I'm All Ears

When I tell people that making homemade pasta is easy, they often respond that they can't because they don't have the right equipment.

Pish-tosh, I respond. All you need are two hands. That's how Nonna did it, and so can you.

Sure, having a nice Atlas roller and cutter makes it a lot easier, but it certainly isn't difficult without one. For first timers, I often suggest the easiest of pasta doughs - a semolina dough and making orecchiette. Orecchiette are little ears. Once you know that, all you can see are ears when looking at the shape.

The dough for orecchiette calls for only two ingredients: flour and water. Okay, for my version, I mix two kinds of flours... but that really doesn't make it more difficult, does it?

This is my first video for Cocoa & Lavender - details of the pasta-making
method are in the written recipe below. Peter Cortés, my friend
and one of our amazing Honors College students, shot the video and
did a terrific job! I learned a lot about the process, and know better
what to do next time. For example, I would form the ears with my left
hand instead of my right. I hope you enjoy; there will be more to come.

The nice thing about making orecchiette is that you cannot make it with a machine. It is definitely a handmade shape. (I am sure the pasta manufacturers have a machine, but it isn't available to the likes of us.)

Mix. Roll. Cut. Flick. Repeat. That's all it takes folks, and just imagine how impressed your friends will be! (Actually, it is really fun to make it with your friends, as I did here with Susan from The Modern Trobadors when she was visiting Tucson.)

Tutti a tavola!

~ David


7 ounces semolina
1 ounce "00 flour, plus extra
pinch of salt
1/2 cup warm water

In a shallow bowl mix the salt & both flours together, add in most of the warm water and mix.

When it has mostly come together (you may need to add more water or, if you added to much, you may need to add some more flour), turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and begin kneading. The dough should be pliable - not too soft, and definitely not crumbly. Add a little extra "00" flour if needed to make a good dough. Continue kneading for 5 minutes, then cover the dough in in a damp cloth (or wrap in plastic wrap) and allow to rest for 30-60 minutes.

When you remove the dough from the plastic, it will be a bit sticky. Knead it a few times on your well-floured board, then cut it into 8 pieces. Recover 7 pieces and roll the remaining piece into a long, snake-like piece, about 3/8-inch thick; I found it is easier to get a long rope by rolling the dough between your hands. Using a dough scraper or knife, cut off 3/8-inch pieces. Once they are all cut, roll each piece between the palms of your hands and then press your thumb into, and drag it across a well-floured board to create the ear shape. Let the pieces dry on a board or wax paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used up. (Note: I have not yet mastered the technique Nonna would use - shaping the orecchiette with a knife. But my process works pretty well.)

A this point, the orecchiette may be frozen on sheets. Once completely frozen, put them in a freezer bag. By freezing them on the sheet, they won't stick to one another in the bag.

To cook: bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil. (Did you know that you should salt the water just after it has come to a boil? It boils faster that way.)

Cook the orecchiette in the salted water for 6 minutes. Drain and add to your sauce.

Serves 4.

Here is a traditional pasta sauce traditionally served on orecchiette. It is a great favorite of ours:

Orecchiette with Broccolini and Shallots

2 bunches broccolini
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
pancetta, or hard sausage, optional
chile pepper flakes, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Trim the very ends of the broccolini stems. Trim off the broccolini florets and set aside. Slice the stems and set aside in a separate pile.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and cook the shallots and chile flakes until shallots are soft, but not brown. If you are using either pancetta or sausage, you can add them with the shallots and cook until golden brown.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the fresh orecchiette and broccolini stems. After 2-3 minutes, add the florets. *

After another three minutes, remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain pasta and broccolini and add them to the sauté pan. Cook for another minute or two, then add some pasta water, as needed, to keep it moist.

Serve in heated bowls with Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

* If you are using store-bought dried orecchiette, cook for 6 minutes, then add stems, then 2-3 minutes later add the florets for a total cooking time of 11-12 minutes.

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