Orecchiette gets its name because the shape of the pasta is said to resemble small ears. I love it because the indentation is perfect for capturing sauces. These recipes are indulgent: the first, because it uses lobster (an expensive ingredient), the second because it's rich and calorific, but each one should take you less than 30 minutes to prepare.
Lobster with orecchiette, fennel, tomatoes and basil (pictured)
This should feed four normal eaters, but if you (and they) are very hungry, use 400 grams of pasta and slightly increase the quantity of the other ingredients, except the lobster.
2 fresh lobsters, about 700 grams each
300 grams orecchiette
2 garlic cloves
1 fennel bulb, about 300 grams
500 grams ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
About 15ml cooking oil
200ml dry white wine
30ml Pernod (or use another anise-flavoured liquor)
About 50 grams tomato purée
A small handful of fresh Italian basil leaves
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lay one of the lobsters on its back on a cutting board with the head facing right (if you're right handed). Hold the body firmly with your left hand and, using a sharp, sturdy knife, quickly and decisively split the lobster's head in half between the eyes - this will kill it instantly. Turn the lobster around so the head is facing left, then finish cutting it in half, slicing it the entire length of the body. Lay the lobster cut-side up, taking care not to lose any of the tomalley and roe (if it's a female lobster). Prepare the other lobster the same way. Clean the lobsters: remove the intestinal tract that runs the length of the body and the sand sack in the head. Detach the claws by twisting them then pulling them away from the body. Remove the rubber bands from around the claws. Crack the claws by hitting them with a sturdy implement (I use the flat side of a meat mallet).
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil. Add the orecchiette and boil until it's half cooked, then drain. Halve the shallots then thinly slice them. Roughly chop the garlic. Cut the fennel bulb in half then slice it about 5mm thick. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.
Heat the cooking oil in a deep skillet that's wide enough to hold the lobster halves in one layer. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic and cook over a low flame until soft. Add the white wine and cook over a high flame for about three minutes, then stir in the Pernod and bring to a simmer. Add the fennel, cherry tomatoes and tomato purée, then season to taste with salt. Add the pasta and cook over a high flame until the ingredients come to a simmer, stirring often. Sprinkle a little salt over the lobsters then nestle them in among the pasta and spoon some of the sauce over the flesh. Cover the pan with the lid then reduce the heat and simmer until the lobster and pasta are done, about 10 minutes. Occasionally stir the pasta, moving the lobsters out of the way as needed. If the mixture seems dry, stir in more tomato purée; the sauce should very lightly coat the pasta. When the lobsters are cooked, taste the pasta and sauce and add more salt, if needed. Scatter with basil leaves (if they're large, roughly chop them) and sprinkle with black pepper, then serve immediately.
Orecchiette with prosciutto, mascarpone and peas
400 grams orecchiette
About 5ml cooking oil
120 grams sliced (about 5mm thick) prosciutto
200 grams frozen peas, preferably petits pois, thawed
100 grams mascarpone
About 20 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
Fine sea salt and freshly grated black pepper
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil and start cooking the orecchiette.
While the pasta is about three-quarters cooked, start preparing the other ingredients. Cut the prosciutto into 5mm-wide pieces. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet and add the prosciutto. Cook over a medium flame, stirring often, until the fat in the prosciutto starts to brown and become crisp.
When the orecchiette is al dente, ladle off about 100ml of the cooking water, then drain the pasta into a colander. Immediately add the pasta to the pan holding the prosciutto. Add the peas, then stir in the mascarpone and about 50ml of the pasta cooking water. Bring to the simmer over a medium flame, then add 20 grams of parmesan and some salt, if needed (the parmesan and prosciutto are salty). Lower the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce lightly coats the orecchiette. If needed, stir in more of the pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with black pepper then ladle the ingredients into bowls. Serve with additional parmesan cheese on the side.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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