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Amy Thielen

Italian pasta orecciette is well suited to summertime menus

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Do you ever feel the need to knead? It's the kind of restless itch that you wish for in the winter rather than the summer, when making bread is a welcome option. But now? Oh no, out of the question. I can see the heat hanging around the yard in heavy blobs, lava-lamp-like, and in reaction to it I have started to tinker, to shuffle between tasks and to avoid quick movements. Clearly, I am out of my native element.

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I thought that the iced coffee, mixed with milk and sugar and poured between two mugs until the froth rose, would help. Then I slipped into the fridge and found a newly dug turnip, small and white, a Japanese variety. (Some seed catalogs call them Tokyo or Hokkaido, and they grow very quickly--44 days I think.) It was smooth and cold and I pared it deeply, cut it into moons and dipped each tip in salt.

It's a very Teutonic habit, this raw salted veggie-munching, and it brought up a stab of mourning for my kohlrabi, which I lost to Chuck the Woodchuck, in another stroke for the opposition. But the raw turnip was surprisingly delicious. It was even better, I think: nuanced, with bite, more radish than kohlrabi.

I was still restless; the late afternoon swelter settled in and the buzz of the fussbudget remained in my hands. So I thought, forget bread; what about making pasta? I could manage to boil a pot of water. Then I thought, forget the crank pasta machine, I am too lazy to dig it out. What about orecchiette?

This pasta shape from Apuglia, Italy translates to "little ears" and looks like flying saucers. The eggless dough comes together quickly - just a little flour and salt, mixed with warm water - and the shapes are easy to make. In fact, the 10-minute kneading session that the dough required was just the sort of restive ritual my hands were craving. I stood in the dark kitchen with just the smoky rays of outside sunshine for light and flipped little saucers onto the cool countertop. Who says you can't cook ambitiously, and comfortably, in the summer heat?

The other great thing about orecchiette is that the sauces that suit it best are also well-suited to summer eating. Strong flavors and sauces with an olive oil base balance the rustic, chewy pasta. A nice, fresh tomato sauce would be all you need, but a little sauce made of garlic, ground pork, garden broccoli and red pepper flakes is also traditional. And if you want a special pasta salad to tote to a picnic or a potluck, try making your favorite pasta salad recipe with homemade orecchiette. It naturally resists overcooking, keeping its perfectly al dente texture from pot to refrigerator to the serving table and back again.

Orecchiette

From The Essentials of Italian

Cuisine, by Marcella Hazan

1 cup semolina flour (Bob's Red Mill in the natural food section)

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

one-half teaspoon salt

up to 1 cup lukewarm water

Combine the semolina and all-purpose flours and salt in a large bowl. Add most of the water and then dribble in the rest until the flour has absorbed as much water as it can without becoming stiff and dry. The consistency must not be sticky, but it can be somewhat softer than egg pasta.

Scrape away any crumbs of flour from the work surface, wash and dry your hands, and knead the mass for about 8 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest about 15 minutes.

Cut the dough into quarters, and then roll each quarter into a sausage-like roll about one-half-inch thick. Cut the roll in half and roll one a little thinner, until it is about 10 inches long. Cut that into four pieces, and slice each piece into 6 or 7 pieces, so that you have pieces of dough the size of a dime. Toss the pieces with plenty of flour, and flour your hands and a clean section of countertop and begin forming the orecchiette: Place a disk in the center of your floured palm and press into it with your thumb, forming a deep impression. Fip it off your hand as you go, making little shallow mushroom caps, or saucers, thinner at the center and slightly thicker at the edges.

If not using immediately, spread the orecchiette out on a floured sheet to dry. After fully dry, 24 hours, you can even store them in a box in your pantry and use them as you would dried pasta.

Orecchiette with pork and tomato

Sauce:

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 cup ground pork

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 pound ripe tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

2 sprigs parsley, finely chopped

2 sprigs basil, finely chopped

1 and a half cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

Peel the tomatoes by dipping in boiling water, and then chop, discarding seeds.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the garlic clove until it browns, then discard it. Add the meat and simmer for a few minutes, crumbling it with a fork. Add the onion and continue to cook gently.

Add the tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir well, cover loosely and cook over moderate heat for about 1 hour. Finally, add the parsley and basil.

Bring 3 quarts of water to boil in large pot and when it boils, add enough salt so that it tastes like seawater. Add the orecchiette and cook them rapidly until just tender, or al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain well, turn into a deep, heated serving dish, and toss with the sauce and the grated cheese, saving some of the cheese for garnish.

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