In the month of nothingness I had after traveling and before joining the real world, I filled my time with books. I read A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read Never a City So Real. And I also read a stack of cookbooks so heavy I thought it would break my desk.
That time of nothingness has long since past. My now jam packed days are filled with teaching third grade summer school in Chicago and taking on all the other tasks that come with being a new teacher. With zero amount of free time, my reading list has dwindled to third grade text selection guides and math ISAT prep books.
In the calm before the storm – in an era when my hours were occupied with stories of food – I finally made my way through The Mozza Cookbook. Owner of Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, author Nancy Silverton writes lovingly about her time in Italy and its relationship to the food that now comes out of her kitchens. Her recipes are creative yet humble. While many, like this one, err on the side of daunting, it is obvious great care was taken to make them accessible to the home cook. Accessible, in this case, still means an all day cooking adventure which, at one point, left me watching three episodes of Mad Men as I shaped nearly two pounds of “little ear” pasta.
Despite it difficulty, the pasta is well worth trying to make. However, if your don’t want to spend your entire day in the kitchen, buy pasta from the store and make just the sauce, which was, in my opinion, the truly exceptional component of the recipe. (To do this your will need to follow the directions for “make the chard” and “make the finishing”.)
Orecchiette with Sausage and Swiss Chard
adapted (just the sauce!) from Nancy Silverton’s The Mozza Cookbook
I found the process of forming the orecchiette described in the original recipe slightly challenging. I’ve left their method in the directions but have also included my own. If you want to see a video of my method, click here and watch my first ever post to youtube (!) to get a better grasp on how I formed the orecchiette. On an ingredient note, if you buy a small bunch of swiss chard from the farmer’s market, like I did, you may want to use only one arbol chile. They are hot so proceed with caution.
For the Orecchiette
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 3/4 cups semolina flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/4 cups water
For the Chard
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 dried arbol chiles
For the Finishing and Serving
3/4 pound Italian Sausage, casing removed
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces Orecchiette
3 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
Toasted bread crumbs, to taste
Make the orecchiette: Combing the flour, semolina, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Turn off the mixer, remove the paddle attachment, and replace it with the dough hook. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the dough with the dough hook on medium speed until it forms a ball, about 5 minutes. Dust a flat work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the dusted surface and gently knead it for 20 to 25 minutes, until the ball begins to feel elastic and the surface of the dough feels smooth and silky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to overnight before sheeting it (any longer and the dough will discolor).
Slice the round of dough into 1-inch thick slabs and cut each slab into 1-inch wide slabs. Roll each section on a clean, dry work surface into a tube 1/4 inch thick, and set aside. Dust the work surface with flour and return the tubes to the dusted surface. Use a long knife or a straight-edged rolling pastry cutter to cut the dough into 1-inch long pieces, discarding the misshapen ends.
Dust a baking sheet lightly with semolina. Dust a plastic cutting board or other slightly textured surface very lightly with flour. Place one pasta segment on the cutting board with the cut end facing you. With the flat side of the tip of a table knife, gently press on the end of the segment closest to you and continue to pressing away from you toward the other end of the segment, flattening the dough into a small disk about 1/4 inch thick in the process. Pick up the disk and invert it onto you index finger so that the side of the dough you pressed on is facing down. Use the fingers of your other hand to pull the edges of the dough around the index finger, forming a caplike-shaped ear. Place the pasta shape on the prepared baking sheet and repeat, shaping the remaining dough segments in the same way.
(Alternately, place one pasta segment on the cutting board with the cut end facing you. Put your thumb on the end closest to you and, with the flat side of the tip of a table knife, press gently on the end farthest from you and continue pressing toward you, flattening the dough into a small disk and 1/4 inch thick. Pull the dough around the thumb you had placed at the front of the segment using the fingers of your other hand to shape the dough. Place the pasta on the prepared baking sheet and repeat.)
Use the orecchiette or cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate the pasta for up to one day. To freeze, place the baking sheet in the freezer until the pasta is firm to the touch. Transfer the pasta to sealable plastic bags, or an airtight container, dusting off the excess semolina, and freeze for up to two weeks.
Make the chard: To prepare the chard, pull the leaves from the ribs. Roughly chop the leaves and set aside. Cut off and discard the very ends of the ribs and slice the ribs 1/4 inch thick.
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chard ribs, season with salt, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until barely translucent. Add the onion, garlic, and chiles, and season with salt. Saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes, adding water to the pan (as much as 1 cup total), stirring often to prevent the vegetables browning. (You add water to the pan so you can saute and sweat the onion without browning it, but you never want the onion swimming in water–just enough so the pan isn’t dry.) Add the chard leaves, season with salt, and fold the leaves in with the onion for 1 or 2 minutes to wilt them slightly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the chard leaves are very dark green and the onion, leaves, and stems are one soft, homogenous mixture. Turn the vegetables out onto a cutting board and chop, cutting first in one direction and then perpendicular to the first direction, until the vegetables are finely chopped to the point of being almost pureed. Measure out a heaping 1/4 cup of the vegetable for the pasta dish. Use the rest as an excuse to prepare this dish again in the very near future, or spoon a heaping spoonful under a piece of grilled fish.
Make the finishings: To make the sauce, heat a saute pan over high heat for about 2 minutes until it’s very hot. Add the sausage to the pan and cook it undisturbed for about 2 minutes, until the meat is seared. Stir the meat and cook for another 4 minutes, breaking it into pea-size pieces, until it is cooked through. Add the chopped chard and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to warm it through, stirring the chard into the sausage as it cooks. Sprinkle the pepper over the chard and sausage, add the chicken stock, and cook the sauce for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, to bring the ingredients together. Add the butter, stir until it melts, and turn off the heat while you cook the pasta.
Fill a pasta pot or large stockpot with 6 quarts of water, add salt to taste (be generous!), and bring the water to a boil over high heat. If you are not using a pasta pot, place a colander in the sink or have a large wire strainer handy to life the pasta out of the pot.
Remove the orecchiette from the refrigerator or the freezer and drop them into the boiling water. Stir to prevent the pasta from sticking together, partially cover the pot so the water returns to a boil quickly and continues boiling, and cook the pasta until it’s al dente, about 2 minutes. About 1 minutes before the pasta is done, place the sauce over high heat. Lift the pasta out of the cooking water or drain it and immediately add it to the pan with the sauce. Cook the pasta with the sauce together for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the sauce is thick, adding fresh water to the pan if the pasta looks dry or sticky instead of slippery and glistening. Turn off the heat and add the high quality olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano, stirring vigorously and shaking the pan to emulsify the sauce.
Pile the orecchiette in the center of each plate. Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of bread crumbs over each serving, and serve with the remaining bread crumbs on the side.