One of the most fun aspects of making your own pasta is creating the different shapes that make each style unique. A pasta machine is perfect for rolling out perfectly smooth sheets of pasta every time, ready to be cut into linguine or fettuccine — but what about those smaller shapes, like orecchiette?
These “little ears” are simple to create, and they require no special equipment. Unlike strand pasta, orecchiette is best when prepared with an egg-less, oil-less dough that’s stiffer than other recipes. Whip up the semolina pasta dough recipe below, then follow the step-by-step guide to shape your orecchiette.
Semolina Pasta Dough
In this recipe, golden semolina flour, with the texture of fine sand, is combined with all-purpose flour and water, but no eggs. The result is a stiff dough that is used to make short, shaped pastas.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3/4 cup finely ground semolina flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup warm (105 degrees F) water, or as needed
Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse the machine a few times to mix the ingredients. With the food processor running, pour 1/2 cup of the warm water through the feed tube in a thin, steady stream. If necessary, add the remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time; you may not need all of it.
Covering the pasta with an overturned bowl is a simple and environmentally sound way of keeping the dough from drying out as it rests. The alternative is to cover the dough with plastic wrap.
After about 30 seconds of processing, the dough should come together and form a loose ball on top of the blade. The dough should feel moist but not sticky; if it seems too dry, add a teaspoon of water and process until blended.
Dust a work surface with all-purpose flour and place the dough in the center. Lightly knead the dough until it feels smooth and damp without being stick, about 1 to 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with a large overturned bowl and let rest for 30 minutes before rolling. Makes about 1 pound.
|Divide the dough
Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Using a bench scraper or chef’s knife, cut 1 pound of semolina dough into 4 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a short cylinder.
|Roll the dough into logs
Place the fingers of both hands on a dough cylinder and roll it back and forth, gradually shifting your hands to the ends, to form a log about 1/2 inch in diameter. Repeat with the remaining cylinders.
|Cut the logs into pieces
Again using the bench scraper or knife, cut each rolled-out log into 1/2-inch pieces. The pieces will look like tiny pillows.
|Form a dough piece into a disk
Extend your index finger along the blade of a table knife. With the tip of the knife, flatten a piece of dough and drag it slightly toward you over the work surface to form a disk.
|Press the disk over your thumb
Gently push the disk over the tip of your thumb to form a small cup. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to shape the remaining pieces.
|Let the orecchiette dry
As you work, spread the orecchiette out on a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet (don’t let the pieces touch, or they might stick together). Cook them right away or let them dry for up to 2 hours.