“Olive leaf” pasta with tomato and mozzarella

making pasta_pernille

I’m so in love with this pasta — just two ingredients (three if you count a splash of water), spinach and durum wheat flour, rolled and coaxed into the shape of olive leaves. No eggs. It’s basically a green dough for orecchiette, the classic Pugliese ‘little ear’ pasta shapes. Because they are hand-rolled, orecchiette are generally a little thick and when cooked have a good bite to them, they hold their shape well and so they are good with chunky sauces, especially a vegetable sauce — the classic sauce is with cime di rapa, flavoured with a touch of garlic and anchovies, but tomato sauce is the go-to when cime di rapa are out of season. Like orecchiette, these ‘olive leaves’ are hand made with the help of a butter knife and are pulled against a wood board to create a long, leaf shape with a rough side that is particularly good for catching sauce.

These photographs (except the last one of the finished dish) are by Florence-based Danish photographer Pernille Stockmal, who wanted to take some photos of me making some coloured pasta, so for a bit of fun I made squid ink tagliolini as well, but these foglie di ulivo, olive leaves (thank you dear husband Marco for the idea) really stole my heart. We were shooting at my favourite location, Valdirose, indoors, but when it came to the foglie di ulivo I suggested we take the tray outside and sit in the dappled light to make them. Pernille said, “But would that be strange to be making pasta outside?” “Of course not!” I answered and pulled out my phone to show her photos of the tradition of nonne making orecchiette outside on the streets of old Bari (if you don’t know of them, as Pernille didn’t, here is a video by Elizabeth Minchilli where you can see the trays full of pasta and chairs outside for the busy nonne!). It was the perfect inspiration. I sat down to make the foglie di ulivo and baby Luna climbed up onto my lap to squish some pasta in between her chubby hands and these photos were the result!

making olive leaf pasta_Pernillemaking pasta_Pernilleolive leaf pasta_pernille'Olive leaves' with tomato and mozzarella

Foglie di ulivo con pomodoro e mozzarella
‘Olive leaf’ pasta with tomato sauce and mozzarella

Note: For the greens, you will need about 1 kilogram of fresh spinach — or try cime di rapa or nettles, any seasonal greens will do here — boiled or steamed, drained and pureed finely in a food processor or blender until paste-like and very smooth. Of this, measure out 200 grams for the pasta. For the water, quanto basta means as much as you need , a few splashes/sloshes (no more than about 100 ml) should do it.

Serves 4

  • 400 grams of semolina rimacinata (fine ground durum wheat flour)
  • 200 grams of pureed, cooked spinach or other greens (see note)
  • lukewarm water, quanto basta (as much as you need) 

Combine the semolina with the pureed spinach to get it to a quite firm, smooth dough, adding a splash or two (or three) as needed of lukewarm water. Once the dough is well combined, let it rest under a bowl 15 minutes minimum, 30 is better.

Keeping the ball of dough under a bowl or very lightly damp teatowel so it doesn’t dry out, break off a few small pieces of dough the size of a chickpea, roll them into thin logs (or twigs, really) with three fingers, about 4cm long, tapered towards the ends (when you get into a rhythm this is easy to do by putting pressure in the right places with your outer fingers as you roll). Then with one hand holding the little log, use a butter knife to scrape from the centre of the log outward to make a flat leaf shape. Place in a single layer on a board (I always prefer working on wood for pasta) dusted with semolina. Continue with the rest of the dough. You can let this pasta dry out in the sun or on a bench top before cooking if you would like to conserve it for several days, or you can cook them right away.

Cook for 3-5 minutes or until al dente. This is delicious with a simple tomato sauce and torn pieces of mozzarella (recipe follows)!

Tomato and mozzarella sauce

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1-2 garlic cloves, whole but peeled
400 ml tomato passata
handful of basil leaves
150 grams of fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn

Heat the olive oil and garlic gently over low heat in a skillet. I like to smash my garlic slightly with the side of a kitchen knife but keep it otherwise whole and simply infuse the oil with it rather than chop it up but if you prefer to have the garlic chopped finely in the sauce, go right ahead and do that. When the garlic begins to sizzle and turn golden (watch that it doesn’t burn) and fragrant, you can remove the cloves. Tip in the tomato passata, season with some salt and pepper and add some water — about 60 ml or 1/4 cup or so. Bring the sauce to a lively simmer and let it cook 10 minutes. Throw in the basil leaves, torn up if large, whole if small. Serve with the pasta and scatter the mozzarella pieces over each dish. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil over the top.

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