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A Take on Orecchiette to Make All Summer

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We’ve partnered with Brooke Bass of Chocolate + Marrow and Washington-based Columbia Winery to celebrate the bounty of the Pacific Northwest through a series of dinner recipes. Each dish features a twist—a progression from a classic or a new approach using time-tested ingredients.

Today: A flavorfully complex take on orecchiette for eating outdoors with friends.

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Developing recipes is an involved process.

I was completely taken aback by the Pacific Northwest's bounty when I moved to Portland a little more than a year ago. The fresh chicken eggs that hailed from my neighbor’s urban farm, farmers market produce bins overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, and bay oysters that begged to be harvested and grilled over a campfire with a good garlic-y butter were just some of the options I had to choose from.

So, recently, when I decided to revamp the classic orecchiette—an ear-shaped pasta that is typically served with bright basil pesto—I naturally looked to what was available to me seasonally.

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I first decided to incorporate rye flour in the pasta dough for an earthy, almost farm-like flavor. After I settled on the flour substitution, I decided to take a cue from my friends at the farmers market and let a visit to their spring vegetable-filled stands inspire me in the kitchen. I was intrigued by buckets of curly fiddlehead ferns and heaps of spear-tipped garlic scapes, but knew neither were quite right for the orecchiette, which I like best as a scooping vessel for vegetable-driven sauces and purées. So when I spotted a large, wood-weaved basket overflowing with piles of foraged stinging nettles, I knew they would be the perfect match.  

After cooking the nettles down in a garlic-y olive oil to rid them of their sting (yes, they really do sting—trust me!), I seasoned them, incorporated chicken stock into the mixture, and puréed it all before finally tossing it with the fresh rye orecchiette. 

More: Brooke suggests using oyster shucking gloves, like these, to handle nettles.

Once the green nettle purée had slowly worked its way into the nooks and curves of the pasta, I plated it and topped each serving with tangy sheep’s milk feta, a quick sprinkle of purple chive blossoms, and a bit of lemon zest to brighten the otherwise earthy dish.

With all of the vibrant produce in the Pacific Northwest, it's not surprising that it's also flush with wine grapes and good soil. And, because of the amount of high-quality vines in the region, tying a meal together with a bottle from the same area is easy. Often, the terroir that's expressed in a particular wine will share similar tastes and aromas with recipes made from neighboring ingredients. 

A visit to Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Washington showed that grapes grown in the state's Columbia Valley are able to bask in the sun's warmth during the day and balance out during cool, clear nights. This ideal combination produces fruit with layers of flavor, vibrant colors, and natural acidity. So, to complement my fresh and savory pasta, I chose Columbia Winery’s Chardonnay for its balance, hints of tropical fruit, and touch of sweet vanilla.

Rye Orecchiette with Stinging Nettles, Sheep’s Milk Feta, and Chive Blossoms

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups plus 1 to 3 tablespoons (about 165 grams) rye flour
1 1/2 cups (about 280 grams) semolina flour, plus more for shaping
3 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 cup of warm water, plus 1 to 3 extra tablespoons if needed
1/4 cup of olive oil, plus more as needed
1 shallot, chopped roughly
5 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1/2 pound nettles, stems removed (about 7-8 cups, or 4 ounces, loosely packed leaves)
Salt and  freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup of reserved pasta liquid, plus more as needed
8 ounces of sheep’s milk feta cheese
Zest from 1/4 lemon
Chive blossoms or fresh snipped chives, for garnish

See the full recipe (and print and save it) here.

Photos by Brooke Bass

With an elegant balance of fruit-driven flavors and a firm acidity, Columbia Winery makes wines that are well-suited to complement a variety of meals and entertaining occasions. 

Tags: Orecchiette, Stinging Nettle, Feta, Chive Blossoms, entertaining, menu,