Sunset recipe retester Kevyn Allard, an avid home cook, had never made fresh orecchiette pasta before. But for a story in our June issue, we asked her to give it a go, to make sure our recipe worked. Strangely enough, her uncle Mike had called her just days earlier. He had a gift for Kevyn, he said: her Italian grandmother’s pasta knife, which he’d just rediscovered nearly a decade after her death.
Kevyn’s grandmother, Rose, was from Puglia, the birthplace of strascinati, or “dragged pastas”—a whole family of Italian pastas formed by dragging nubbins of dough across a wooden board; orecchiette (“little ears”) is the most famous member. (Ladies in Bari, the capital of Puglia, do it by hand to this day, and it’s a marvel to watch.)
Rose’s version, which she just called strascinati, was a simpler, shell-shaped type, and Kevyn had vivid childhood memories of her Nonna making heaps of it using her special knife. Although Kevyn had been too young at the time to learn, and her own mother wasn’t interested in cooking, many a family photo show Rose in the act of teaching some relative or the other how to make the pasta of their heritage. Afterward, she’d tuck the knife away in her purse, ready for the next time.
Uncle Mike sent Kevyn the knife. It was delicate and a little worn, with a fancy column handle and a rounded tip; it had probably been made in the 1920s. As fate would have it, a week after she received her gift, Mike passed away. “It’s almost as though Grandma was telling him to hurry up and give it to me,” said Kevyn.
She brought her grandma’s knife into Sunset’s test kitchen, and proved to be an ace at making orecchiette, right out of the gate. Some things are meant to be.
Orecchiette 101: Make this simple pasta at home tonight.