Strolling through the paved alleys of Bari on a Sunday morning, you might come across nonnas selling homemade pasta from small stacks of wire-mesh racks. The pasta they’re selling is a Pugliese staple – orecchiette – and has been around since the 12th century. The term orecchiette originates from the Italian term for ‘little ears’, a reference to this pasta’s unique shape. Whilst originating in the heel of Italy, orecchiette is enjoyed all over il Bel Paese as well as abroad. Here’s how to make this simple yet versatile Pugliese pasta by hand.
Our Authentic Fresh Orecchiette Pasta Recipe
Prep time: 90-120 minutes
Cooking time: 3 minutes
Calories per serving: 349
- 400g durum wheat
- 160ml luke-warm water
- A pinch of salt
- Pour out the flour onto a flat work surface and make a small trough in the middle.
- Gradually add the luke-warm water to the trough, and begin to work the flour in with your fingers.
- Once you’ve worked in most of the flour to form a dough, it’s time to knead – about 10 minutes is enough to achieve an elastic, slightly bouncy consistency.
- Leave the dough ball to rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature, covered with a damp tea-towel.
- Once rested, roll out the dough into a long rope-like shape with the palm of your hand – it should be about 1cm in width.
- Using a knife, cut the rope into small pillows of dough around 1cm in length.
- This is the key step – using a non-serrated knife, press down slightly on each piece and roll along the work surface so that the dough turns onto itself. Press your finger into the concave to make the shape into a dome.
- Leave them to dry on a clean tea-towel or wire rack for a couple of hours.
- Cook for 2 minutes in boiled water, add to your favourite pasta sauce and prepare to be transported to the sun-baked streets of Puglia.
You can also follow along as our chef Roberta makes orecchiette in the video below.
Top secret chef’s tips for making orecchiette by hand
Orecchiette is our Head Chef Roberta’s speciality, so she has provided some insider tips on how to get it just right.
- The Knife – If you want stick to tradition, use a non-serrated knife. A butter knife with a round tip is ideal – apart from its smooth surface, it’s not heavy so won’t tire your hand (making a big batch of fresh orecchiette can take up to 2 hours – quality takes time!)
- Durum Wheat – Only ever use semola di grano duro (durum wheat flour), and never 00 flour. Alternatively, you can use hard wheat or whole grain semolina (but remember to increase how mow water you mix into the dough slightly). Want to know more about the best types of flour to use for certain pastas, check out our latest article - What Flour Should I Use for Making Pasta.
- Warm water – Don’t use boiling or cold water – luke warm is the temperature to aim for. Bring the water to a boil before letting it cool. Dip your finger it to test the temperature – it should feel pleasantly hot.
- When is the dough ready? – The dough should have a hard, perhaps woody texture rather than being soft or malleable. Keep kneading and before long you’ll have the best dough to create the most authentic orecchiette.
The perfect sauces for orecchiette
Each pasta shape is suited to a certain type of sauce, and orecchiette is no exception. Its rough texture makes these small pasta bowls the perfect vessel for a range of sauces. As a general rule, larger orecchiette are suitable for chunky vegetable sauces like broccoli and sausage, whilst smaller ‘ears’ are better for meat ragú or a delicious pesto - you could even try making our signature pistachio pesto recipe yourself!
Our favourite orecchiette pasta recipes
Puglia’s classic and most authentic orecchiette dish is orecchiette con cime di rapa – which sees the shape paired with a sauce of garlic, anchovies and cime di rapa. Known in the UK as turnip tops or rapini, cime di rapa has a mustardy, slightly-bitter flavour profile. Once boiled, its bitter-sweetness comes to the fore – making it a perfect match for this salty, savoury sauce.
The bright tomatoes that serve as the base of this sauce are blended with fresh basil and fragrant garlic, and slowly simmered until thick and glossy, rendering a sauce with substance and exquisite flavour, despite its rustic simplicity.
Prepared in a matter of moments, this vibrant pasta sauce is both nutritious and delicious, the perfect combination to invigorate and energise you for the afternoon ahead.
Our pesto sees a slight twist on the classic Ligurian version, swapping out the pine nuts for the highly prized Bronte pistachio from Sicily. For the sake of ease, any pistachio will do. The mild, slightly sweet flavour of the nut pairs perfectly with aromatic basil and sharp parmesan, resulting in a light and sophisticated meal.