Orecchiette are a type of pasta that is very common in Apulia and Basilicata, two Southern Italian regions. Their name comes from orecchie, ears, because of their shape. In fact, orecchiette literally means “small ears”. Here we see how to make authentic Italian orecchiette.
Like most pasta types from the southern parts of Italy, orecchiette are made without eggs. The only ingredients you need are water, semolina, and salt. The great thing is that this type of pasta is made entirely by hand so you won’t need a pasta machine, just a knife and some patience for rolling all the dough into shape.
As I come from Apulia, authentic Italian orecchiette represent for me an important part of my life in Italy. My mum always cooks them with turnip greens and pan-fried breadcrumbs in hot oil.
Also, if you happen to be in Bari, you cannot miss visiting the so-called Bari Vecchia, the old town of Bari, where women sell their own homemade fresh pasta and taralli. Among the type of pasta, orecchiette are the most common ones. They have become more and more known not only in Italy but also around the world. In fact, it’s a must for tourists who visit the area.
The history of orecchiette
As for many other dishes, the origin and history of this type of pasta are uncertain. In fact, some believe that this pasta originated in Provence, in France, and therefore it’s not Italian. According to this theory, the Angevins brought it to Italy, particularly in Apulia and Basilicata, which are, as said in the beginning, the places where this kind of pasta is the most known, made, and eaten.
A different theory has that the orecchiette originated in Sannicandro di Bari, a city in the province of Bari, the capital of Apulia. In this case, they originated from the Jewish community, and they are based on the Hammantash, in Italian le orecchie di Haman, a pastry that has a concave shape.
What to eat with authentic Italian orecchiette
As with any other kind of pasta, combinations are multiple. Here we see some classical examples of how to eat the authentic Italian orecchiette:
- Orecchiette with turnip greens (orecchiette alle cime di rapa). These are the most common ones and are pretty typical in Apulia, where turnip greens are available in generous amounts. The traditional version includes anchovies, but some people leave them out. My mum for instance does not include them all the time when making them.
- In Salento, a geographic and historical region of the administrative Apulia region, orecchiette are usually cooked with tomato sauce (with or without meat) and with strongly flavored ricotta.
- In Matera, the capital of Basilicata, orecchiette alla materana (from the name of the city) are made with tomato sauce, minced lamb, mozzarella, and pecorino cheese.
These are most probably the most famous way of eating authentic Italian orecchiette. Surely, there are more, both traditional and less traditional versions.
How to store them
If you want to store your homemade fresh pasta, let them dry for 60-90 minutes. After this time, your pasta will be dry and harder. Sprinkle with semolina and mix with your hands. Let them rest for 30 more minutes. You can place them in an airtight container or in a freezer bag and store them in your refrigerator for 2-3 days. As it is fresh pasta, it won’t stay good for much longer.
Alternatively, you can freeze them. Remember to use airtight containers or freezer bags in order to preserve the freshness of the pasta. It’s recommended to place a tray in the freezer with all of them in order to freeze them before placing them in a bag. In this way, you will avoid for them to stick to each other when they are in the bags.
When you need to cook them, just throw them in boiling water, without thawing them.
Did you know how to make authentic Italian orecchiette? Have you ever tried this recipe? How do you make it usually? Can you find turnip greens in your country?
Authentic Italian orecchiette
On a flat, big working surface, mix semolina together with salt. Create a "volcano" shape out of the semolina, by creating a hole in the middle of the flour pile.
Add lukewarm water little by little into the center and mix it into the semolina, allowing the semolina to absorb all the water.
Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes, until elastic and well-mixed. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.
Cut a piece of the dough (about 1/4 or 1/6) and roll out into a 1-1.5cm thick "sausage". Keep the rest of the dough covered. Cut into pieces of about 1 cm long.
To shape a piece, take a normal table knife, and push the piece downwards by pushing the flat part of the blade with your fingers and pulling the knife towards you. The dough will stretch and curl around the knife. Invert the pasta curl by pushing it with your thumb, to create the inside-out shape.Use a wooden surface or anything similar, to create a more rustic look on the orecchiette when you drag them with a knife.
Store covered and preferably don't let the individual pasta pieces touch each other to avoid sticking together. Continue shaping the entire dough, piece by piece until finished. When fresh, cooking the pasta takes about 4 minutes. If using dried or frozen ones, increase cooking time.