This pasta originates from the southern tip of Italy. In Italian it means "little ears." This shape is great for holding sauce, not only does the shell like shape cup it really well, the ridges the knife increase the surface area and give the sauce a place to hold on to.
This is my favorite shape to make "on the go" because all you need to make it is a butter knife, so you can make it just about anywhere.
one recipe of semolina dough
a kitchen scraper*
flour or cornmeal
spray bottle or damp cloth
Do not dust your table with flour before shaping this pasta. Unlike egg dough that relies on a smooth dry surface to prevent sticking, this dough needs to be a little wet while you work with it. The stickiness is what allows these shapes to be dragged and stretched along the table, adding flour will make it slide. If you have a ceiling fan on and your dough begins to dry out and just slide along the table use a spray bottle to mist it and the surface you're working or get your hands damp and rub them on the dough. Make sure to keep unused dough covered while you work.
To start, cut about 1/4 of your dough, wrap the rest in plastic and keep covered so it doesn't dry out. Roll the dough into a log, about the width of your thumb and cut them into pieces that are as long as the dough is wide (basically little squares). You can either choose to roll the pieces into balls or shape the orecchiette from these little pillow shapes.
Using the top portion of your butter knife, you're going to press and drag the dough ball so it begins to curl around the knife. I keep the blade of the knife at a low angle (think less than 45 degrees) and slowly drag it away from me. Right before the little dough ball pops off the end, I stop, keeping the piece under pressure, and flip the curved piece inside out over my thumb. This exposes the marks from the butter knife, and is what gives it its dome shape. This takes practice, they will not look this pretty at first, but don't give up, even wonky orecchiette are tasty.
Check out the videos below to see it in action. If you can't master the orecchiette, worry not, those pre flipped curly dough pieces are a shape too! You've just made cavatelli
Store your finished orecchiette on a dishcloth dusted with either flour or cornmeal, don't let them touch or they may stick together. When I'm about halfway through my dough I stop and usually bring my water to a boil. When its time to cook them I pick up the whole cloth and funnel them directly into the water, this way they don't get squished together like they might if you pick them up by the handful.
These cook up really fast, typically it takes around two minutes depending on the quantity. Once it looks like the majority are floating, scoop one up, give it a taste - it should be good to go. I've made these with a bunch of different sauces, they're a pretty sturdy shape that can handle just about anything.