Last fall, we traveled to the southern part of Italy. We crisscrossed the lower part of the boot-shaped peninsula, from Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea to Bari and Lecce in the heel of the boot on the Adriatic Sea.
After arriving in Bari, our tour guide took us on a stroll through Bari Vecchia — or old Bari.
During this tour, we discovered Quartiere delle Orecchiette. A group of older women sat at tables near the doorways of their homes making fresh pasta known as orecchiette or “little ears.” Overhead, laundry billowed out from wrought-iron balconies, drying in the hot sun.
I was mesmerized as I watched them roll the dough into long narrow snakes. In one sweeping motion, they deftly cut a disc of dough from the end, scraped it against a wooden board into a shell shape and turned it inside out and then placed it on a screen-like rack for drying. They did it so quickly, without even looking at their hands, piling up pasta as they greeted passersby.
As our tour guide led us down the street, she explained some of the women make their pasta outside in the alleyway because it is an extension of their tiny homes. Proving her point, a woman painstakingly mopped the stone street in front of her house.
The yellow pasta is made of semolina flour and water and the brownish pasta is made of whole wheat flour and water. Plastic bags of the pasta are sold to townspeople and tourists.
The people in Bari usually eat pasta as a second course, after having some type of raw or cooked seafood, such as octopus, our guide explained. While the raw seafood didn’t sound appetizing, I was intrigued by the pasta, which we ate several times on that trip. They are just the right shape to scoop up a chunky sauce.
This winter, I tried my hand at orecchiette made with semolina flour and water, following an online recipe. It took some time to refine my technique, but soon I had two trays. However, no matter how long I cooked the pasta, it was too firm.
I will revisit this recipe soon. I suspect that I need to use half all-purpose flour and half semolina flour. I can’t wait to try it with broccoli rape and Italian turkey sausage.
While it may be a long time until we visit Italy again, I’m grateful that we can always return at our table.