10 January 2015

Something Old, New and a Homemade Orecchiette Recipe

We are well on our way into a new year, 2015,  and yet at this time of the year I often find myself looking backwards as well as forward.  When Jennifer of  the blog "Vino Travels ~ An Italian Wine Blog & Luxury Tours to Italy", recently contacted me about collaborating on a wine pairing event that would be featuring one of  Puglia's famous wines, Negroamaro, Gaglioppo or Primitivo, a dinner made for us by friends from Bari, a few years back, sprang to mind, "Braciole"* and Orecchiette pasta. (* Braciole translates to chop and usually refers to pork chops, especially in the north of Italy, but in Puglia it refers to a meat roll cooked in a tomato sauce. The meat can be pork, beef, or even horse)This dish was made for us by some friends that we met during the lead up to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games that were held in our area. We became friendly with some of the workers that came up from south Italy with their company to build the two tunnels that helped ease some of the congestion of the traffic on our road that leads up to Sestriere and where several of the venues for the games were held. This group of tunnel makers were made up of two groups, one from Bari in Puglia, and the other from Sicily. We had helped them out with a variety of things that come up when you work far away from your home and friendly faces are always appreciated. They had an impromptu home leave break when the winter weather made working on the tunnels impossible for a few days, so off they went back home. The tunnel project took  over two years to complete prior to the commencement to the games, so they were away from home for quite a while. 
Baldassini tunnel workers on the day they broke through on the second tunnel

Once they returned from their break, they asked if they could make us a traditional Pugliese dinner. Sounded good to me. I love eating other peoples cooking especially when they are so keen to share their regional cooking with us. When they treated us to dinner, we discovered that they each had all brought back different treats from home. One brought his family's olive oil pressed from trees that were over three hundred years old, home made Pugliese wine, Sicilian desserts and hand made orecchiette by one of their wives. What a special dinner that was. It was fun to watch them prepare everything and then all sit together for a special meal. A dear friend of mine from college days along with her daughter just happened to be visiting when this dinner came together, so we had a cozy full house in our intimate dining room. That meal still lingers in my memory and the revelation of how wonderful hand made pasta is I can also manage to savor. So naturally I just had to try and recreate this dish. 

Fabrizio and chef for a night Guiseppe and the whole Baldassini gang and my southern Illinois friends for the special dinner
This traditional dish is a typical Sunday family dinner where the meat is cooked in a rich tomato sauce. Orecchiette has been made earlier and left to dry before marrying it up with the sauce that the meat was cooked in.  This recipe is what I like to call a two for one recipe; two dishes made from one source.  If you make the pasta as opposed to buying dried pasta, then it will be a little more labor intensive, worthy of a big Sunday family dinner, however, If you buy dried orecchiette, this comes together quite easily for any day of the week. Do try it and pair it up with a Primitivo if you can find it, or if all else fails, try a California Zinafindel (not a rose' but a rich fruity red) that will transform this into an unforgettable memory whenever you wish. 
A pictorial tour of my version using home canned passata and conserva (tomato sauce and paste)
My hand made orecchiette, or little ears

Meat rolls and Orecchiette Pasta with Sauce 
Braciole e l'Orecchiette con Sugo
Serves: 6

6 thin beef or pork steaks,* 
6 squares of firm pecora cheese, or other firm cheese, optional. I used caciocavallo. 
6 garlic cloves, minced and divided for sauce and inside the meat rolls, (adjust amount to your taste, as this is Giuseppe's strong garlicky version. He actually used a lot more)
1 large carrot, diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 large bottle or jar of tomato sauce
1 T tomato paste 
2 tsp mix of thyme, oregano or any blend you like. 
1 bay leaf
slash of dry white wine, optional i used water as i didn't have any wine available
dash dried hot red pepper  
Olive oil

Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, grated to garnish the finished dish

600-800g / 1.5- 1.75 lb dried orecchiette pasta
Homemade orecchiette recipe and video below*

Cooked  green vegetable to go with your meat rolls or salad 

Lay steaks flat and place a generous amount of minced garlic toward one end of the steak. You can make this with just a thick chunk of cheese or a combination of both. 
Pull and fold over both sides of the length of the steak towards the center.
Bring the one end over so the contents are enclosed and roll up. Secure with a toothpick.
In a sauce pan or large skillet with tall sides place your oil and begin to heat. 
Add the carrot and celery and begin to saute' until fragrant. 
Add the remainder of your garlic.
Add dried herbs and bay leaf.
Stir to distribute and place your meat rolls in the pan.
Saute' lightly on all sides to pick up color. 
Deglaze your pan with a little white wine if desired. 
Let the alcohol evaporate and add the tomato sauce and paste.
Cover and cook for about 15 minutes. 
Remove meat rolls and let the sauce simmer a while longer adding a bit of water if it cooks down too much. You want an nice thick sauce that has let all the flavors meld together. Perhaps 30-40 minutes tops. 

*Cooks Notes* Thin cut beef steaks are from the rump of the cow, most likely a round steak, here they have a large roast piece of meat and slice thin slices about 1/4 or slightly thicker slices. Ask your butcher for suggestions. If using pork, a pork cutlet with  little bit of fat is nice as well. 

*If making home made orecchiette pasta, make it first so that the pasta has time to dry before cooking. You can make the pasta a day or several before also. Just make sure to keep the pasta dry and they will need to cook slightly longer than the fresh pasta. 

Amount per person is about 2 1/2 oz / 80g per person so you can adjust according
(Note* home made pasta usually goes down quite easy)

Orecchiette Pasta :
 6 ish portions

500 g / 18 oz semolina flour  or semolina
200-250g / 6.5-8 oz  water, warm to hot 

Make a mound of flour and hollow out the middle to make a well. 
Add some water and begin mix with your your fingers like a mixer.
Add more water and mix until you get a solid, yet soft dough. 
Work the dough as you would bread to get a smooth dough that has developed the gluten. 
Once you have the dough developed and smooth, Set aside and either cover with a bowl that you weighed your flour in or a piece of plastic to allow the dough to relax, but not to dry out.
Set aside for about 15 minutes. 

Cut your dough as you need it , ultimately in about 8 -10 pieces. 
If you have a wooden surface to work on, that is the best surface for making pasta dough. 
Take one piece of dough, leaving the others covered while you roll out a long thin snake of dough.
Roll out the dough with your hands on top of the dough laid flat on the work surface. Gently roll the dough into a long piece about 1/4-1/2" thickness, depending on how large you want your "ears" to be.
Once rolled out, Take a butter knife or small pallet knife and cut the dough off into about a nickel sized portion. 
With your flat edge of the knife drag the knife from one side of the dough across to the other applying steady pressure so that the dough crawls up and curves over. Pick the piece up and unroll it if need be and fold it opposite of the way it tried to roll up, so that it forms a cup. 
Lay them side by side on a plate or wooden surface that has been sprinkled with semolina to dry till they are not sticky to the touch. Feel free to sprinkle a bit of semolina over the tops as well if you need them to dry up a bit more.  Avoid making these on very humid days as it is with most home made pasta.  continue on with all of the pieces of dough till you are all done. 
Go back and make you meat rolls and sauce while your pasta dries. 

If you watch some of the ladies of Bari making them they have a two stroke method that I have yet to master, but certainly will be striving for.  Like many things it just takes a lot of practice. 
I am going to add a  little video that I made to practice not only my orecchiette skills but also my video skills as well. Hope you like it. 

Finishing and serving:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the fresh pasta and boil gently till cooked to your preference. Normally it only takes a few minutes like 4-6 unless they are very dry or very thick. 
If using dry store pasta follow the directions on the package for the timing. 

While the water is coming to a boil, put the meat rolls back into your sauce and heat the sauce and meat rolls back up so that everything is piping hot.
Remove meat and set aside, keeping them warm somewhere till you are ready to serve them after the pasta course.
Drain your pasta, add to the sauce and toss to coat the pasta. 
Serve immediately, garnishing with the grated cheese to taste.  

Serve your meat rolls with a vegetable side dish or salad of choice.

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