Orecchiette with Cauliflower from an Italy Cooking Vacation

November 19, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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The cuisine of Puglia – the heel of Italy – is incredibly diverse, thanks to the sun, mild climate, and fertile terrain. While the produce here has an important place in many kitchens, so too does the pasta. And if there ever was a “pasta” of Puglia it would be the orecchiette. After all, visitors can even stroll down a “street of pasta” in the bustling city of Bari, where women hand roll orecchiette in their open kitchens. Take part in a quintessential Pugliese tradition by making your own orecchiette!

This particular recipe comes from Chef Chiara, of our Culinary Adventure in Puglia cooking vacation. She says that this is the perfect recipe to keep you warm on a chilly Winter evening.

See all our Puglia cooking vacations.

Orecchiette with Cauliflower

Serves 4 people
Prep time: 90 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Cook method: Boil


  • 17 oz semolina flour
  • Warm water
  • Salt
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb Italian pancetta (or smoked bacon)
  • Handful of bread crumbs
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 large head of green cauliflower (cut into wedges, cored, and roughly sliced)
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, grated

1. Start by hand making the orecchiette. To do this, put the flour on a board, and make a well in the center of the flour mound. Using just the tips of your fingers, mix the water with the flour, and just incorporate a little at a time, until it’s all combined.
2. Work this dough with your hands by squashing it onto the table, reshaping it, pulling, stretching, and squashing it again. The dough should start to feel smooth and silky, rather than floury and rough.
3. Cut a piece from the dough and make it into a snake shape, rolling it until it’s about a 1/2-inch wide. (Cover the rest of the dough so it doesn’t dry out). From this snake, use a knife with a rounded top to cut a small piece about 1/2 inch long to make a squared shape.
4. Holding the knife at a 45-degree angle to the work surface, press and roll the dough toward you. Then unfurl each piece of dough over you thumb in the opposite direction to form the signature concave shape of orecchiette. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet that’s been lightly sprinkled with semolina flour. Repeat with the remaining dough.An old woman making orecchiette pasta in the center of Bari, Puglia.
5. Now it’s time to make the rest of this dish. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. To this pan, add the pancetta and a handful of bread crumbs, and cook; break up any clumps using the edge of a spoon. Allow to cook for a couple minutes, or until browned. Transfer the meat to a plate lined with a paper towel.
6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta with the cauliflower, and stir often. This should cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender.
7. Use a heatproof measuring cup to remove one cup of the cooking water, and then set it aside. Drain the pasta into a colander and without rinsing, return it to the pot.
8. Add the pancetta mixture to the pot of pasta, and toss it all together well. Cook this over low heat, adding half a cup to 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to thin the mixture.
9. Serve in shallow bowls, and sprinkle with pecorino and more olive oil, if desired and needed.

Cook with Chiara in Puglia!

By Peg Kern

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