Orecchiette, or “little ears,” for their cupped shape, are one of the simplest pastas to make at home. Admittedly, they’re time-consuming, but, says Berkeley chef and cooking teacher Samin Nosrat, “Making them is an opportunity to connect to a culture and a place in time. It’s a learning experience. Even if they didn’t have that incredible texture, they’d still be worth it.”
4 cups fine semolina flour
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups warm water (105° to 115°)
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
How to Make It
Pour flour into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (not the dough hook) and turn it on at lowest speed. Drizzle in 1/2 cup warm water and let it mix until evenly dispersed and dough is sandy-looking, about 2 minutes. “You want the flour to absorb the water for as long as possible before adding the oil, since fat inhibits gluten development,” says Nosrat–and gluten is what gives pasta its toothsome springiness. Drizzle in another 1/2 cup warm water (reheat if necessary) and mix 5 to 6 minutes, then another 1/4 cup and mix 5 minutes more. Let each addition of water absorb fully–at least 15 minutes for a batch this size.
Drizzle in oil and mix 3 to 5 minutes, until dough starts coming together in little balls, climbing sides of bowl, and is moist and firm like Play-Doh. If it isn’t, mix in more water, 1 tbsp. at a time.
Press dough into a 1-in.-thick disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature 30 minutes.
Set dough on a wooden cutting board and cut into snaky strips about as fat as your fingers. Keeping rest of dough covered with a damp kitchen towel, roll each strip into a cylinder and slice it into roughly 3/4-in. pieces.
Form orecchiette: Set a piece of dough in front of you, turned so it looks like a diamond. Press tip of a table knife against the corner farthest from you, holding it at a 45° angle. Pressing down hard, pull knife toward you, rolling dough; keep going until dough flips over. Invert dough on your fingertip to make a cap. The harder you press, the thinner the pasta will be.
As you shape orecchiette, place them on a lightly floured, parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Cook immediately; dry overnight, uncovered; or freeze.
Make ahead: Dough, 2 days, chilled (in fact, it’s more supple when made ahead). Shaped pasta, 1 day at room temperature, or 3 months frozen.