Home-made Orecchiette with Tomato and Basil

This post is dedicated to Natasha from Come Due Maiali. She was one of the first followers of my blog and is one of those fellow bloggers who has made this journey such a great experience. When I posted about orecchiette with mussels and broccoli almost six months ago, she commented that she’s a huge orecchiette fan and would love to get her hands on wholemeal orecchiette. I then responded that she could always make her own, even though I had never yet made orecchiette by hand. I decided to give it a try myself, and now was the time I finally got around to this. Even though these orecchiette weren’t wholemeal, it was the first time I’ve made orecchiette by hand. They were delicious and I never would have made them without Natasha’s comment. My new “Coming soon…” page is helping me to remember which recipes I’d still like to try and share with you. Next time I’ll try making orecchiette integrali.

Fresh pasta is eaten more in north Italy than in the south, and in the north it’s usually made with eggs and from 00 flour. Fresh pasta from the south is often just flour and water, and there they use semolina flour from durum wheat (semola di grano duro) since that is what grows there. Orechiette are a typical pasta from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of the boot that is Italy. Orecchiette means ‘little ears’ (orecchio = ear; Italians use suffixes like -etta or -ino to make a diminutive). I’ve eaten them fresh a few times at restaurants in Italy and loved them. There are three qualities of orechiette: mass-production such as Barilla or DeCecco, which are OK, smaller production premium ‘artigianali that are better but quite expensive and difficult to find outside Italy, and home-made that are cheap and the highest quality, but of course a lot more work. Home-made orechiette have the best texture. A lot of bite without being chewy.

The ‘official’ way to make gnocchi by hand is by making a complicated movement with a rounded knife. Italian women learn this kind of thing from a young age from their (grand)mother, when all the women gather around a table in the kitchen to make pasta by hand. I used my thumb which is easier, but if you want you can try doing it the official way. This video shows you how. The video is not called “gesti dimenticati” (forgotten gestures) for nothing, since not many people still make orechiette this way. I love that you can tell that many orecchiette must have been made on this very table.

Orecchiette are often served just simply with a fresh tomato sauce, so that’s what I did to try my first batch of home-made orechiette. Home-made orechiette should dry a bit before you boil them, so make them some hours before or even the day before.


For the orecchiette, 2 servings

150 grams (1 cup) semolina flour (semola di grano duro, preferably rimacinata)

about 75 ml (5 Tbsp) lukewarm water

pinch of salt

For the fresh tomato sauce with basil, 2 servings

700 grams (1.5 lbs) ripe plum tomatoes

extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

fresh basil


Put the flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a hole in the middle and add the water. Mix the dough with your hands.

Keep mixing until all the flour has been incorporated. Add more water if needed.

Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes until it is smooth and pliable.

Keep the dough covered under a moist kitchen cloth so it won’t dry out.

Take a small piece of dough and roll it with your hands to obtain a long cylinder as thin as a pencil. If your cylinder is thicker, your orechiette will also end up being thick.

Cut the dough into pieces of about 1 cm (3/8 “).

If, like me, you are not as dexterous as the dear old lady in the video, then just use your thumb to flatten a piece of dough (put it with a cut side up, first).

Next put the flattened piece of dough on your other thumb with the hollow side up.

Now press down on the sides with your other hand to invert it, and one orecchietta is done.

Dust a tray with flour and put the orecchiette on the tray in a single layer to let them dry. Repeat until you have used up all the dough. It is best to let the orechiette dry some hours or overnight, uncovered, before you boil them.

There are different ways to make fresh tomato sauce from scratch. You can remove the skin and seeds and then dice them, but for a fresher taste that uses the juice around the seeds and for an easier preparation, you can also just puree whole tomatoes in the food processor. Just wash and dry them and put them in the food processor.

Process until tomatoes are pureed.

Use a food mill to sieve out the skin and seeds.

Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Add peeled garlic and sauté garlic until golden. This is easier if you tilt the pan as shown. Discard the garlic.

Add the sieved tomatoes and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Simmer over low heat until the sauce has a thick consistency.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and orecchiette. They will need about 10 minutes for al dente. Start tasting for doneness after 9 minutes or so.

Drain the orecchiette and add them to the sauce, together with some fresh basil.

Toss to mix.

Serve on warm plates with freshly grated parmigiano.

13 thoughts on “Home-made Orecchiette with Tomato and Basil

  1. I am really honored to have inspired you! I promise I will make orecchiette myself using this recipe.
    The “gesti dimenticati” video reminded me of our visit to Caseificio Crovace in Puglia, where the cheesemaker had a similar “slight of hand” motion when shaping and tying off thousands of mozzarella pieces. He said it only took him 40 years to develop it…


  2. As always, your recipe and photos sound and look delish. This would clearly be a weekend project because of the time consumed in making the little ears.

    Funny you should post an orecchiette recipe. One of the other blogs I follow is “from the Bartolini kitchens.” John is a real nice guy from Chicago posting really awesome family Italian recipes. 2 weeks ago he posted Listen up! We’re making Orecchiette! detailing how he makes orecchiette followed by Friends, Bloggers, and Bartolini! Lend Me Your Orecchiette! You might want to check him out if you haven’t already.


    1. Thanks! I made about half a pound of orechiette in half an hour, so apart from the drying time it’s actually not so bad if you don’t have a crowd to feed…

      I had not heard of the Bartolini blog, but I definitely like it. Thanks for pointing me his way!


    1. I was surprised how easy it was. And depending on what you are paying for semola di grano duro rimacinato over there, it should be only $0.30 or so per serving (i.e. a lot less than store-bought good-quality orechiette).


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