Nowhere else in the world does proper pasta pronunciation mean more, than in Italy! As an American living in Italy, I used to struggle with ordering anxiety.
Take for example the proper Orecchiette pronunciation. Afraid of pronouncing foods incorrectly, I usually practice before ordering with my husband Paolo, a native Italian speaker. While ordering Orecchiette in Puglia our conversation went something like this.
- Me “OR-E-Chedy.”
- Paolo “Orecchiette.”
- Me “Orreckedy.”
- Paolo “Orecchiette.“
- Me “Orecchetea.”
- Paolo “Orecchiette.“
It took studying Italian before I realized why native English speakers often struggle with how to pronounce orecchiette properly.
How to Properly Pronounce Orecchiette
Orecchiette is pronounced phonetically as [ôriˈkyedē] or [oh-reck-ee-ET-tay]. If you’re anything like me, these little phonetic guides are like alphabet soup. For those who prefer hearing rather than reading pronunciations, here’s a video that will help.
It’s true. Many a pasta-lover know Orecchiette means ‘little ears’ in Italian. Yet how to pronounce Orecchiette correctly is a bit more elusive. Even in the video above, there are a few attempts that fall short of how a native Italian speaker would say Orecchiette. The difficulty with Orecchiette is the same as it is with knowing how to properly pronounce Cacio e Pepe, proper gnocchi pronunciation, and in Venice Cicchetti pronunciation. It’s the vowels! While Italian and English share the same letters A, E, I, O, and U they are pronounced differently. Nailing pronunciations in Italian for English speakers is all about the vowels. Especially vowels at the end of the word. To understand just listen to the video below as far as the letters E and I.
To native English speakers, the Italian ‘E’ sounds like ‘A’ and ‘I’ sounds like ‘E’. With all those E’s and I’s it’s no wonder Orecchiette throws so many of us off! Plus that CH in the middle is also a little tricky for native English speakers. The ‘CH’ in Orecchiette is pronounced more like the ‘K’ in key. In other words, unless you’ve heard a native Italian speaker say Orecchiette or studied Italian, nailing the pronouncing based on a pasta package or a menu is going to be tricky.
What is Orecchiette?
In Italian Orecchia means ‘ear’ and ‘etta’ means small. It also helps to know that in Italian words ending in ‘a’ are pluralized with an ‘e’. So etta becomes ette, thus Orecchiette or little ears. So by their very definition Orecchiette are small pieces of ear-shaped pasta.
How to Make Orecchiette
A true Orecchiette recipe is uncomplicated. 200g of semolina to 100ml of warm water. Since Orecchiette lacks eggs it is one of the few kinds of fresh pasta suitable for dairy-free vegans. While the recipe for Orecchiette is pretty simple, the technique for rolling out the dough and shaping the pasta is what makes it so unique.
Orecchiette is made by rolling semolina pasta dough into long ropes. Small pieces are then cut away and quickly rolled between the knife and cutting surface. The final step is to invert each piece on the thumb to create the cup shape. Because there’s no one you can trust more than a Pugliese Nonna to pronounce Orecchiette correctly or to teach you how to make Orecchiette, I give you my favorite video of Orecchiette being made in Italy.
It’s this motion, the scraping of the pasta between the knife and the cutting surface that tears the pasta glutens, making Orecchiette into perfectly shaped sauce delivery devices. This is why I believe there is no substitute for Orecchiette. No not even pasta shells. Sorry Conchiglie! Conchiglie means shells in Italian. Shell pasta is typically made from durum wheat instead of semolina like Orecchiette. Semolina is coarser and strengthens when heated. Which gives Orechiette its toothsome bite.
In Italy, no two kinds of pasta are alike.
“It is estimated that there are approximately 350 different types of pasta – and about four times that many names for them! This is due to the fact that some types may have different names in different languages, or even in the same language: in Italy, for example, names vary according to the region or area. In addition, pasta manufacturers and cooks may come up with new shapes or give new names to old shapes…the possibilities thus become endless!” — Italy Magazine
The shape is a big part of what makes Orecchiette a favorite in Puglia, a region in Southern Italy known for its stunning coastal beauty. Those small ears act like miniature bowls for traditional Pugliese sauces like Orecchiette con le cime di rapa. A simple pasta dish of turnip greens (sometimes substituted by broccoli rabe) anchovies, and garlic drizzled with local extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.
Even if anchovies are on your “no thanks” list, Orecchiette is as versatile as it is hearty which makes it perfect for a quick dinner at home. Here are my top eight picks for Orecchiette recipes to try at home including one for my Vegan friends!
- Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas (for a quick hearty dinner)
- Orecchiette with Ragù alla Pugliese (for slow cooking weekends)
- Orecchiette with Nduga & Eggplant (for those who love it spicy)
- Shrimp and Saffron Butter Orecchiette (everything is better with Saffron)
- Arugula with Salmon, Arugula & Artichokes (for a lighter yet satisfying meal)
- Orecchiette with Spiced Duck Ragu (for the more adventurous home cooks)
- Orecchiette with Lemony Grilled Squid (to brighten things up a bit)
- Orecchiette with Creamy Carrot, Miso Sauce (for my Vegan friends)
How about you? If you have a favorite recipe for Orecchiette leave it in the comments below.
Looks like I better stop writing and start studying! Thanks for joining me on my journey here in Italy.