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Perfect Little Ears (Orecchiette) with Pesto #CooktheBooks

This time around, Simona from Briciole is the June-July 2019 host for Cook the Books. She selected Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton* and you can read her invitation here.

I first read this book on my way to Denmark for the holidays. But I was completely unfamiliar with Gabrielle Hamilton though, in hindsight, I have heard about her restaurants in New York.

In any case, you have plenty of time to join the Cook the Books fun if you wish.

On the Page
I already mentioned that I read it several months ago. Here I am in an airport. Layovers aren't too torturous if you can lose yourself in a book. But I decided to revisit it before this month's posting because, I think, my brain was addled by jetlag and exhaustion; I didn't really remember what my impressions of the book were. Let alone what I would be inspired to cook from the book.

Whenever I read an autobiography or a memoir, I find myself asking these two basic questions: First, can he or she write? Is the narrative voice appealing? And, second, is his or her life and story compelling enough to warrant a book?

To the first question, Hamilton can write. She earned an MFA in writing and, to be fair, I enjoy her pacing and phrasing. An example, about her sister Melissa, "There are only five years between us, but five years is enough time for the geography and topography of a family to change dramatically, for ravines to form, trees to upend, streams to run dry. By the time she is calling me at the restaurant in the hectic moments before dinner service, excitedly hissing in my ear about this famous French chef on his way over the very next day for lunch, she's the only member of my family that I still know the entire, detailed landscape of" (pg. 156). I am even willing to overlook that she ends sentences in prepositions. 

I enjoyed the clarity of the details as well as the vivid imagery she creates. She is also candid about herself and food industry. 

However, as to the second question, I have mixed feelings. I am pretty straight-laced and follow most rules. So, I found it unsettling that she lied to get jobs (about her age, about her experience); she stole money from her employers and used it on drugs and alcohol; she cheated on her girlfriend (because she thought it was only a fling); then she ended up marrying the fling to help him with green card issues. 

She doesn't appear to love her husband - or even really like him - yet she has two kids with him. That seems reckless and unfair, in my opinion. She writes, "In all of the years we have spent together, all of the eight-hour car rides, the hours waiting together at airports, in transatlantic flight, in hospital rooms, the long silent hours at night when the kids are asleep and we are stuck in the same room together, all of the winter beaches we have sat on looking out at the oceans, he has never, incredibly, incomprehensibly, said anything important to me" (pg. 264).

But, as much as I found her short-tempered and self-absorbed, she is certainly a strong person and I can honor her successes. Finishing the book raised a third question in my mind: given the opportunity, would I eat in her restaurant, Prune? I think I would. Though I wonder how hard it is to get a reservation there.

On My Plate
The parts of the book that appealed to me the most were the descriptions of her trips to Italy and cooking with her in-laws. "Carmeluccia rolls out a small rope of pasta dough and then cuts little pellets about the length and diameter of a squeeze of toothpaste. From these she makes the orechiette by smudging them with her thumb until they look like flat little coins on the table which she picks up, turns inside out to become concave and sets to try on a tray. They look exactly like small delicate ears" (pg. 224).

"I practice my orechiette. I ruin my first dozen but then finally get it and suddenly there I am making perfect little ears right alongside these three Italian women - Rosaria, Cameluccia, and Alda. With more than forty years between our ages, Alda who owns the house, Carmeluccia who has kept the house, and I who have married into the house, we are all at the kitchen table making orechiette like we are the same" (pg. 225).

Orechiette is a traditional Pugliese pasta. 'Little ears.' My boys and I have made them before. It's funny that Hamilton calls them perfect little ears; I love them because they are hand-formed and rustic. I find them beautifully imperfect. And I really love that I don't have to get out - and, then, clean - my pasta roller.

makes approximately 7 or 8 dozen
  • 2 C semolina flour
  • 1 C all-purpose flour + more for rolling
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C warm water
  • 1 to 2 T olive oil
  • Also needed: food processor, wax paper, butter knife, parchment or silicone-mat lined baking sheets, and pesto for serving or any other sauce you like


You can do the blending by hand, but I did it in my food processor. Place the semolina and flour in the bowl of your food processor. Place the lid on top and open up your chute. Pour in about 1/4 C water and pulse. Repeat until you have used all the water or the dough begins to come together in a ball. Pour in the olive oil and pulse to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board or table. Gently knead until the dough feels smooth. You can wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest - or not. We didn't.

Roll the dough out into a thick rope.

Then cut the rope into 1/2" pieces. Now you're to the fun part!

With floured hands, roll your knuckle into the dough to form the 'ear'.

Roll the ear off of your palm and place it on a floured baking sheet.

Repeat until all of the dough is used. Now you can cook it immediately or let it air dry for later. We cooked it the night we rolled them.

Bring water to a boil and cook the orechiette in batches. These will take about 8 to 9 minutes to cook. It's a little bit longer than other fresh pastas, but it's worth the wait.

To serve, drain and toss with your favorite sauce. For this I tossed them with fresh pesto. Here's a purslane pesto, baby kale pesto, and a dandelion pesto. I use whatever greens I have on hand.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in June 2019: here.


  1. I loved the parts about her time in Italy as well Cam. Perfect recipe for this book.

  2. I enjoyed reading your review, Cam. I also had mixed feelings about some portions of the story. She is an engaging writer, for sure. I would also, given the opportunity, eat at her restaurant. Great choice of recipe. Thank you for participating in this edition of Cook the Books :) And I totally agree with you: "Layovers aren't too torturous if you can lose yourself in a book."

  3. The parts in Italy were my favorite. Love that you made the pasta and it was a family effort. I also like your boots!

  4. I like the questions you go through regarding memoirs. It was a very good review to read. I feel similarly about her ethics and her decision making. Your pasta looks lovely!

  5. Spot on review. The entire marriage section left me thinking "What in the world?" I think I would have enjoyed this memoir more if she had stuck with her childhood only (with maybe later editions of her "accidental" life of a chef.

  6. I too enjoyed the parts about eating with her inlaws in Italy the best in this book as they rang true regarding my own grandmother who was from Abruzzo


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