The world of pasta is vast. There are seemingly limitless types of pasta, each made into a specific shape for the perfect combination of sauce. Long slippery noodles made for thick smooth sauces, shapes full of caverns or ridges to catch pools of thinner sauces, pasta shaped like shells or tiny radiators (check out raddiatore next time you’re in the pasta aisle) and my new favourite, shaped like the gentle cup of a tiny ear: orecchiette.
These “tiny ears” are quick cooking, well textured so they hold sauce nicely and they are fun to eat. Through the magic of Google I was able to find multiple recipes for orecchiette, many of which had a ham-peas-and-cream feel to them. Anyone who has had dinner at my house will tell you, I’m not staunchly committed to tradition and authenticity when I cook. I can, however, re-mix things to suit what is available and happily eaten by my family (and so can you!). Long story short, I wasn’t compelled to follow any of the orecchiette recipes I found, but I did come up with one myself that may be a distant cousin to the more “true” versions out there.
Orecchiette Pasta with Ham and Broccoli
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 garlic clove, grated or minced
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
a scant pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
250 grams of ham, cubed – or if you have Serrano ham or pancetta (or other thin, deli sliced ham) chop that up instead of cubes – or leave the ham out and make it vegetarian
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips (you could use orange or yellow, or swap one out for green, but the sweetness of the red was really nice here)
1 head of broccoli, broken into small florets, stem chopped
1 small bunch of fresh dill, stems removed (you could use parsley or basil if you didn’t have dill)
The sauce will honestly come together in no time, so once you have a big pot of water on the heat, chop up your vegetables and ham, set aside.
For the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s completely melted add the flour and stir to combine, making a roux. Keep stirring, it will thicken like a paste and slowly brown, this will take about 2 minutes. Then add the milk and continue stirring. The flour and butter will incorporate and within a few minutes the milk will begin to thicken slightly.
It won’t be a thick gummy sauce, it will have just enough body to it to cover the back of the spoon you are stirring it with. Once its cooked a bit, add the Parmesan, garlic and nutmeg and salt and pepper. The ham is salty, so keep that in mind as you add salt. Turn the heat down on the sauce (medium-low) and let its flavours get acquainted.
By now the water should be boiling. Toss in the pasta and stir so the little ears don’t clump. Cook as per it’s package directions. At this point I blanched the vegetables in the boiling water of the pasta (for the sake of getting a good picture of them) but if I hadn’t been taking photos this is what I would have done: In the last 3 minutes of cooking, dump in the broccoli and peppers, reserving the ham. Allow the vegetables to cook with the pasta and drain it as you usually would.
Add the ham to the sauce and allow it to heat through, its not a matter of cooking it, just getting it warm.
Pour the drained pasta and vegetables back into the pot you cooked them in and add the sauce and ham. Stir to combine everything. There won’t be a ton of sauce, just enough to coat everything. Chop up the dill or parsley and stir in. Serve immediately. Buon appetito!