Who else loves fresh pasta? In our house we do and you’ll regularly find us kneading and rolling dough to make ravioli or fresh lasagne sheets. Making your own ravioli or tortellini means you get to fill them with just the things you like best, opening up a range of possibilities. But also when it comes to humble spaghetti or tagliatelle, the flavour and structure are incomparable to those of their shopbought siblings, making the effort well worth your while. And last but not least, making your own pasta is just a lot of fun!
Admittedly, most of these pasta shapes do take a bit of time and equipment to prepare, which means we usually schedule fresh pasta making as a weekend activity. Orecchiette are the big exception. The dough for this pasta couldn’t be easier, consisting only of flour, water and a pinch of salt. And the only equipment needed to shape these cute little floppy ears are a fork, a bread knife and your thumbs.
Shaping the individual pasta bites makes a nice meditative activity when you do it on your own. But it’s also a fun way to spend time together and talk while your hands work their way through the batch of pasta dough. And it’s a lovely opportunity to get your children involved in the kitchen: they’ll be able to help you knead and shape the dough from a very early age and if you let them, you’ll both be in for a fun afternoon.
When it comes to sauces and toppings, orecchiette pair well with almost anything, really. A traditional way to serve them is with cime di rapa or with broccoli florets and pine nuts, but they’re also lovely topped with fresh pesto, roasted red pepper sauce or a simple tomato sauce with arugula and a green salad.
The orecchiette you see below are tossed with a mixture of lemon juice, lemon zest and green herbs. For this sauce you can pick and combine any kind of seasonal herbs to your liking, such as basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, tarragon and sage. Thanks to my friend Anca, who let me walk around her flowering herb garden with scissors, the result is pretty enough for a dinner party. At the same time it makes a rustic, easily assembled weekday dinner, bursting with fresh, clean flavours.
Homemade orecchiette with pine nuts and green herbs – serves 4
for the pasta
- 500 g fine durum wheat semolina flour, or regular wheat flour
- pinch of salt
- 225 ml warm water
for the sauce
- 100 ml olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 6 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, flat-leaf parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage
- grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Plus: 40 g toasted pine nuts
Mix the flour and the salt. Tip onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle.
Gradually pour in the warm water and mix in the flour with a fork. Once all of the water is combined, knead the mixture for a few minutes into a smooth and firm dough.The dough should be moist, but not sticky; if necessary, add a bit more water or flour. Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest for 1-2 hours until firm.
Briefly knead the dough again, then divide it into 8-10 pieces, keeping them covered until using. With your fingers, roll a piece of dough into a long, 1.5 cm thick sausage. Using a regular bread knife, cut the sausage into small lengths, again around 1.5 cm. Flatten the pieces with the flat side of the knife, by smearing them into thin discs on the work top, then shape the discs into floppy ears over the tip of your thumb. Repeat with the remaining dough. Keep the orecchiette on a floured surface until using.
If you make this pasta with young children, you can let them shape the ears without the use of a knife, by letting them roll the pieces of dough into little balls and then dent those with their thumbs.
To make the sauce, gently heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and let it infuse for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the orecchiette, stir well and cook until al dente. For thin pasta that has just now been shaped, this will take 1-2 minutes; thicker discs that have had more time to dry may need a few more minutes.
Take the oil off the heat and stir through the lemon juice, the lemon zest and the chopped herbs. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Drain the pasta and toss with the herb oil. Divide the pasta over four plates, sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve immediately.