Orecchiette with Tomatoes, Then Tomatoes Again

July 12, 2010

Apulia (Puglia) forms the heel of the Italian peninsular boot. A tangled history of conquest and repression—Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Angevins, Turks, Austrians, Spaniards, French all held sway over time. To the chagrin of the oppressed, Puglia has been a perfect cauldron for supreme cuisine.

Orecchiette pasta of Puglia, those “little ears” that fondly show their makers’ thumbprints, date back to the 13th and 14th century domination of the region by relentlessly expansionist Angevins. Under the English monarch King Henry II, the Angevins were a landed aristocracy whose holdings covered much of the British isles, France, northern Spain and even parts of southern Italy. The Angevin were originally the Dijon born Plantagenet feudal nobility who ultimately dominated English royalty from 1154 to 1399, and also were the dynasty that ruled southern Italy during that era.

So, it is surmised that orcchiette has cross cultural origins. The pasta resembles French crosets likely migrating south from Provence and then morphing into those elaborately imprinted round lasagnes called corzetti. Crafted in nearby Liguria, these ornate pasta disks are served by upper crust families to display wealth and status. Orcchiette are strangely French and Italian, even English, by birth it seems.


1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded
1/2 T honey
A splash of red wine
Sea salt
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley, thyme and basil sprigs

1/3 C chèvre or other mild goat’s cheese
3 T heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/4 C basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1 lb orcchiette
Sea salt

Fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
Capers, rinsed and dried
Grated parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large and deep skillet or even a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and just lightly golden. Add the minced garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant but not burned, about 1 minute. Add the quartered tomatoes, shredded carrot, honey, red wine, salt, and bouquet garni and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni, and then put through a food mill or purée with an immersion blender. Whisk in the goat cheese and cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return to the skillet and keep warm at low heat.

Add finely chopped tomatoes to the 2 minced cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and ribboned leaves of basil.

Then, bring a large, heavy pot of cold water to a boil, and salt generously. Add the pasta, and cook al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the pasta well, and then toss with both the warm tomato sauce and then finish with the uncooked, chopped tomatoes.

Serve with fresh ribboned basil, capers and equal parts of grated parmiggiano and pecorino.


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