Issa Cooks: Homemade Orecchiette!

While I used to enjoy rolling out long sheets of linguine on my pasta maker, various moves have left my beloved pasta maker somewhere in Brooklyn and a broad variety of whisks in Upper Manhattan.  Regardless, after weeks of bemoaning my forgotten pasta machine, I took matters into my own hands and made my own homemade pasta dish. Orecchiette, which means "little ear" in Italian, is quite simple to make by hand. With a few helpers to shape the noodles, this pasta makes a savory, affordable, and filling dish for a large group.  In fact, my orecchiette was so popular that I made it twice in a week (despite the floury mess that turned my kitchen into a snowy wonderland)!


2 eggs, room temperature 2 Cups flour, plus extra for kneading 1/2 Cup warm water Pinch of Salt

Crack the eggs in a bowl and beat until fully scrambled.  Add salt.

Beat in the first cup of flour, a half cup at a time.  When dough becomes too sticky to move with a whisk, start kneading with your hands. Before touching the sticky dough, dust hands with flour.  Add another half cup.

Once all the flour is added, take the lump of dough in your hands and knead in the last half cup of flour.  If the dough is too dry, add the warm water gradually.

If the dough still sticks to your hands after two cups of flour have been added (as shown above), slowly knead in more flour until dough is firm and does not leave much sticky residue on hands.

Roll the dough into a ball and wrap in flour dusted plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for 60 minutes.  (Switch your laundry, watch Glee, and the dough will be set!) And now the fun part... 

Roll ball of dough the size of tennis balls out onto a floured cutting board or table.  Use both hands to make a coil shape about an inch in diameter.  (My elementary school ceramics teacher would be proud at how quickly I learned to do this!)  Sprinkle flour on a sharp bread knife and slice rounds about 1/8 inch in diameter.  This will smush the coil, but don't despair, a few seconds of re-rolling will perfect the shape.

Separate the rounds and lie on a floured surface. Press a flour-coated thumb into the center of the pasta to indent it. When all of the pasta has been shaped, let it sit out for 30 minutes to air dry.  Yes, this process is long, but I promise it's worth it.

Meanwhile, you can prepare a simple and elegant sauce to feature your orechiette!

16 oz Cherry Tomatoes 3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1/2 Cup Basil leaves, sliced lengthwise Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the (cleaned) tomatoes and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Stir every few minutes but be aware of splattering oil.  When tomato skins start to break open, lower heat and continue stirring every few minutes.

When your pot of water is boiling, add a sprinkle of salt and toss in the orecchiette.  Boil for approximately 7 minutes, or until the pasta is floating. Cooking time depends on how thinly the noodles were sliced. Drain the floating pasta, do not rinse, and add directly to the  cooked tomatoes.  Stir in the shreds of basil and you're done!

Easy to serve in a large bowl, family style, with parmesan cheese as a garnish.

Bon apetite!

Issa Cooks: Stuffed Shells!

As much as I love cooking, during the school year, it's often hard to find the time to make something new and delicious every night. Hence, Kraft Mac and Cheese becomes my almost nightly staple. I do admit to loving psychedelic pseudo-cheese covered noodles perhaps a bit too much. However, these shells almost rank as high on my scale of cheesy delicious pasta. This dish takes slightly longer to make, but also has protein, veggies, and almost tastes better left over!
1 Box Jumbo Shells (16oz)
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Chopped Garlic
1 Can of (Organic) Whole Peeled Tomatoes
12oz Ricotta Cheese
1 Package Frozen Spinach
1 Package Baby Bella Mushrooms
Italian Seasonings
Salt & Pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat six quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add salt to taste.
To make sauce:
Heat olive oil in a frying pan on medium flame and add a few teaspoons of garlic (to taste).  Stir until garlic is golden brown. Lower the flame and add in the entire can of tomatoes- beware of splattering! Stir until garlic has mixed in with tomatoes and add Italian Seasonings to taste.  Feel free to throw in fresh basil, if available.  Simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the tomato mixture has come to a slow boil, transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, or a blender, which works equally as well.  Pulse on high until the sauce is completely smooth.
Transfer the sauce back to the pan and simmer on low heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add jumbo shells to the boiling water.  Add a few shakes of salt to bring out the flavor of the pasta. Cook according to the al dente directions on the box.  The noodles need to be firm!
Defrost the spinach in the microwave.  Chop the mushrooms to desired size.  Mix vegetables with ricotta cheese in a large bowl and add a few shakes of italian seasoning for flavor.
Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water until they're cool enough to touch.  Return to the pot.  Pour the pan of sauce into the bottom of a large glass baking pan.  You're ready to stuff! (Which is not an activity conducive to taking pictures or texting...)  Layer two noodles together and stuff with a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture.  Set into the baking pan.  Fill baking pan with rows of noodles.
When the pan is full, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of shells and bake for 15 minutes.  Broil for 5 more minutes for a crispy topping, and dinner/lunch for the next week is ready!