Orecchiette with Ground Meat and Capers

Orecchiette with ground meat and capers. Photo by Keri White

My good friend Kate Markowitz — she of the Spanish lamb stew and the egg salad — came to visit last week. Now that we are both safely vaccinated, we are free to gather indoors.

She volunteered to cook me dinner, and that is an offer I could not refuse. She told me she had been playing around with a Vetri dish that she really liked. The recipe blended ground veal, capers and some herbs with orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta in a simple preparation that yielded something quite sophisticated and special. The original finished the dish with butter and cheese, so Kate tweaked this version for the JE audience.

The ground veal is one way to go, but you can use pretty much any type of ground meat you like — beef, turkey, venison, even a plant-based product. There is enough flavor and complexity in the sauce that the meat is almost secondary.

And a note on the capers: Markowitz insisted that we use the large caper berries and chop them coarsely, maintaining that the smaller ones have an overly salty and fishy taste. I am not in total agreement with this assessment, but there’s no arguing with the result — it was truly delicious.

As to the pasta, the orecchiette is a perfect vehicle for the sauce — the shape catches the components and delivers a perfect bite every time. But if you only have penne or rotini or spaghetti, use it: The dish will still be very good!

Serves 4

2 tablespoons good quality olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 pound ground veal or other ground meat

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup dry white wine

1½ cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons capers (if large, chop them coarsely)

¼ cup parsley, chopped

1 pound orechiette pasta

To finish: additional olive oil and coarse sea salt, if desired

In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic over medium until fragrant and wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the veal, salt and pepper, and increase the heat to medium-high. Brown the meat thoroughly, stirring occasionally, and cook until the liquid is evaporated, about 8 minutes.

Add the white wine to the skillet and boil until it’s mostly reduced and evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, thyme, rosemary and capers and simmer over medium until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water for one minute less than the package directs. Reserve ½ cup cooking water, and drain the pasta. Pour the pasta into the pan with the sauce and stir well. Add parsley and, if needed to add moisture, sprinkle in cooking water a little at a time to achieve the desired texture.

Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top to finish, if desired, and serve immediately.


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