All long distance runners share one thing in common- they eat pasta the night before a race. It's practically a requirement to even register for the race (sometimes I eat pizza, don't tell anyone...). We adjusted this ritual a bit after I learned how to make my own pasta, experimenting with different types of flour and shapes. Each pre-race evening was spent in the kitchen making pasta- and then eating it, of course! This time I decided to try my hand at a bit more of a free-form pasta: orecchiette. Italian for "small ear," these little scoops of pasta are known for clinging to bits of sauce.
I loosely followed a few recipes online, but ended up mostly winging it with the ratios. Here's what worked for me (makes 3-4 servings).
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Mix everything together in a bowl, then turn the dough out onto a clean, flat surface and knead it until it comes together to form a smooth, slightly stretchy dough blob (I kneaded for about 8 minutes).
I wrapped up the dough in plastic wrap and let it "rest" on the counter for 20 minutes. Then I split it into three pieces and rolled each piece out on a floured Silpat into a long, thin rope. The diameter of the ropes will help determine the size of the end product- mine were about an inch thick. I snipped off the tapered ends to make uniform rolls.
The next size-determining step is cutting these dough logs into individual pieces. A few recipes suggested 1/2 inch thickness so I went with that. The great thing about this pasta shape is you don't have to do any extensive rolling to flatten out the dough- it saves a ton of time.
The pieces got a little squished under the pressure of the knife, but it didn't end up mattering. To form the final shape, press a piece of dough into one palm with the opposite thumb, twisting slightly to form a little well. The picture below shows the pressed product next to a pre-pressed piece. You can see it spreads and grows in size quite a bit- next time I would slice the dough a bit thinner, closer to 1/4 inch in order to make smaller "ears."
6 oz. grape tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, separated in two
3 tsp. olive oil, divided
2/3 c. ricotta cheese (the whole fat kind!)
5 large fresh basil leaves
2 chicken sausages
12 oz. brussels sprouts, quartered
salt + pepper
First up, the brussels sprouts. Roast them. Toss the quarters with a splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper and throw them in a 425 degree oven for thirty minutes- easy.
Next, focus on the ricotta base. A finely chopped clove of garlic was simmered in a touch of olive oil until lightly browned, and then added to the ricotta in a small bowl. The fresh basil should also be added to the mix, and can either be finely chopped or chiffonade...d (is this a word?). A simple technique for a chiffonade:
1. Stack leaves (largest to smallest helps)
2. Roll leaves into a tight bundle
3. Cut vertically through the bundle at 1/8" intervals
4. Admire your perfectly evenly sized strips of basil
5. Sprinkle over dish of choice.. or mix them into your bowl of ricotta
In a separate bowl, combine halved, deseeded (just lightly squeeze after slicing) tomatoes and the other clove of garlic. Let sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to settle a bit. Depending on the state of your chicken sausage, cook, crumble, and/or slice. We used a precooked version that needed to be heated, so pan roasted them until slightly crispy. In the last couple minutes, toss in the tomatoes- just enough heat to take an edge off the garlic and start to melt the tomatoes, but not enough to make them mushy.
The cooking process puffs up the dough further, so my resultant scoops of carbs were a little bigger than I wanted (ALWAYS my problem when I make pasta- it can never be thin/small enough!). However, they maintained their scoop shape quite well.
In a big bowl, combine everything. Your ricotta mix, the tomatoes and sausage, as well as your roasted brussels sprouts and of course, the pasta. A splash of pasta water will help to mix things together, but you don't have to be overly cautious- these little ears of pasta are super sturdy and stand up to a good tossing.
Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan for an extra salty kick (I don't carb load, I salt load), and eat up. The ricotta gives such a creaminess that it seems super indulgent, but works out to a reasonable amount of fat and calories (ie the good stuff) per serving. Lots of veggies bulk it up, and the pasta shines- you can absolutely tell the difference between fresh and dried. Plus, getting your hands dirty- literally- makes this dish extra special.