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Mar 8, 2012 09:32 AM

Fresh orecchiette or other hand-formed pasta

Are these anywhere to be found in SF and East Bay Italian restaurants? Barbacco and Bellanico make several excellent fresh pasta dishes, but they use imported dried orecchiette. I guess the shape's not important--- I'm mainly looking for a fresh, eggless, hand-formed pasta. I love them, but they're not especially pleasant to make properly at home.

The closest thing I've come across are the hand pulled noodles in Cafe Tibet's Then Thuk , but I'm looking for these in an Italian preparation.

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  1. I've had them, I think at Oliveto and Incanto. Both regularly serve a variety freshly made semolina pastas. Oliveto might not be doing fresh orecchiette any more since that's one of the things Community Grains makes. I might have had them at A16 as well.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks for the suggestions. I looked on their online menus, and A16 might be a match--- they list "Squid ink cavatelli with tomato, braised calamari and castelvetrano olives." I've been meaning to go there for a while anyway, so I'll call them to see if it's fresh. Either way, it sounds like a good dish.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        D'oh, I spotted orecchiette on Oliveto's Tuesday online dinner menu, but they were off the menu yesterday. I wound up making a batch at home instead, but as I've been wanting to go to Oliveto anyway, I'll more regularly check out their menus in the morning.

        1. re: hyperbowler

          They don't usually have the dinner menu up until late afternoon.

      2. Flour + Water makes their pastas in-house. They do have orecchiette occasionally, but their pastas change often.

        Don't know enough about pasta to know whether any of the current pasta offerings are eggless.

        4 Replies
        1. re: goldangl95

          Sweet, they don't have any listed currently, but I'll check back another time.

          As a rule of thumb, 99% of what's advertised as "fresh pasta" is made with a combination of egg and all purpose flour. The dough is pliable, but still too much effort to roll out by hand--- they're usually rolled out in a pasta machine and cut with a machine, a pastry wheel, or a chitarra and formed into lasagna noodles, tagliatelle, agnolotti, tortellini, etc. These will have a yellowish tint to them depending on the quantity and quality of egg yolks.

          As a rule of thumb, eggless pastas are dried and stored for later use. They typically use semolina, a harder wheat flour that can keep a dough stiff. Stiffness is key if you want to extrude pasta from a machine (think play-do fun factory). If your pasta has a fun and uniform shape or has a symmetric cross section, it's been extruded (e.g., spaghetti, bucatini, corzetti, wagon-wheels). Stiffness is also key for making certain shapes by hand such as orecchiette--- once you pop these guys off the tip of a knife or your finger, they'll collapse on themselves if the dough isn't stiff enough. Fresh eggless pastas seem to be a rarity, but I'm very fond of them, especially the irregular texture of handmade ones.

          1. re: hyperbowler

            Incanto and Oliveto both have chitarras and torchi (traditional manual extruders).

            I think La Ciccia serves fresh malloreddus and spaghittusu, you might call and ask.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I asked La Ciccia when I was there last August, and they said they're imported from Italy. I ordered their fregola dish instead and bought some dried malloredus from Molinari's a few weeks later. Wow, I love their texture and can only imagine how much better they'd be fresh.

              Actually, the dried ones might be better than fresh--- my uneven, achem, rustic attempt to make cavatelli (unridged malloredus) came out horribly, but no matter how screwed up my orecchiette come out, they're always better than dried.

            2. re: hyperbowler

              Thank you for taking the time out to explain, it was very informative!

          2. Maybe Baia would let you buy some fresh off of the brass extruder, before they are dried.


            6 Replies
            1. re: foodeye

              Thanks! It would be awesome if they could indulge me, especially since I'd prefer to have them in a more minimalist sauce than I'd get in a restaurant. I just sent them an email.

              1. re: foodeye

                They said that they might have fresh pasta in the future, but at present, they're not set up to sell pasta fresh from the extruder.

                1. re: hyperbowler

                  Phoenix Pastificio sells at least one.

                  You might ask Community Grains about special-ordering some fresh.


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thanks! I'll follow up on these when I return from a trip.

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      I saw fresh (not dried) orechiette in the Rainbow pasta case last night, along with a few other shapes like gemelli and fusilli.

                      1. re: possumspice

                        Wow, awesome! I'll make a beeline toward Rainbow next time I'm driving in SF.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. Barbacco has housemade orecchiette right now. They're pretty small and cute. Good chew, but I couldn't taste them--- they were oversauced with an olive oil, fennel sausage, and broccoli rabe sauce. Really a shame to waste all that time making something if your customers can't taste it.

                  Edit: I'm rereading my OP, and am wondering if I was misinformed either on my original or recent visit about them being housemade. They were uniform enough last night that I assumed they were machine made at the restaurant, but perhaps not.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    Sounds like a pretty typical Italian sauce for orecchiette. Apparently in Puglia, according to Marcella Hazan, it is often served with broccoli rage, olive oil, and anchovy. Other recipes I have include sausage, etc.

                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                      Right, the sauce is as traditional as you can get, but the oversaucing isn't.

                    2. re: hyperbowler

                      Orecchiette alla cime di rapa is an exception to the general Italian rule of lightly sauced pasta. Recipes typically call for twice the amount of greens by weight.

                      Similar story for the version with garbanzo puree.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        That makes sense--- fresh handmade orecchiette, which have lots of tears and general flouriness, can absorb extra sauce. That wasn't the case with Barbacco's, which had more of a stamped ridge on them which did little to contain the sauce.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Traditional orecchiette a la cime di rapa is a mix of more or less equal parts greens and pasta. The greens aren't chopped fine to make a sauce, you could as easily serve them as a side dish.

                          I don't think I encountered fresh orecchiette in Puglia.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Thanks. The last time I made an arugula-based orecchiette sauce, I remember being surprised at the large quantity of the greens the recipe called for. I assumed I mismeasured. Even still, and unlike Barbacco's preparation, you could taste the pasta amidst all the greens. Salt might be the issue too--- as I was eating the Barbocco leftovers today, I realized that the pasta itself didn't have enough salt to bring out its flavor. Definitely disappointing from a place that otherwise has such excellent pasta, and looking at it in better lighting conditions, not as high quality as the stuff you can find at Market Hall.

                            A few months back, A Cote had an excellent orecchiete dish with a ragu. I forgot where they buy their orecchiette from, but it was the tastiest I've eaten in a restaurant.

                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              I had orecchiette a la cime di rapa on Saturday night at home using community grains orecchiette. A full pound of Annabelle's rapini with 8.8 oz of orecchiette worked very well. We could taste the orecchiette, but I don't know what your expectations are. It did not look like your picture, which seems to be very saucy.

                              1. re: wally

                                Community Grains is making orecchiette now?

                                Their whole-grain pastas have way more flavor than traditional white flour / semolina pasta. The hard red winter wheat conchiglie are particularly intense, it would be hard to overpower their flavor.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  My bad, it was Rustichella whole wheat.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Oh, that's excellent news. I've really liked orecchiette made with barley flour, so it would be great to try another strongly flavored variety.

                                    If Robert didn't even encounter fresh orecchiette in Puglia, I think the top quality dried stuff is the probably going to be the only option in the Bay Area.

                                    Baia pasta also has a variation of orecchiette. I'll cook some up some of that or the Community Grains next week and will report how they compare to the Rustichella d'Abruzzo ones at Market Hall.


                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      Thanks for all the dried pasta recommendations. A friend and I compared four orecchiette-like pastas last night, two from local companies--- Baia's spelt nutshells, Community Grains hard red winter wheat conchiglie, Rustichella's orecchiette, and a homemade semolina-barley orecchiette (to keep this post oriented to the SF board, I won't discuss it further).

                                      We tasted each raw, and with two sauces ill-suited to delicate pastas: broccoli rabe, olive oil, and anchovy sauce (Orecchiette alla cime di rapa) and a cauliflower, onion, and salty pig meat sauce.

                                      Baia's had somewhat of a nutty flavor out of the pot, but I didn't like the feel of the springy spherical shape. The smooth surface and shape didn't play well with the solid parts of the sauce, and the liquid parts overpowered the flavor of the pasta. Thumbs down.

                                      The Community Grains conchiglie had an intense earthy flavor right out of the pot. The pasta had a little bit of grittiness to it, but a nice amount of resistance. The flavor beautifully complemented both pasta sauces, and we could taste this hearty pasta even in oversauced servings. A very big thumbs up.

                                      Rustichella's string pastas are ungodly good, so I was expecting theirs to be tops, especially given the rugged surface of their orecchiette. They wound up being the worst. Their domelike appearance is created by pinching two sides of the pasta. This is a great technique for fresh pasta, but with the dried stuff, it made it so that the pinched part was raw when the rest was properly cooked. Out of the pot, the pasta had a really good flavor, but it got lost amongst both sauces. Big thumbs down.

                                      Bottom line, Community Grains' pasta is great stuff. We're lucky to have this type of product locally available.

                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                        I've cooked Rustichella orecchiette many times and have never had a problem with them being inconsistently cooked.