Homemade Puglian pasta with autumnal pesto and crisp pancetta
You can barely take a step in Puglia without encountering homemade orecchiette (Italian for ‘little ear’), which have an unusual hybrid flavour somewhere between dried and fresh pasta (they’re made from semolina and contain no eggs).
For the rocket and walnut pesto:
100g fresh walnut halves
100g wild rocket
1 large garlic clove
160ml olive or walnut oil
1 slice of brown sourdough, soaked in water
Juice of 1 lemon
75g pancetta, cut into ½cm cubes
For the orecchiette:
¾ tsp fine sea salt
225g semolina, plus extra for sprinkling
Grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Toast the walnuts on the lined baking sheet for 8 mins. Grind the walnuts and rocket in a food processor with the garlic, oil, bread (squeezed dry) and the freshly squeezed lemon juice. You should have a thick, smooth sauce. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.
Stir together 110ml warm water and the salt for the orecchiette in a bowl until the salt has dissolved. Add the semolina in a stream, beating with an electric mixer at medium speed, until a stiff dough forms—about 2 mins. Transfer the dough to a work surface lightly dusted with semolina and knead with lightly dusted hands until smooth and elastic. This will take about 6 mins. Divide the dough into 5 pieces and let it stand under an overturned bowl for 30 mins.
Line 2 trays with kitchen towels and dust with some semolina. Keeping the remaining dough covered, roll one piece into a 35cm rope (about 2cm thick) on an un-floured surface. Cut the rope into ½cm pieces. Dust your thumb with some semolina and press down on each piece of dough, pushing away from you and twisting your thumb slightly to form an indented curled shape (like an ear). Transfer to the lined trays. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Orecchiette can be made (but not cooked) 3 days ahead.
To a hot frying pan add the pancetta, allowing the fat to render. Cook until golden brown and drain on kitchen roll.
Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the orecchiette and cook until they are al dente (approx 8-10 mins). Drain and mix with the sauce, topped with the pancetta and shavings of parmesan cheese.
Recipe: Ursula Ferrigno