Making your own pasta from scratch is a very therapeutic thing to do: that rhythmic kneading of the dough, the gentle rolling of pasta ribbons, flour in practically every corner of your kitchen( because let’s face it: if your kitchen doesn’t look like a damp Italian bakery, you’re doing it wrong) …
Making fresh pasta becomes even more therapeutic when you’re not using any kitchen utensils. Forget about that pasta machine! If you really want to become an all-Italian mamma, you have to do it by hand!
So in a state of true tranquility and utter zen-like spirit, I thought I would give homemade –and handmade!- orecchiette a go. No pasta machine. Not even a rolling pin. Just my hands. And it was fun!
The only thing that seemed to be missing was an actual Italian setting. ( a small Belgian kitchen is not really how I imagine my idyllic pasta-making surroundings. ) I poured myself a large glass of delicious Hugo to get into an Italian mood and –well- because I was hoping the alcohol would help me to see a Tuscan sun, rather than a Belgian cloud.
(Side note: A Hugo is a typically North-Italian drink made with prosecco, elderflower cordial, lime juice and lots of mint leaves. It’s like a slightly less alcoholic version of a mojito but with the additional sensational flavour of elderflower! What I’m trying to say is: Forget Aperol Spritz! It’s so 2012. Give the humble but delicious Hugo a go! You can thank me later 😉 )
So back to the pasta. This orecchiette dough is very easy to make since it doesn’t require eggs. It’s just flour, salt and water. For this recipe I used 300gr of semolina flour, ½ tablespoon of salt and… water. Most of the recipes (online or in books) list an exact amount of water, but previous experiences have taught me not to trust those and I just add water a little bit at a time. It will be different every time you make pasta, so don’t bother measuring it. Trust your instinct. It will guide you… Or trust me.
So pile the flour on your kitchen surface and create a well in the centre. Pour a little splash of water in the well and gradually incorporate the water in the flour using your fingers. Meanwhile add the salt as well. Once all the water is absorbed, continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture begins to form a dough. The dough should be soft, not wet!
Now start kneading. Kneading is not very difficult, just really labour intensive. Anybody can do it, the only thing you need is good arm muscles. If you still have no idea how to start kneading, here’s some guidance from Jamie Oliver: “There’s no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It’s quite hard work, and after a few minutes it’s easy to see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like Frank Bruno!”
Amen to that! After your daily dose of physical exercise, wrap your dough in cling-film and let it rest for half an hour. The official method of making orecchiette is rather straight-forward: roll your dough into snake-like strips and cut them into 0,5 cm pieces. Now it’s time to get your thumbs ready. Press your thumb into each piece of dough and pull it towards you. This will make the dough roll and flip over. This movement is supposed to create a slight cap into the dough, which makes it look like a little ear.
Easy huh? In reality, however, the pieces of dough are more likely to look like maggots or unidentifiable cavy little objects, rather than resemble little ears, but that’s the beauty of pasta-making: It’s homemade! It’s not supposed to look perfect! Just as long as it has some kind of cave in it, because this will make it easier for the pasta sauce to cling to the pasta.
Orecchiette finished? Let’s start with the other major part of this recipe: the super duper delicious sauce!
Orecchiette with mushrooms, asparagus, radish shoots and a creamy pecorino sauce
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
• Fresh orecchiette (see instructions above)
• 400gr of mushrooms, choose at least three varieties of mushrooms to make the dish more exciting
• 200gr green baby asparagus
• 100gr radish shoots
• 200ml soy cream
• 100gr grated pecorino
• 1 tbsp thyme
• 1 tsp fennel seeds
• 1 red onion, finely sliced
• 2 cloves of garlic
1. Blanche the asparagus in some salted boiling water for 2 minutes.
2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and thyme and stir for a few minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and let them fry until they are golden brown. Add the soy cream and season with salt and pepper. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes on a low heat.
4. Meanwhile, cook your fresh pasta. This will only take a couple of minutes.
5. Cut the blanched asparagus into pieces and add to the mushroom sauce. Stir in the grated pecorino.
6. Stir the cooked orecchiette in the pasta sauce and season if necessary.
7. Finally stir through the radish shoots.
8. Buon appetito!