Eggplant and Black Chickpea Orecchiette

There are a few techniques to making these little buggers. It's one of my favourite pasta shapes, but weirdly tricky to master. I don't want that to put you off--I've seen both 5-year-olds and 100-year-olds rattling it out in Italy very easily! Approach it with a Zen-like mind and I promise you'll get into the rhythm soon enough.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr (plus overnight soaking)
  • Active: 35 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

150 grams (5 ounces) of dried black or regular chickpeas

1 eggplant

1 zucchini

1 onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 lemon

Orecchiette:

400 grams (14 ounces) durum wheat flour or fine semolina flour, plus extra for dusting

Directions

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight, then drain and cook according to the packet instructions, until soft.
  2. For the orecchiette: Pile the flour on to a clean surface and make a well in the middle. Gradually add 200 millimeters (6.8 ounces) of warm water, using a fork to bring the flour in from the outside until it forms a dough. Knead on a flour-dusted surface, switching between fast and slow kneading, for 10 minutes, or until smooth and firm. Cut the dough into four so you can work with it a quarter at a time. Cover the rest with a clean damp tea towel while you work, to stop it drying out. Roll your first quarter into a long sausage shape about 1 centimeter (3/8 inch) in diameter, then cut it into 1-centimeter (3/8-inch) nuggets. Keep your surface well dusted with flour.
  3. Now, method number one: starting at the edge furthest away from you, drag a blunt eating knife towards you over a nugget of dough, so it curls round and over the knife. Gently pull the dough off the knife, push your thumb inside and turn it inside out. Repeat, and you'll get it after a while. Method number two requires you to stick your thumb into the centre of a nugget (roll it into a ball first if you want to be more precise), rotate your thumb around to create a round disc, then pick the disc up and hold it between your thumb and forefinger, pulling it gently over your forefinger to make a similarly effective little ear. Transfer to a floured tray as you go.
  4. Whichever method you choose, repeat with the remaining pasta, shaping and perfecting as you go until all your little ears are done.
  5. For the sauce, trim the eggplant and zucchini and chop into 2-centimeter (3/4-inch) dice, then peel and finely slice the onion. Cook the veg in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat with the olive oil for 15 minutes, or until soft, stirring occasionally.
  6. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquor. Stir the chickpeas into the veg pan with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, loosening with a good splash of reserved liquor. Cook over a low heat for 8 more minutes, then taste and season to perfection with sea salt and black pepper.
  7. Meanwhile, cook your fresh orecchiette in boiling salted water for 4 minutes (or cook 300 grams (10 ounces) of dried orecchiette according to the packet instructions). Scoop the pasta into the sauce and toss together, loosening with pasta cooking water, if needed, then tuck in.
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