Lord knows there are hundreds of pasta shapes. Each region of Italy is renowned for its own special pasta shapes and tradtional recipes. The Puglia region is no exception. Puglia’s most popular pasta shape is Orecchiette [oh-reh-KEYetay] which means ‘little ears’ in Italian, and it’s used to make the dish of the region – orecchiette con cima di rape.
Many travelers to Puglia avoid Bari, entirely. For years it has gotten a bad rap, so when I visited, I was a bit nervous as to what I would find. Bari Vecchia, ‘old Bari’ is a small ancient part of the larger city, medieval in fact, with mazes of jumbled streets twisting and turning and laundry hanging from balconies wherever you turn.
It is within these charming walls, behind the Basilica di San Nicola, down two tiny covered alleyways, you find local women lining the streets hand making authentic orecchiette pasta. Rustic wooden work tables, dusted in semolina, spill out onto the street, while doors to their houses are left wide open so you can peer into their houses as you pass by.
You’ll be mesmerized at the speed at which these ladies roll out dough, lop off bite-sized pieces and wielding a knife and fingers form tiny cups, each one perfect, but somehow slightly different from the next. When cooked, the expertly formed cup and little ridges on the back act as magnets for sauce.
It’s really a sight to behold. A culinary tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. And one can only imagine how many ears of pasta are churned out on a daily, weekly, yearly basis. It must be several billion in each lifetime.
Hundreds of these little ears are left to dry on wooden-framed screens. The ladies weigh and package them up in plastic bags for you to take away and create a tasty pasta dish at home.
Along with orecchiette, you’ll also find them making cavatelli, which is another pasta shape from the region. And as you pass up and down, admiring their work, you’ll hear them chatting back and forth in local dialect, which just adds to the experience.
So, if you’re a foodie wanting to witness authentic pasta making, the orecchiette ladies of Bari Vecchia are not to be missed! And if you do visit, I beg you to bring me back a bag. Or ten.
Want to see how easy it is to make? Watch this video I shot of a local woman making orecchiette in Puglia.
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