
How did it come to Italy? Well in the 13th century the French Anjou dystasy ruled the lands, which are now the modern Italian regions of Basicilica and Puglia. So it may have came to Italy this way. Alternatively, expert scholars of food and wine in Puglia, think that Orecchiette would have originated in Sannicandro di Bari, in Bari (Puglia), when the Normal-Swabian ruled during the 12th and 13th century. It was perhaps created as protection again the local Jewish communities and/or derived from the Jewish recipe Hamantash, which translates to the ears of Haman (from the book Esther).
I found many recipes for Orecchiette that combining wheat flour and semolina. However, there were comments left by some Italian said they would lynch you in Puglia for doing that. So I thought I would stick to the original recipe of just using semolina. It was incredibly easy and quick to make. After being cooked it was not tough and not to soft. It is completely different texture to other pastas, yet it is still pleasant to eat. It is chewy, but not too chewy. Well you just have to try it! There are heaps of videos on youtube showing you how to shape the pasta. It is very easy and you get better as you go.
I decided to make it with broccoli, because I have had this dish before in Milan, at my favorite place to eat Osteria al 29. I loved the simplicity of broccoli, good olive oil and a hint of chili. Sometimes simple is the best way. Marco, who isn’t a fan of broccoli loved this dish. I was going to add some sauce to his to take to work, but strangely enough he was happy to go without. The photo on the right is at Osteria al 29, but I can’t find a picture of the originally dish. It was offered for lunch on many menus in Milan and is one of the few vegan pasta dishes I saw other then Pasta al pomodoro.
Homemade Orecchiette (vegan, soy free, nut free)
250g semolina flour
bit more than 1/4 cup hot water (not boiling)
pinch of salt
1. Place the semolina in a bowl and add salt. Stir through.
4. Cut the dough into 6 segments. Then roll each segment with your hands into a tube shape. Cut it in half again, and continue to roll the two tubes so they are 1 cm wide. Continue rolling the rest, until you have used all the dough and have several tube shaped pasta.
6. Once all the small pieces have been cut its time to shape your orecchiette. Take one piece of pasta and a rounded knife (without serrated edge). Drag the knife from the center of the piece of dough to the edge. Then turn the piece around and curve it around your finger, so it looks like a shell or a miniature bowl. Continue till you have shaped all the pasta.
7. To cook place the orecchiette pasta in salted boiling water. Remove from the water once all the orecchiette has floated to the top. It should take 5-10 mins to cook.
*Serves 2 mains or 3 entree size
Orecchiette ai Broccoli (vegan, soy free)
homemade orecchiette (from recipe above)/dried orecchiette to serve 2
1 large head of broccoli
extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
red chili flakes to taste
sea salt to taste
vegan parmesan to serve
4. Once water has boiled for the pasta, add orecchiette and salt to cook.
5. In a pan add olive oil and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Then add broccoli and chili and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add more oil if you need.
6. Pasta should be ready now, so add it to the pan and include a little bit of pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes. Serve with vegan parmesan.
*Serves 2 mains or 3 entree