The other day when I was learning how to make homemade cazzatelle pasta, when I saw my friend’s mom squash a piece of dough into the final shape of the pasta, I exclaimed “Orecchiette!” because I thought that was what she was making.
She chuckled and said no, they weren’t orecchiette, and that she would show me how to make orecchiette afterwards. So once we finished the cazzatelle, we whipped up another batch of dough and lesson #2 began!
The shape of orecchiette pasta is very interesting. The name itself means “little ears” since that’s sort of what the turned-inside-out shells look like, and they have a textured pattern from being rolled against a knife while being made.
Orecchiette come from the regions of Puglia and Basilicata and are most famous for being an integral ingredient in the famous Pugliese dish orecchiette con cime di rapa (orecchiette with turnip top greens.)
Here’s the pasta recipe:
Prepare and knead the dough exactly like in steps 1-3 of the cazzatelle recipe, but use a tad less water since the dough will be worked more since orecchiette are slightly more labor intensive.
Roll out long skinny pieces of dough just like in step 4 of the cazzatelle recipe. Cut off a small piece at a time, like in the above photo. The size of the piece can be varied until the ideal size for the orecchiette is achieved.
Take a butter knife (preferibly a smooth, non-serrated one) and line it up against the end of the piece of dough that is farthest away from you. Keeping your thumb against the end of the piece of dough closest to you in order to hold it in place, press the knife downwards and towards you at the same time, flattening the piece of dough and rolling it along the work surface. Stop just before you reach the other end (to leave a sort of lip on one side.)
The resulting flat-ish piece of pasta will be slightly curled up. Put your thumb inside the convex side of the pasta and turn it inside out (so the textured side becomes the outside.) Shape it if necessary with your fingers.
The inside is smooth. The orecchiette shouldn’t be too thin or too thick, but the important thing is to make them all around the same size and thickness.
It might take a few tries to figure out the ideal pressure and duration for rolling the pieces of pasta. If you press too hard you’ll poke a hole in them with the knife like I did a few times. I found that it was easier to work with slightly larger pieces of dough because the smaller pieces became too thin when I rolled them and therefore got holes in them.
Line them up in a single layer to dry out a bit before boiling them in water. They don’t take long; they’ll be done shortly after they rise to the top of the pot of water. Since we had just made the cazzatelle for that day’s lunch, we froze the orecchiette to eat later. If you’re going to freeze them, lay them out on a single layer on a cutting board or tray and put them in the freezer and let them get a little frozen individually like that. That will keep them from sticking together when you dump them all together into a plastic bag or container for easier storage in the freezer.