paired with fresh basil and spicy vegetarian Italian sausage
Orecchiette translates to “little hat” in Italian, which is fitting for the hat-like, handmade pasta. Semolina pasta dough, which can be made of just semolina flour and water, is cheaper to make than egg pasta. Orecchiette is surprisingly simple— you don’t need a pasta machine, just a butter knife. As a result, orecchiette, classically made with a semolina dough, is known as poor man’s pasta. This was my first time trying semolina pasta, and I loved the yellow color and the chewiness of the bite. If I let my orecchiette dry a little more before boiling, I think the hat shape would be preserved more, and it would be even chewier.
Cooking fresh pasta is completely different than store-bought, dried pasta. For starters, since your pasta is fresh and has never been dried, you will never get to al dente, which translates to “to the bite” or “to the tooth,” to be still firm when bitten. Usually dried pastas are cooked al dente in water, then finish cooking and soften up a little in the sauce. Any fresh pasta will cook very quickly, usually around 2 minutes. When the pasta floats, it is done. Make sure to keep your eye on it and don’t overcook it, undercooked pasta is far better than mushy, overcooked pasta. Some tricks that I have picked up for making fresh pasta include keeping the water at a boil, so turn up the heat! Also, when your pasta is dusted in cornstarch or flour to keep it from sticking to itself, make sure to shake off any excess before boiling. The cornstarch or flour will make your water gummy, and if it gets too cloudy, it is worth it to bring a fresh pot of water to boil. Maybe even keep a pot of boiling water at the ready, for when you need fresh water.
Another exciting part of this recipe is the vegetarian, no-meat Italian sausage. It is comprised of mushrooms, onions, and walnuts, with extra umami flavor from sun-dried tomatoes and miso paste. Instead of rolling up the “ground meat” and cooking sausages, I just cooked it off in a cast iron as you would cook ground meat. I was very surprised by the accuracy of the texture — it really looked like ground meat! You can tone down the spice, but I think a spicy “meat” works well with the orecchiette. It may not taste exactly like Italian sausage, but I think it’s pretty close.
- 454 g semolina flour
- 225 g warm water
- 100g walnuts
- 1 red onion, rough chopped
- 100g mushrooms, rough chopped
- 5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 75g oats
- 2 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tbsp dried basil
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
- 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 1/8 tsp All Spice
- 2 cups fresh basil, julienned
- 1 tbsp butter
- For the orecchiette, make a well with the semolina flour, then pour the water into the center. Use a fork to incorporate the flour, little by little, until a pancake-like consistency is reached in the center of your well.
- Use a bench scraper and fold the flour into the center, then cut it in.
- Once all the flour is hydrated, knead for 5–10 minutes until a smooth dough forms.
- Shape into a taut ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap and rest for at least 15 minutes. (At first, I used an old Ziplock to be more sustainable, but I ended up having to cut open the bag to get the sticky dough out. If you use plastic wrap, make sure to save it for the dough’s second bench rest.)
- Knead the dough for an additional 5–10 minutes, misting water as needed. Re-wrap (hopefully using the same plastic wrap) and rest overnight in the fridge, or on the counter for at least 4 hours.
- To make the orecchiette, slice off a section of the dough, then roll it out into a thin rope, about the diameter of your thumb. Cut off a section the size of a thumbnail. Use a butter knife to drag the dough, creating a shell. Carefully invert the dough to create orecchiette! (Not Another Cooking Show’s Orecchiette making video is a good reference for this process.)
- Let the orecchiette dry out a little on a floured surface while you make the sausage.
- For the sausage, pulse walnuts in a food processor until they reach a flour-like texture.
- Sweat onions and mushrooms in a cast iron skillet, then add to the food processor.
- Add remaining ingredients, excluding the basil and butter, to the food processor, and process until a ground meat consistency is reached. (I had to do this in two batches.)
- Return to the cast iron skillet and cook with olive oil as you would ground beef. Cook until most parts have become more brittle.
- Cook your orecchiette once they have rested in salted boiling water.
- As the orecchiette cook, add basil and sausage to a large pasta bowl.
- Use a spider to quickly transfer the cooked pasta, including some of the pasta water, to the basil and sausage. Add butter when hot pasta is in the bowl, and stir to melt and emulsify.
- Serve hot once all the pasta is added, enjoy!