Orecchiette with Tomato Sugo and Wild Arugula


Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

As many of you already know, this summer I spent an inspiring three weeks in Puglia volunteering at an art restoration workshop hosted by Tonio Creanza with his organization Messors. I have used the words “magical” and “life-changing” to describe my time at the Masseria La Selva and even after being home for close to three months these feelings have yet to fade.

I have spent the last twenty years of my life cooking. Going to cooking school, cooking in restaurants, working at catering companies, hosting cooking classes, leading culinary tours and cooking for family and friends. I figured I knew quite a bit about good food and how to make it.

And then I went to Puglia.

I’m still not sure how to explain it. In 21 short days I learned so much about food and cooking and how to take simple yet beautiful ingredients and make them taste so very good. I wonder if the way the Italians prepare food and gather people around the table just perfectly reflects where I am at right now in my journey as a cook and that is why the experience felt so powerful. That simple food is really what I love to make and to eat and to share with others.


Images courtesy of Melissa Quantz

Orecchiette and tomato sugo. When I think of all of the dishes I learned to make in Puglia this is the one that represents everything that is meaningful to me about my time cooking and learning in the kitchen at the Masseria la Selva.

I learned how flour and water can be transformed into something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. That it takes some real muscle to make a decent pasta dough and plenty of patience and perseverance to roll it and form it into the shape of a little ear, known as orecchiette. That care, attention, years of experience and certainly love are the most important ingredients in making this typical Puglian pasta by hand. That I learned all this from Tonio’s mother, Grazia Berloco, who has been making orecchiette for close to 70 years, is a gift that I will cherish forever.

Forming the little ears

Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

But what about the sugo? It is so dead simple I feel a bit embarrassed to call this a recipe. Still, when I first made this in Italy it was a real revelation to me. How can some tomatoes, garlic and plenty of good olive oil be transformed into something so magical, so delicious? I have been making this tomato sugo a lot since I have been home and each time I teach it at a class or serve it at a dinner party people seem as surprised as I am by the depth and complexity of the flavour from such a simple combination of humble ingredients.


Images courtesy of Melissa Quantz

A few weeks ago I asked my sweet friend and talented photographer Melissa Quantz if she would be willing to come by and visually document the process of making the orecchiette by hand. It is one thing to read a recipe but I know that making orecchiete can be a bit tricky and I thought being able to see each of the steps could really demystify the process. Always enthusiastic, Melissa readily agreed and we spent an lovely, light-filled afternoon together kneading dough, rolling and shaping the orecchiette and preparing the sugo. All of the beautiful photos in this post are Melissa’s.

Orecchiette in the kitchen

Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

Over the next weeks we will be collaborating with Tonio Creanza to host some Puglian dinners here at Kitchen Culinaire headquarters in Vancouver. Tonio will lead us through a comparative olive oil tasting, I will be doing a demonstration of how to make orecchiete by hand and together we will be cooking up a five course menu of traditional dishes from Puglia. Dates and details to follow but if you would be interested in attending one of these evenings please drop us a line at events@kitchenculinaire.com

There are still some wonderful early fall tomatoes out there – happy sugo making!

xo J



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6 Responses to Orecchiette with Tomato Sugo and Wild Arugula

  1. Melissa says:

    Beautiful Julie! Thank you for sharing your love of Italian cooking and your always inspiring kitchen with me once again. I love time spent cooking, eating and photographing in the heart of your home.

  2. Laurie clegg says:

    I would love to come to your next dinner! I am friends with Jen and tonio! I heard the 25th is sold out and would love to hear if there is another date.

  3. Laurie clegg says:

    I m friends with Jen and would love to hear if you book another date!

  4. Tracy says:

    Love the photos and hearing about the impact your trip had. Life changing is good. So very deep.

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