Pasta shapes are always a temptation for food shoppers, they sure are to me. Whenever I spot a new package, a new type or shape, I feel intrigued to immediately see how I can make use them. But remember, most traditional pasta shapes are not (only) designed to be pure eye candy but are transporting (literally) the taste, supporting the sauce they work best with. Form follows function, if you will.
Who knows how many different pasta shapes are out there, it’s difficult to guess too, as there is no definitive list nor any sort of standardization – manufacturers can and do add further shapes from time to time. Hundreds? Probably, but not to worry, they can easily be broken down into basic types and moreover, oftentimes very similar shapes just have different names:
Solid, string pasta (e.g. spaghetti, vermicelli)
Ribbons (e.g. tagliatelle, linguine)
Spiral pasta (e.g. fusilli, gemelli)
Tubular pasta (e.g. penne, macaroni, rigatoni)
Small decorative shapes (e.g. farfalle, orecchiette)
Ready-stuffed pasta (le.g. ravioli, tortellini)
Many pasta shapes are interchangeable, here are a few general tips:
Light sauces go well with smaller pastas and thinner strands (e.g. angel hair, vermicelli)
Hearty vegetable, meat sauces or salads require more robust pasta (e.g. penne, casarecci, farfalle)
Creamy sauces are a good match for curly, twisted shapes (e.g. fusilli, gemelli)
Most of the basic shapes come in multiple sizes, and as a general tip, go with a size that allows to scoop up the chunks in your sauce. I doubt you’d end up in a disaster when not choosing the perfect shape for your sauce, but I do believe it makes a difference in a recipe and could give it a whole new look.
Lasagne sheets, linguine, papardelle or ravioli, the usual suspects if it comes to home made pasta – been there done that. I was up for something new and exciting. Orecchiette – Puglia’s traditional ear-shaped pasta! Although I tried, I failed miserably at making the pasta dough based on hard wheat. No idea why things went awry, a second attempt with a familiar recipe, including eggs, actually made the making of orecchiette – all of a sudden – look a lot easier than it really is. The ease of making pasta was nicely demonstrated on a recent fantastic documentary about southern Italy, showing old women in the tiny streets of Bari producing huge amounts of this typical Pugliese pasta, virtually effortlessly. Well, not quite there yet, mine turned out a little too large after cooking (orecchi grandi so to speak). Orecchiette con cime di rapa, the recipe I had in mind, unfortunately had to be dismissed, simply due to the fact that broccoli rabe wasn’t available anywhere I looked for it. Instead, I took the best of various other traditional Italian orecchiette recipes I found online and improvised a bit.
Funny enough, now that we’ve gained our own experience in making orecchiette, it’d be interesting to see how they’re prepared “properly” on our upcoming trip to the the heel of Italy, Puglia, following an invitation to attend a food conference organized by Oldways. More to follow – upon our return!
For the pasta dough: Traditionally, orecchiette are made of nothing else but durum (hard) wheat flour, water and salt, but the original recipe ended up in what can only be described as a culinary catastrophe. So I tapped into trusted sources and picked a pasta recipe (including eggs!) I knew was working. I thoroughly kneaded all the ingredients on a wooden board turning it into a perfect dough ball, wrapped it in foil and kept it cool in the fridge for at least half an hour. (200 g/7 oz flour, Italian Type 00, 2 eggs, salt)
Step by step cut pieces from the dough, shape finger-sized rolls (~2cm/1″ in diameter). Slice rolls in ½cm/0.2″ thin slices, press a dent into each using your floured thumb. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to dry over night.
Bring large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and add the orecchiette. Wash the broccoli and cut it in small bite size pieces. Add them to the pot just before the pasta is done, the last 3 to 4 minutes should be sufficient. The exact time of course depends on the size of the orecchiette and isn’t easy to guess! My pasta took much longer than I thought (almost 13 minutes), consequently, the broccoli turned out a little too soft – on the other hand, the additional time helped to flavor the pasta.
Heat some olive oil in a large pan, add the chopped garlic, chilies and anchovies. Drain pasta and broccoli (save 2-3 tbsp of the salted water) and add them to the pan. Stir well, season with black pepper/sea salt and serve with grated Pecorino or Parmesan. Even though my orecchiette did not turn out perfect, homemade pasta is always a delight ;)
Orecchiette (almost) alla pugliese
Recipe source: a mix of various on- and offline sources
orecchiette: ~1,5 hours plus drying over night, cooking: 20min.
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
250g fresh Orecchiette (200 g/7 oz flour, Italian Type 00, 2 eggs, salt)
one mid-sized broccoli
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red chili, chopped
2-4 anchovies, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
to serve: freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan