Making Orecchiette Pasta with an Italian Nonna
Pasta comes in all different shapes and sizes and each region of Italy is renowned for its own special pasta shapes and traditional recipes. The Pugliese region is no exception and is known for lots of different pasta varieties like Cavatieddi, Trocoli, Cavatelli or Capunti, but Puglia’s most famous pasta shape is of course handmade Orecchiette pasta which translates to ‘little ears’ in Italian. It’s used to make the most iconic dish of Puglia – Orecchiette con Cima di Rape (which is orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe).
Bari is famous for the Strada Arco Basso, better known as Strada delle Orecchiette where women prepare, dry and sell fresh orecchiette pasta right outside of their homes. This is the most charming street and it’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Bari.
Bari, the capital of Puglia, is the third largest city is southern Italy after Naples and Palermo, and it is full of charm and history. This old and quaint city right on the shores of the Adriatic Sea is full of beautiful piazzas, churches, museums, little shrines, orecchiette and it is just full of character.
Bari Vecchia, which means Old Bari, is the ancient heart of the city, which in fact is medieval, with mazes of entangled little streets, beautiful shrines devoted to the adoration of the Virgin Mary, plants and flowers, colorful banners and laundry hanging from balconies wherever you turn. One of my favorite ways to explore a new place is walking aimlessly around and getting lost for a little while. The narrow streets and alleys of Bari Vecchia are the perfect location for wandering around and exploring this way. White cobblestone streets open to charming corners, small piazzas and reveal picturesque churches and colorful buildings, it is full of character everywhere.
If you have a little extra time, there is also the Murat Quarter. Built in the 19th century, this is the heart of modern Bari and the city’s main shopping district. It is located just south of the Old Town and extends from the promenade to Bari Centrale, the city’s main railway station.
There are lots of things to do in Bari, but we came here exclusively for the Orecchiette. No trip is complete without a visit to Strada Arco Basso, better known as Strada delle Orecchiette watching the women of Bari make fresh pasta in front of their homes.
About 100 meters from Castello Normanno-Svevo is an archway known as Arco Alto at the edge of Bari Vecchia. It is not difficult to find at all. Rustic wooden worktables, dusted in semolina, spill out onto the street with local women handmaking orecchiette right there in front of their homes. It was such a great experience to see the local women making pasta with amazing speed whilst at the same time chatting back and forth in local dialect and watching the world pass by.
Orecchiette pasta resemble little ears, which is where they get their name. Traditionally it is made simply with a combination of fine semolina flour and water. Not even salt needs to be added… It is a culinary tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation and the ladies make it look effortless.
Making fresh Orecchiette pasta together with an Italian Nonna on the side of the street, was on our bucket list the moment I knew we were traveling to Puglia. Travel experiences like this is what I cherish the most. I want our kids to learn, try and experience different things, food and cultures. Making our own pasta was exactly all of that and I am so glad we were able to make it happen.
We first received a lesson and demonstration on how to make Orecchiette. The semolina flour and water are mixed together to form a dough. The dough is then kneaded and kneaded into tidy mounds and cut into pieces. Then it was our turn:
Starting in the morning until the afternoon when all the pasta is sold, the women are sitting outside or just inside their doorways, making and selling fresh pasta. The doors of the houses were wide open, so we got a glimpse into their kitchen and lives as we passed by.
We learned that the perfect orecchiette is about 3/4 of an inch across and slightly domed shaped to hold pasta sauce well.
First the dough is rolled out like a snake. The skinnier the snake of dough, the smaller the final orecchiette pasta will be.
The next step looks easy, but it takes years of practice. A small kitchen knife is used to cut off a piece from the snake of dough and in one smooth movement, smush and drag the piece to flip out and make the shape of the orecchiette. We had a very patient teacher that showed and taught us over and over.
Finally, the formed Orecchiette are left to dry on wooden-framed screens for several hours.
We took our self-made pasta and bought some more, got a couple more ingredients at a market and headed to our rental home to cook our Orecchiette pasta.
I am not sure if it was because we made the pasta ourselves, the fresh ingredients, my Italian husband/chef or the amazing place we stayed at, but this was one of the best pasta dishes we had ever tasted.
Have you ever been to Puglia?