If you told me a year ago that I would be taken into the kitchen of two beautiful Italian ladies and taught how to make orecchiette pasta as their mothers and grandmothers taught them to make it, I would call you crazy. But last Saturday night, Kristin and I were given an official Orecchiette Lesson (Orecchiette is the traditional, ear-shaped pasta of Puglia) paired with a novello Primitivo made by Consorzio Produttori Vini in Manduria. Kristin and I had made orecchiette ourselves, but we followed an online recipe that had us doing more tricks and spending more time than necessary.
Debora and Margarita had it all planned. They made most of the pasta in advance--allowing it to dry for three to four hours--but saved a short roll of dough for us to practice on. To make the pasta dough, you use semolina flour, water, and a pinch of salt. I usually use a flour-to-water ratio of 4:1 (here's more on that). When your dough is ready, roll it out into long roll with a 1/2 inch diameter; similar to making gnocchi. Here's where the lesson began.
Debora and Margarita said to cut a piece of dough about a centimeter long from the roll. Using a butter knife, put one edge of the blade lengthwise on the far edge of the piece of dough. Put the index finger of your other hand on the opposite side of the dough, then pull the knife toward you, almost like you are spreading butter. The dough will roll over itself. After a little practice, Kristin and I got the knife to make an elongated indent in the dough. Next, pick up the dough and place it on top of your thumb, then use both index fingers to pull the edges down around your thumb to create a hat-shape. And that's it.
The beauty of this method is that you do not need to press the dough three times as some recipes suggest, and you all also achieve the corrugated texture of traditional orecchiette without using a grooved board specifically designed for making orecchiette (I mean, whose gonna buy one of those?). The texture comes from the spreading/tearing of the orecchiette with the knife.
The meal was fantastic (above: Kristin was sad when her "little ear" looked more like a nose). Our friends Marco and Marco (aka Tom and Jerry) started us off with Pugliese polpette (meat balls) and the Primitivo. The Primitivo was Amabile, which means that it's sweet, but it paired very well with the tomato sauce and cacioricotta that went over the orecchiette. The second course was involtini, made with veal, Parmesan cheese, and parsley, which had been cooked in the same sauce. This ensured that the flavors of the primo and the secondo were inseparable. Stewed peppers with balsamic vinegar were served on the side. Again, the Primitivo paired wonderfully.
Like all great dinner parties, we ended with a game of golf. That it was Wii Golf made it all the better because midnight was long gone and it's no fun trying to find your ball in the dark. Please comment with any questions you may have. Salute!