A wrinkled surface, a thin and smooth inside with a thicker edge… perfect for accompanying the most varied condiments… but what are we talking about? The main dish and symbol of Puglia: orecchiette!
The recipe and secrets for bringing a bit of Puglia home
What is Orecchiette?
Orecchiette are a type of handmade pasta, mixed only with durum wheat semolina flour, water, and salt. Their concave shape, obtained using a smooth blade knife and hands, resembles small ears from which their name derives. The orecchiette have a smooth inside and a rough surface because they are dragged onto a pastry board, and are perfect for collecting sauce.
The origin of the orecchiette is uncertain, it seems the Counts of Angiò of Provence loved a particular recipe that consisted of fresh pasta prepared with durum wheat flour and water. Its shape is similar to a disk, hollowed in the center, but thicker and less refined. This form was used because it was much easier to dry.
Another theory traces the origins of the orecchiette back to the period of the Norman-Suevian domination of Bari. In that period, the Jewish community inspired the birth of orecchiette from some traditional sweets. The most common sweet is the Ears of Aman- small pockets of fried shortcrust pastry shaped like ears.
There are different types of orecchiette, closely linked to the area, including the smaller-shaped “chiancarelle”, the larger-shaped “priest's ears” and the “strascenete” with a more rounded shape.
The orecchiette can be flavored with many types of ragù sauces (red, rabbit) with tomato sauce to which you can add meatballs or the classic orecchiette with broccoli rabe, the symbolic dish of Puglia.
How to make Orecchiette Pasta Recipe
To prepare the orecchiette, start by pouring the durum wheat semolina flour on a pastry board, form a fountain, and add a pinch of salt.
Start pouring a little room temperature water and slowly add the flour to the water until you get a consistent and elastic dough (you will need about ten minutes of mixing the dough).
Give the dough a round shape and let it rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
After this period, take a piece of dough and make a small roll, from which you will obtain small pieces of 1 cm.
With a smooth-bladed knife, drag a small piece at a time towards you on the pastry board (helping yourself with a little flour to keep them from sticking), creating a small shell that you will have to turn over with the help of your fingers.
Here is your first orecchietta! Proceed in this way until all the dough is finished.
How Long to Cook Orecchiette
The orecchiette must be cooked in boiling water with salt. The cooking time varies mainly by the type of pasta: if it is fresh orecchiette it will take just a few minutes, while for the dried ones it will take up to 15 minutes.
Fresh orecchiette after a few minutes in water will tend to rise to the surface: this is the sign that they are already cooked. At this point everything will depend on personal taste because there are those who love them al dente and those well cooked.
The recommendation is to drain them immediately if you want to sauté them in the pan, while waiting a few more minutes if they are going to be served with the sauce directly on the plate.
Orecchiette Pasta: Secrets and Tips
The ingredients are the fundamental variable for the success of the recipe, the more quality they are, the better the result:
Always use durum wheat semolina (preferably not re-milled) to make the orecchiette more porous.
The use of salt is always at personal discretion, but a pinch is always recommended!
Lukewarm water should always be used in the dough, to be added in small doses to obtain an elastic and consistent dough that is easier to work with.
In some parts of Italy, eggs are used to knead the orecchiette, but the original Pugliese ones DO NOT require their use.
- How to Keep Them
One method of storage is drying: they must be covered with a dry cloth, then stored in a bag and used within a month.
Orecchiette Recipe: Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe
Living Puglia also means tasting its flavors, so it is impossible to give up the main dish of tradition. It’s a unique mix of pasta and vegetables enhanced by the taste of anchovy fillets that go perfectly with the dish and the crunchy toasted breadcrumbs … Orecchiette with broccoli rabe!
Here's how to get a taste of Puglia at home:
- 1 kg broccoli rabe
- 50 g breadcrumbs
- Salt to taste
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 fillets of anchovies in oil
- 30 g Extra virgin olive oil
Clean the broccoli rabe by removing the outer leaves and taking only the inner leaves and the flower, then rinse and drain.
Put plenty of salted water in a pot and bring to a boil, then boil the broccoli rabe for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour half the oil into a pan and add the breadcrumbs, mix until the breadcrumbs are well toasted and set aside.
Prepare the sauté by putting half the remaining oil and the garlic in a pan, then add the anchovy fillets, which will melt quickly. Then set aside by removing the garlic.
After 5 minutes of cooking the broccoli tops, pour the orecchiette into the same pot and cook for another 5 minutes.
Drain the orecchiette with broccoli tops and sauté them directly in the sauté pan.
Serve the orecchiette with broccoli greens, garnishing them with a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs.