As the temperatures have dropped again, I feel a pasta al forno (pasta bake) coming on, made with homemade orecchiette (little ears). I have posted a recipe for orecchiette with cima di rapa before now, but thought I’d use pictures to try an explain how to make egg-free pasta again as it tastes delicious and is a great fallback if you find your cupboards are bare.
First off the quantities: I prefer using a ratio of two-thirds plain OO flour to one-third-semolina flour or half and half. Using 100% semolina flour tastes great but 100% plain flour tastes pretty grim, unless you enjoy eating paper mache flour glue.
It’s best to make egg-free pasta a few hours before you need to eat it as it allows the dough time to rest a little before you make the pasta and then leaving the pasta to dry a little helps them retain their shape when you cook them.
So first get two cups of plain four and one of semolina and make a well in the middle. Gradually add enough tepid water until you have a ball of dough. Knead the dough well until you have a smooth elastic ball (it should take around 10-15 minutes).
Then break a little dough off and cover the rest so that it doesn’t dry out and begin rolling it with both hands until you have a thin sausage about 1 cm in diameter. Cut the sausage every 1 cm so you have little squares. Rather then rolling and cutting the whole length in one go I find it best to cut around a dozen squares at a time and then shape them before rolling a bit more of the dough and repeating the cycle. If I shape all the squares at the same time I get a bit gung-ho and end up with quite a few misshapen cauliflower ears.
Take each small cube of pasta and with the tip of a rounded knife press the dough on the board and pull it in your direction and a round ear will form with a thicker ring at the edge. I keep a finger on the top part as I pull the knife towards me else I end up with elvish ears. None of my neighbours who have shared their orecchiette secrets do this, but it works for me, and who knows, maybe with enough practice I can knock them out one-handed and faster than the speed of light (which they all seem to do).
Then, pop the flat ear of pasta on your thumb and with the two adjacent fingers; pull the pasta down, whilst pushing the centre of the orecchiette up and you should have something round and ear-like. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, these are handmade after all and practice makes perfect.
Remove dough from your finger and pop on a lightly floured plate or board. Repeat until you have finished your dough and cover with a clean cloth.
After allowing the orecchiette to rest for a few hours cook it in some salted boiling water for around 10 minutes and then combine with your chosen cheese and sauce. Owing to its shell-like shape it holds both oil and tomato-based sauces really well so it works really well with sautéed bitter greens, crudiaola (uncooked tomatoes marinated in oil and garlic) and any type of ragu (fish, meat or vegetarian tomato-based sauces).
Later, I’ll mix the cooked orecchiette with a simple sauce made with passata, chilli, onions, oregano, mozzarella and pecorino and bake it the oven for half an hour. When the garden is full of peppers, courgettes and aubergines I usually include those too and make a separate one with smoked prosciutto and meat ragu for the non-vegetarians.
I was going to show you how to make egg-free maccheroni too but I couldn’t find the thin piece of metal required to roll thin strips of pasta around, so maybe another time. To make any type of egg-free pasta shape, be it orecchiette, maccheroni, pici, trofie, spaccatelle, cicatelli, maloreddus or cavatelli either ask an obliging nonna to help you or go to youtube and type in nonna and the name of the pasta you wish for. Here’s nonna Rosa making orecchiette and strascinete, although I’m rather impressed by zia Rosa’s no-looking efforts. Mine look nowhere near as good as these ladies and I make mine at a snail’s pace but they taste great and are really worth the effort.