Sure, you’ve seen us make flat pastas like fettuccine, but what about when you want a fancy shape? After all, flat pastas are easy, but shapes? They seem hard. And we’re sure some of them are difficult, if not impossible, to make at home without specialized equipment. Think pasta extruder. But, other shapes have been made at home for a long, long time.
One of our favorite pasta shapes that we can make up at home is orecchiette (literally, “little ears”; don’t you love the names for pasta?), because, if you have a dish with peas and orecchiette, the peas will fit right inside the pasta and look somewhat like small boats. It’s just fun.
Now, we saw this technique on this site, and we’ll have to admit those professional photos look nice, and they probably had a lot more practice making them, but if we can scratch them out, so can you.
We happened to use the egg-less pasta dough, but any will work.
Procedure in detail:
It will take you a few minutes to get the hang of shaping these pastas, but we worked through a batch of pasta in about 20 minutes. And this was our first time shaping it. We start with the pasta dough when it has rested for 30 minutes.
Divide. The only reason we’re dividing the dough is to make it easier to handle. After all, you’ll be making a pasta rope; do you want a 6-foot length of pasta rope to chop up? Thought not. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.
Roll. Just like when you made coiled pottery, roll out the pasta dough into a long snake. If it springs back, roll each piece as best you can, cover the ropes with plastic wrap and let it relax for a few minutes, and then roll again. It’ll roll out to about 1/4-inch. Or, if you want larger little ears, go with a larger diameter rope.
Chop. Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper and cut the rope into pieces about 1/4-inch (or so) long. The dough pieces will look like little pillows, but remember that we’re making little ears.
Press. Use the tip of a table knife to press down the center of each pillow. We found it worked best if we turned the pillow onto a cut edge, and pressed the other cut edge. Press hard enough so the orecchiette will hold its shape, but not so hard that you press a hole in the pasta. Finish shaping the pasta on the tip of your finger or thumb. The resulting shape should look somewhat like a small helmet (think about the helmets that the doughboys wore during World War I).
Dry. Set the pasta on a drying rack covered with a towel until you’re ready to boil them up. And, when you do boil them, remember that fresh pasta cooks much faster (sometimes only 1-2 minutes) than store-bought.
We thought that these orecchiette would be more difficult to shape. Instead, it turns out to be a pretty easy process, and it helps us for when we want to make dishes that really need a pasta shape that isn’t flat. For example, mac and cheese (how many of you out there make mac and cheese with home-scratched pasta?), or, as we’re currently thinking, orecchiette, peas, and ricotta with lemon zest. If we do the latter, watch for the recipe. We already know that scratched pasta is worth five stars.