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Winging it: Homemade Orecchiette with Romanescu Cauliflower

pasta and romanescu cauliflower

This recipe is a summertime favourite of mine. I first made it last year for a quick weekend lunch and a way of using up leftovers. I like that the lack of any real “sauce” leaves the lovely colour and shape of the romanescu intact and visible. Of course, this would work with any shape of pasta, but I like it with orecchiette. The thick, chewy shape seems to hold its own against the cauliflower.

Imagine how upset I was, then, when I found that my grocery store of choice, Sainsbury’s, had discontinued their “Taste the Difference” brand orecchiette. I spent about five minutes scanning the shelves for it on Monday, to no avail. I considered making this with a different shape but couldn’t quite muster up the enthusiasm for penne or fusilli. There was only one thing for it- to make my own. 

I’d never made pasta before, but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. That’s the attitude with which I approach most kitchen tasks, in fact- for better and for worse. Maybe I’m deluded and need my head examined, but I can’t think of any cooking task as hard, per se. Fiddly, yes. Time-consuming, sure. But difficult? It’s just following instructions, for heaven’s sake! 

making pasta dough

Except that often I don’t follow instructions, as was the case here. When looking for a basic pasta recipe I came across the two basic types: egg and eggless. The egg doughs, most containing at least three eggs and some as many as five yolks, seemed too eggy to me. The eggless, not eggy enough. And then there was the flour- some called for all-purpose, some finely milled “00″ grade, and some semolina, the coarser durum wheat product, which is meant to grab onto the sauce. 

In the end I decided to wing it. I used two of the tiny eggs I got from the farmer’s market on Sunday, and a mixture of “00″ flour and semolina. Adding just enough warm water to make a workable dough, I kneaded until my arm got tired (I always assume that’s the optimum kneading time) and left it at that. 

orecchiette pasta

The shaping was another story. My first attempts resulted in pathetic, misshapen lumps, and I’d used up at least a third of the dough before I’d really mastered the technique. Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian, but mine were anything but. Huge, monstrous ears more like. Seriously- I was not prepared for how much these little guys would expand on boiling. My advice? Make them as small as you possibly can if you wish to avoid your pasta resembling dumplings. 

I don’t have any previous pasta-making experience to compare to, but I was happy with how these turned out. Though larger than I’d planned, the orecchiette had that great chewy texture, and were flavourful without being too rich. If you’ve never made pasta before I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. You don’t even need a pasta machine for this, and following a recipe to the letter is clearly not a prerequisite for success. 

pasta and cauliflower, detail

  • Homemade Orecchiette
  • serves 4
  • 1 1/2 cups “00″ grade flour
    1/2 cup semolina
    1 tsp fine (not sea) salt
    2 small eggs (or one extra-large) 
    1/2 cup warm water (possibly more)
  • 1. Mix together the flour, semolina and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and crack in the egg(s). 

    2. Using a fork, begin to whisk the eggs. As you go, gradually make your strokes wider and wider. At first you will be whisking only eggs, then a bit of flour to make a slurry, and then more flour, and so on until the dough becomes lumpy and you cannot whisk anymore.

    3. At this point, start adding the warm water. Start with 1/4 cup and mix with a spoon or dough whisk. Add more water, until you can form a smooth dough that is neither sticky nor crumbly.

    4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and very elastic. When you poke your finger into it, the dough should bounce back. Place the ball of dough aside to rest for 30 minutes, covered with a damp tea towel. 

    5. When you’re ready to form the orecchiette, lightly flour a work surface and break off a handful of pasta dough. Roll into a long tube about 1/2″ in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut the tube into 1/4″ sections.

    6. To form, flour your thumb and simply press down on the cut side of each piece, rolling it slightly along the surface as you do so. This takes practice so don’t worry if you find it tricky- homemade pasta should look homemade!

    7. Line up the formed orecchiette on a floured baking sheet and put in the fridge, loosely covered, until you’re ready to cook them. Orecchiette will cook in salted boiling water in about 2-4 minutes, depending on the size and thickness. 
  • Orecchiette with Romanescu Cauliflower
  • serves 2
  • 1 very small head romanescu cauliflower (or half a regular one), cut into bite-sized florets
    200g orecchiette, homemade or store-bought
    2 Tbs. olive oil
    2 shallots, finely sliced
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1/2 tsp.  chili flakes 
    1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more to serve
    sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1. Set a large pot of water over high heat. When it boils, salt generously and add the cauliflower florets. Cook until tender, about four minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.

    2. If you’re using store-bought pasta, add it to the boiling water now. If you’ve made homemade (which cooks much faster), wait until after step 3 to add the pasta.

    3. Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, add the shallots, garlic and chili flakes in one go. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until shallots are soft and beginning to brown. 

    4. Add  the cauliflower florets to the pan and cook for another minute or so. Add about 1/4 cup pasta cooking water and turn the heat down to low.

    5. When the pasta is done, drain and add the the pan. Add the parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and a bit more water if it seems too dry. Serve immediately, with extra parmesan on top.  


  1. Dana says:

    As you know, taste is the most important thing, not looks! Bravo to you for taking on this task! I am totally intimidated by making my own pasta.

  2. rose says:

    WAY TO GO!! That looks awesome! I love orecchiette!!! I have made lasagna and ravioli, but never orecchiette! Thanks for the inspiration. It’s almost impossible to follow any pasta recipe exactly as I’ve found that each time I make pasta, there are so many other factors that affect how much flour I need, how many eggs, etc…

    Beautifully done.

  3. Ele says:

    Dana, thanks! I can’t imagine that anything could intimidate you ;)

    Rose, thanks so much. I love orecchiette, too. Ever since I first tried it, it’s been one of my favourite pasta shapes. This was my first foray into pasta-making but I’m definitely going back for more. Ravioli is next on my list!

  4. margaux says:

    Bravo! I’ve never made pasta before, and have definitely been initmidated. Maybe I’ll finally get around to giving it a go!

  5. Ele says:

    Margaux, thanks. You should try it. I don’t have a pasta machine so I never really considered it before this, but it was really easy.

  6. Hilary says:

    I made this for today’s (earlyish for us) dinner. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube to see how to shape it because I wasn’t quite sure I had the idea from your description. The videos both used knives instead of fingers to stretch the little pieces of dough – and it seems like the knife is what creates the rough appearance that we see on orrecchiette in the stores. So is there one school of thought for fingers and one for knives, I wonder?

    Anyway, it took ages but was quite easy when you get the hang of it! Mine were quite fat though, and I didn’t cook them long enough so they were a bit too chewy. But the overall dish is divine! Thanks for posting it – this is one to add to the roster (using ready made pasta, of course!).

  7. Ele says:

    Hilary, that’s weird. I also searched out some videos and they were all using thumbs, not knives. (The man I saw was definitely Italian… not sure if that counts for anything?) I think the semolina is also what makes the texture rough.

    Glad you liked the recipe!

  8. [...] My focus at Kitchenist this month has been on fresh, local produce from the market. Feeling a touch nostalgic for last year’s summer holiday to Cinque Terre, I spent a lot of time indulging my love of Italian food. I re-created a recipe for Trenette al Pesto, made Stromboli, and even tackled my own Homemade Orecchiette.  [...]

  9. zoe says:

    Great job on this. Beautiful!

  10. [...] I didn’t buy much this week; Andrew and I are off to visit his family on Thursday, so don’t really need to worry about too many dinners this week. A giant leek will make a make a nice warming risotto one night, and a stalk of mini Brussels sprouts will be delicious baked in a gratin dish, covered with cheese and breadcrumbs. The eggs and bread will make some warming winter breakfasts, and the Romanescu might go into a favourite pasta dish. [...]