All Ears in Puglia: The Tradition of Orecchiette

April 21, 2015 / Food & Wine

Orecchiette is a specialty pasta found in Puglia. Its name is derived from its shape which resembles little ears: orecchio = ear + ette = little => orecchiette.

Orecchiette dough is made from flour (farina di grano), water, and a little salt. No, I didn’t forget the eggs; there are no eggs in orecchiette dough.

First, make the flour into into a “crater” shape, then make a hole with your fingers and slowly add the water and mix with your fingers until you have something you can knead.

A "crater of farina di grano
Make a little "crater"...
Slowly add the water...

Oh, but there is a secret ingredient… love! Si, working the dough with loving hands is critically important!

Learning from Mamma...
Photo-Victoria De Maio

Now, it’s hands on! Knead, knead, knead! Working the dough is definitely a learned art and best learned from a local signora. Too sticky? Add a little more flour. Too flaky? Add a little more water. And maybe a little more love? Practice and experienced hands will know when it’s the perfect consistency…

After the covered dough has rested for 15 minutes (you may need to rest as well!), chunks are rolled into long thin “snakes” on a floured board. After cutting small (approximately 1/2” wide) pieces, the blade edge of a dull knife is used to gently press, with the perfect amount of pressure, and make the orecchietta (resembling a small cup) which is then gently “folded” back over the thumb for that distinctive “ear”-shape. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And in expert hands, it is! Let’s try this again…

Photo-Victoria De Maio
Photo-Victoria De Maio

Orecchiette is served for almost every pasta course in Puglia although different areas specialize in different sizes; large In the Lecce area and small in the Bari area. I’m not sure if this is indicative of anything but orecchiette are perfect for scooping a variety of sauces and toppings.

Although I have to admit to being all thumbs at making orecchiette, it’s great fun to try. Besides, they all taste delicious!

Photo-Victoria De Maio

Victoria De Maio

by Victoria De Maio

Victoria is a lover of all things Italian! A travel advisor, blogger, writer, tour leader, and published author, she is passionate about traveling to and writing about Italy.

Her book, Victoria’s Travel Tipz Italian Style, is available on Amazon.

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8 Responses to “All Ears in Puglia: The Tradition of Orecchiette”

  1. Tom Jordan

    This would have been a great note with a short how-to video attached.

    • Victoria De Maio

      Absolutely – I was too busy trying to make them to do a video but next month, when I go back, I will definitely do that and share!

  2. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    Such an ancient tradition, as they say in Bari,and if you are a young woman, you must learn. Orecchiette is a wonderful pasta and so very basic. My wife Gioia and I often make them…but never as good as nonna’s from Gravina In Puglia ,Bari Non potrò mai dimenticare il gusto e l’aroma della casa di Nonna, così mi è stato insegnato e io trasmettere l’amore per la cucina

  3. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    Vi prego di scusarmi Vittoria, grazie per mostrare la Puglia!

  4. I remember as a child my grandmother making these, she was from Bari. We would sit watching her, mesmerized at how fast and perfect she was at it.

  5. Looks delicious! I love having cooking parties with friends and family for ravioli making. Will have to add orecchiette to our pasta making! Thanks for lovely post and photos.

  6. Gian Banchero

    If one wants to learn how to make orecchhiette, find Jenn Louis’ book on Amazon, PASTA BY HAND, A COLLECTION OF ITALY’S REGIONAL HAND-SHAPED PASTA, a great instructional book on how to hand form many of Italy’s pastas.


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