We contemplated the name orecchiette as we made dinner tonight. Orecchie means “ears” in Italian, and the -ette suffix renders a word diminutive. So, orecchiette means “little ears”. One look at this rustic pasta and you will agree that its name suits it well.
Linguistic humor is a good thing. Puns, spoonerisms, idioms, lexical ambiguity and double meanings keep things interesting and add fun to the mundane tasks of daily life. This is especially true when you are new to a country and just learning its language. We’ve had some pretty good laughs about English language phrases and expressions that Stefano has mangled.
The first couple of years we were in America he thought that baseball players waited their turn at bat in the dog house, then he learned it is actually called the dugout. “Tuesday” and “Thursday” were hard ones at the beginning, too. It’s that darn “th” sound. Until he became better at pronouncing it, those two days of the week came out sounding alike. To compensate, he’d schedule appointments and meetings for “Thursday, the one that comes after Wednesday.”
Cara has also had her share of linguistic mishaps in Italian, although perhaps because it has been so long, or perhaps because she happens to be the one writing this particular post, none are coming immediately to mind.
Some pasta names did surprise her when she lived in Italy, though. This was especially true for pasta that pokes fun at the Church. Strozzapreti are one example of this. Prete, (preti in the plural), means “priest,” while strozza means “choke.” You put it together. I mean, can you imagine telling a waiter, “I’d like some priest chokers with bolognese sauce, please.”
Compared to this, orecchiette, or “little ears” is actually kind of cute. That is, until you learn that in some parts of Italy, they are actually called orecchiette del prete, or “priest’s little ears.” There is something not quite right about that name. Orecchiette are earthy, with a rough texture and a firm bite.
I just made it worse, didn’t I?
Forget about the priest’s ears part, and just focus on the pasta, because it is one of the most delicious forms. It pairs perfectly with broccoli and sausage for a hearty, flavorful meal.
Ingredients for 4-6 servings
500 grams orecchiette
1 lb ground pork
1 medium head of broccoli
3 cloves garlic
Crushed red pepper, optional
Cut the crown of the broccoli into small pieces, and boil in salted water until tender.
While the broccoli is boiling, dice the garlic and sauté it in olive oil in a large frying pan until golden brown. If you like heat, add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper. Add the ground pork and let it simmer, crumbling it as it cooks.
When the broccoli is tender, drain and add it to the ground pork. Allow it to simmer together, stirring from time to time until the broccoli becomes soft and deconstructs. Salt to taste, if needed.
Bring a large pot of water to boil, and add a handful of coarse salt to it. Boil the orecchiette according to the directions on the package for al dente. Orecchiete are a firm, heavy pasta, and cooking time may vary according to taste. Drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add the broccoli and sausage, and stir over heat until the pasta is evenly coated.
Serve immediately, with grated Parmigiano on top.