Orecchiette are the symbol of fresh pasta in Puglia, but much more can be done with semolina and water. Among so many names and many "hands", the ladies of Bari Vecchia (and not only) still carry on a tradition with a unique charm. And one of them is about to land in New York …
Sitting at the table in Puglia means dealing with great gastronomic traditions and many, many linguistic and culinary differences. Let's take the orecchiette: for a single pasta format there are many names that change from kilometer to kilometer. And i cavatelli? He strascinati? Better to tidy up, especially if we want to get our hands in the dough and make them on our own, just like the ladies of Bari Vecchia, in this period at the center of a controversy.
"Puglia is made of durum wheat semolina," says Sandro Romano, gastronomist and journalist. So, in an elegant metaphor, in the fresh and dry pasta doughs we will find only water and durum wheat semolina, possibly not re-milled. "It is the one used by pasta makers," explains Antonio Amenduni, pasta trainer who holds master classes in Italy and abroad. «Because it ensures greater porosity of the pasta. On how much water to add to the semolina, the two experts do not express themselves. "The trick is to reduce the quantity to have a dough that produces more wrinkled orecchiette", recommends Amenduni. "But to achieve this effect, you need to have some experience and manual skills." Romano adds: "The dough must be rough, almost grainy. If you put more water, you work better, it's true. But when you go to shape the pasta, you can't. The paste must be smooth, but not wet ". In addition to semolina, barley flour is widely used in Salento, while burnt wheat flour is also widespread in the rest of the region. No salt is added except in the cooking water: "If put in the dough, it makes the glutin mesh harder", explains the pasta trainer. Unlike other areas of Italy, no eggs are placed in the dough.
Once the ingredients are grouped, we start by creating a semolina fountain on the pastry board. We add the water at room temperature and mix. We combine all the ingredients and with the fingertips we knead until a smooth and homogeneous mixture has been created. Let it rest for at least half an hour, wrapping the dough in a cotton cloth, so that the glutinic mesh is formed and the compound is elastic.
We work the pasta
Once the rest time has elapsed, we begin to shape the pasta with the help of the hands and a particular, historical tool. The Apulian gastronomic tradition reports it as the first tool for the processing of orecchiette. And the sfèrre, «A knife that our grandmothers used, made of iron. Now if you talk to Nunzia, in old Bari, she says it doesn't matter: when there is a hand, dragging does the rest ", explains Sandro Romano. Depending on the movements we are going to make with our hands or sfèrre (or underwire) we can make cavatelli (with hands), strascinati (with sfèrre) and even a mix of underwire macaroni and orecchiette, known as maritati . But the names of these formats are not the same everywhere. In addition, the processing techniques also change.
It is the zero grade of fresh pasta in Puglia. Take a piece of dough and work it with your hands until you get a snake of pasta. Then a piece is cut and the cavatello is made either with the help of a finger or with the tip of the knife. «It is called cavatello because it is" cavato ", the drag is minimal", explains Romano, who adds: "On Murgia cavatelli are made by dragging the dough with three fingers: with the middle finger you drag the pasta, while with the ring finger and index finger its shape is controlled .
«These are longer cavatelli, made from a more flat and longer piece of pasta, explains Amenduni. "It's a more modern type of pasta," adds Romano. "An invention of recent years, it is not an ancient pasta. It's like a kind of capunto, but more open. "
They are made all over Puglia and are obtained starting from the cavatelli preparation technique. «The snakes of dough are cut, then cut into small pieces of about one and a half centimeters, which are dragged on the pastry board with the knife with a rounded tip or sfèrre. If the central part is used in Bari, only the tip of the instrument is used in the rest of Puglia. The shell thus obtained, very similar to a more open cavatello, can also be turned on the tip of a finger. So you get a little one ear with a rough external surface , explains Amenduni. According to the strip that is created, different size orecchiette can be created. "The thickness of the snake tells us what size the ear will have," warns the pasta coach. The orecchiette take a different name depending on the place where they are made and the size assumed. In Foggia and its province they are called rècchie de prèvete and are larger than the rècchie, recchietèdde and strascenàte of Bari. In Minervino Murge and on the Gargano coast the orecchietta is also called cuppetìedde, a small cup. It is in fact a cup-shaped pasta, therefore similar to the Apulian mainstream format. In Brindisi and its province they are called stacchiòddi. Chiancarèdda is the name that Luigi Sada gives to a format similar to the orecchietta, made in Taranto and Massafra, in his book Spaghetti & Companions. «Rather large and full-bodied homemade pasta, made of durum wheat, hollowed out, flat or round, similar to tiles. In Foggia they call it chianétta and it is square or round in shape, rather large , he writes in his book. In Lecce the orecchiette are called rècchie, rìcchie, ricchitèddhre.
Orecchiette from Bari
Bari's orecchiette deserve a separate discussion. «They are small, typical for Sunday ragù. The larger ones are used with cabbage and turnip greens. In Foggiano they become even bigger and for this reason they take the name of rècchie de prèvete , explains the Roman gastronomist. The Bari ear is made with a smooth blade knife and with the help of the two indexes. You use them to stretch the dough, while pulling it with the knife. In this way the dough will rise so as to naturally create a dome, without turning it on the finger. During the act, the fingers make a circular movement, "almost in the shape of a heart," adds Amenduni. With this method you can make orecchiette of all sizes. "The main difference between the Bari method and the one used in the rest of Puglia is the roughness of the cap", the pasta coach specifies.
The earlobe is a bigger ear. It is enlarged with the fingers to obtain a type of pasta that is stuffed and baked.
The strascinati, or rather the stràscenàte, follow the same method of pasta orecchiette pasta, but it does not come "They are like low orecchiette", explains Amenduni. The block is dragged on the pastry board with the rounded tip or the central part of a knife, but it is not turned to create the dome. This type of fresh pasta is usually eaten with vegetables. "In Bari orecchiette and strascinati coincide because you don't make low ones," adds the pasta trainer.
The texts of the Apulian gastronomic tradition also speak of zest or almond peel or nocella. It is a type of smooth paste under and in front of wrinkled. "It coincides with a low trailing in which I only go to press the center of the block," adds Amenduni.
The husbands are the union of underwire macaroni – a symbol of virility, similar to the male sexual organ, which in Salento are called minchiarèddhi – and the orecchiette – to contrast macaroni and symbol of femininity.
The War of the Orecchiette
The New York Times dedicated an article to the issue: Call it a crime of pasta (Call it a pasta crime.) In this long reportage signed by Jason Horowitz, all the icons of the Apulian pasta lover were interviewed, from the historical Nunzia Caputo to the 82-year-old Vittoria, on the case of the kidnapping of orecchiette in a restaurant in the city. They are the queens of the Arco Basso, a pilgrimage destination for all those tourists looking for real orecchiette. On the Travel Show channel the New York Times has also published a video in which Nunzia launched her invitation to visit Bari. Now Nunzia will fly to New York together with the mayor Antonio Decaro, the Pugliapromotion staff led by Luca Scandale, manager of the Plan Strategic of Tourism, and to Aldo Patruno, director of the Culture and Tourism Department. The mission will see Nunzia protagonist of a cooking show on the live processing of orecchiette in the Puglia stand at the Travel Show, from 24 to 26 January 2020. Also Lonely Planet has included this point in Bari among the ten best destinations in Europe only for the charm given off by the cupboards, the semolina and the quick hands that churn out orecchiette all day. The point is that selling small envelopes for personal use to some tourists is very different from selling them in restaurants. There is a need for a license and information on product traceability. There is talk of making a cooperative, wearing caps, making receipts and paying taxes. And of course how difficult it is to put all this into practice in the historic center of Bari. The important thing is that this tradition is not killed, but that it becomes even more central in the life of the city. Whatever it takes.
Text by Stefania Leo
Photo by Antonio Amenduni