There is a place, in the South of Italy, where time stands still: it doesn’t matter if you have the new iphone, if you are a youtuber or a social media manager, if you prefer to have breakfast with an avocado toast or an açaí bowl – nothing matters, as things in here are done exactly like the old generations did, in the proper way.
The grannies wake up when the city is still asleep, they need to be ready way before the ordinary people even think about the first cappuccino in the morning. They go in Arco Basso, an ancient and now famous street in Bari Vecchia (Old Bari): in here, the grannies set up their tables, and start making the dough for orecchiette pasta. They sit at their tables for hours every day, and they make and sell orecchiette for tourists and locals. They use the same techniques their grandmas used, and they all have a “secret” for the perfect orecchiette that can only be passed down from generation to generation.
People go see them and their art every day, buying the best orecchiette we could only dream of. Restaurants and local delis also go to Arco Basso for their pasta, and this was the reason why “La Strada delle Orecchiette” (Orecchiette Street) made news last year, as a local restaurant got in trouble for serving untraceable orecchiette, a violation of Italian and European Union regulations that require food in restaurants to be clearly tracked. This prompted the New York Times to write an article about it: “Call It a Crime of Pasta”, to which the grannies reacted the way we can all expect – they couldn’t care less and they are still there making and selling pasta. They had a go at the writer from the New York Times, and at the mayor of Bari for not having their back in giving responses considered “too soft” in relation to the issue. The thing is, it is not that simple: orecchiette are an institution in Puglia, they are the heart of the regional cuisine and they have always been. Some of these grannies learnt how to make orecchiette when they were 6 years old, and at their time all women had to learn how to make pasta so that they could get married. Yes, I know, very different times.
From generation to generation, the recipe has been the same over centuries, and grannies are doing their best to not lose this tradition.
Even if the origin of orecchiette is unclear, it is believed that the original recipe was written in 1500s, when a man left an oven in inheritance to his daughter, along with a recipe for “recchjetedde”. The typical shape was meant to resemble the top of the trulli,the traditional Apulian dry stones hut with a conical roof.It is believed that the recipe has never changed, and this explain why the grannies from Bari Vecchia are doing everything they can to save this culinary institution.
Curiosity: in Italian, orecchio, means ‘ear’, and -etta, means ‘small’). Their name comes from their shape, which resembles a small ear.
Fun fact: we already explored “Maritati pasta” in my post And they say romance is dead: https://theparmigianawhisperer.blog/2020/06/16/and-they-say-romance-is-dead/
But I only found out that orecchiette and minchiareddi are also used as future tellers for pregnant women: when cooking maritati pasta, if the first pasta shape submerging from the water is an orecchietta, the woman will have a baby girl, if it is a minchiarredda, she will have a baby boy.
The traditional way to cook orecchiette is orecchiette alle cime di rapa, a dish of and turnip tops, garlic, chilli and anchovies. But in the UK it is very hard to find the turnip tops so I used broccoli florets instead.
I already posted the steps to make orecchiette, but I think it is easier if I have everything in this post as well.
Ingredients for the dough – 4 people:
-400g semolina flour
-pinch of salt
- combine the ingredients together, adding just half of the water at the beginning, and then incorporating it gradually while kneading
- if you feel the dough is very hard, put your hands under fresh water and dont dry them, just keep kneading with wet hands
- leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes
How to make orecchiette:
- take 1/4 of the dough and roll it until you have a “sausege” of 1cm diameter
- cut the sausage in little squares of 1cm
- put a knife on one square and drag it towards you
- take the pasta off the knife, and put your finger in it to turn it inside out – video below
- you will need to repeat this process with another 1/4 of the pasta – you cant start just rolling 1/2 of the dough because by the time you finish, your squares will be too dry
Ingredients for the broccoli – 4 people:
-broccoli florets, 350g
-anchovies, 4 (if you don’t like anchovies or you would like a vegan or vegetarian dish you can still enjoy the orecchiette without them)
-garlic cloves, 2
-red chillies, 2
-olive oil, 8 tablespoons
-pinch of salt
1.Once you made the orecchiette, leave them to dry and start preparing the broccoli
2.Boil the broccoli in hot water for 5 minutes, then drain
3.Chop the garlic, the boiled broccoli, the chilli and the anchovies very finely
3.Warm up the oil at medium temperature and add the garlic, the broccoli, the chilli and the anchovies
4.Cook at low temperature for 5 minutes, add salt as you like
5.In the meantime, bring the water to boil and when it is boiling add salt and the orecchiette
6.Cook the pasta for 4 minutes, then drain
7.Add the pasta in the pan and stir