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Author Notes: This revamp of the classic orecchiette pasta is made with rye flour, stinging nettles, and sheep’s milk feta. Note: Stinging nettles sting, at least before cooking. I use a thick set of (clean) oyster shucking gloves when I am working with raw fresh nettles. If you don’t have access to nettles, or if they are out of season, you can substitute the same amount of spinach instead. —Brooke Bass | Chocolate + Marrow
- 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 kosher salt
- 1 cup warm water, plus 1 to 3 tablespoons if needed
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 shallot, chopped roughly
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
- 1/2 pound nettles, stems removed (about 7 to 8 cups, or 4 ounces, loosely packed leaves)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup reserved pasta liquid, plus more as needed
- 8 ounces sheep's milk feta cheese
- Zest from 1/4 lemon
- Chive blossoms or fresh snipped chives, for garnish
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the rye flour, semolina flour, and salt. (If mixing in the bowl of a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment.) Add 1 cup of warm water and combine on medium speed (or using a spatula), until a ball of dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If you notice the dough crumbling, add 1 to 3 more tablespoons of warm water. If you notice that it’s too sticky, add 1 to 3 more tablespoons of rye flour until it loses its stickiness.
- Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and supple. If you’re using a stand mixer, this will take about 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed; if you’re using your hands, it will take a bit longer, about 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should be cohesive and smooth after kneading. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest in a dry place at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Once the dough has rested, lightly dust your workspace with about 1 tablespoon of semolina flour. Wooden work surfaces, such as butcher block countertops or large wooden boards, are ideal for shaping the orecchiette. Use the dusting flour sparingly; 1 to 2 tablespoons should be enough for the entire mass of dough. Dust 2 large rimmed baking trays with semolina flour sparingly, about 1 tablespoon per tray.
- Cut off approximately one-sixth of the dough (about 100 grams) and roll into a long rope that’s about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut the log into several small pieces, about 1/2-inch wide, and one by one roll each piece into a circle. To give you a sense of how large these should be, 5 orecchiette pieces (uncooked) should weigh about 12 to 15 grams. On the dusted work surface, press down with your finger into the center of each dough circle (I use my middle finger, but you could also use your thumb) and rotate in small circles to spread the dough into a bowl shape, making it thin at the bottom. Next, pinch each dough piece on your finger to smooth out the shape. To get the classic orecchiette shape, pull back on the edges to create a small ear-like saucer. Place the finished orecchiette on the dusted baking tray and continue the process until all of the dough is formed into orecchiette. Make sure not to allow them to touch on the tray or they will stick together.
- The formed orecchiette can be frozen directly on the trays and then transferred and stored in sealed storage containers in the freezer for up to 2 to 3 weeks. Cook the frozen orecchiette just as you would the fresh; do not thaw before cooking.
- In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add nettles, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until nettles have wilted, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the stock and continue to cook, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Transfer to a bowl and blend with an immersion blender, or purée in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle simmer. Add all the orecchiette at once and cook until you notice them floating to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Once they’ve floated to the top, continue to cook approximately 2 to 3 minutes longer or until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta liquid for later use and drain cooked orecchiette in a colander.
- Toss cooked orecchiette with the nettle purée and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta liquid, adding a little bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired ratio. If you have leftover purée, you can freeze it in ice cubes for several weeks for later use.
- Toss the finished pasta with the feta and lemon zest, then garnish with fresh herbs. I used chive blossoms here for their delicate flavor, but fresh-snipped chives or basil would also work well.