Tuesday, December 5, 2006

orecchiette with cherry tomatoes and arugula

tiny ears

Last night, I sauteed some shallots, minced garlic, red and yellow cherry tomatoes and fresh arugula with orecchiette pasta for dinner, and we topped it with a cloud of microplaned parmesan, eating it in front of the (omg) Wire finale. I’m pretty sure it was delicious, though I was barely paying it any mind. Alas, this is the point where you are supposed to ask me, Hey Deb, why does your orecchiette look so… er, unique?

And I will say, I’m so glad you asked! Like any other reader with drool-prone taste buds and a carb-fixation, I was completely spellbound by Delcious Days’ stunning creation of orecchiette a few weeks ago. She made it look so easy! Now I have never made pasta before, nor was I sure I desired to when such good, professional fresh stuff abounds in NYC. I lacked a master recipe, special tools, a single iota of apprenticeship or education on the subject, but this didn’t stop me from trying my hand at it on Sunday night with a very imaginative (read: unmeasured or weighed) interpretation of Nicky’s recipe.

a wee bit soft

Flying by the seat of my pants, I mixed about 2 cups of Italian “00” (doppio zero) flour with 2 eggs and a pinch of sea salt (not gray, mind you), kneaded them up for a good chunk of time on a wooden cutting board, wrongly decided it was too hard, added a splash of water, incorrectly determined it to be the perfect consistency, wrapped it tightly in foil, packed in the fridge for 30 minutes, took it out and created long dowel-like ropes with it and sliced them off into coins. Problem was, the pasta dough was a teensy bit too soft and so they squished into imperfect circles when slivered with the knife, stuck a tiny bit to my palm when I tried to indent them into classic orecchiette shapes, which they did not hold very well. Ah well, I thought, tasting a pinch — tastes like yummy fresh pasta, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

And it was, minus the oh so many, many (did I say many?) minutes it took to boil my leaden ears. But, we loved it just the same and now I’m inspired. If pasta is this easy to make, maybe I should get a pasta wheel? I could roll out super-thin sheets and cut them into fresh pappardelli, or squares for ravioli or tortellini, or… or… or… As you can see, I suspect a fascination is hatching, or perhaps an obsession piggybacked on my already-present fixation with stuffed, wrapped and pocketed consumables.

A note on the ever-expanding flour collection: I understand that traditional pasta, especially in Puglia where orecchiette is from, is made with durham wheat flour and not 00. I chose the 00 because Nicky said she’d had success with it, and it also allowed me to check out a new type of flour. What is 00? Well, apparently (and please, correct me if I’m wrong as all of this is new to me) Italians sort their flours not by gluten level but by grind. A 2 would be a cornmeal-like consistency, 1 and 0 might resemble our all-purpose and 00 is a superfine flour, almost like talcum powder and reminiscent of our pastry flour. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s low-gluten, like many of our pastry flours. I’ve heard that bakers in Italy have up to a dozen 00 available to them, from low-gluten used in pastries to a higher gluten content used in pizza doughs. Sigh, yet another reason for me to wish I lived in Europe.

[That and the near-daily arrive of sling-related bills. Insurance coverage? Oh surely, you must be joking.]


Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula

Serves at least 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 pint mixed red and yellow cherry tomatoes, quartered
Cooked fresh orecchiette (approx. 2 cups dry but I did not measure)
2 cups fresh arugula, de-stemmed, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated parmesan reggiano

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, adding garlic and shallots, sauteing until soft but not browned. Add chopped cherry tomatoes, cooking for just a few minutes, until they have softened but not lost completely lost their form. Add pasta, reheating it in the sauce and seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the arugula, stirring it until it has just wilted. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan and, in our case, a glass of Cotes du Rhone.


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