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How Is Cavatelli Made?
Traditional cavatelli is made with durum wheat semolina flour, water, and salt. Though cavatelli makers and equipment are more common now, the dough is usually shaped by pressing three middle fingers into the dough and flicking it towards you to create a curl. Some regions, like Calabria, use only the index finger for a shorter pasta.
The texture of fresh cavatelli is perhaps the Platonic chew of good fresh pasta: a gentle give and soft pull. For Italians, it’s a sensation worth devoting years of practice in order to get.
How to Serve Cavatelli Pasta
The partially hollowed out shape of cavatelli means that it holds on to pockets of sauce like nobody’s business, but it also means it can act as a standalone ingredient in a sauceless dish. Most regional presentations take their cues from local, seasonal produce and specialties.
- In Molise, cavatelli is mostly served for Sunday lunch with pork ragu, but it’s also found paired with broccoli and red peppers, or with “widow’s sauce:” a simple mix of olive oil, lard, fresh tomatoes and herbs.
- In Basilicata, casual cavatelli is served with peperoni cruschi, dried sweet peppers, breadcrumbs, and peperoncino, dried pepper flakes. Special occasions pair the pasta with ragu Lucano, a meat sauce made with lamb, or simply with sautéed broccoli rabe.
- In Puglia, cavatelli is enjoyed with arugula and fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, or occasionally mussels.
- Calabrian cavatelli is paired with nduja, a spicy sausage, and onion.
- In Sicily, soft shards of ricotta salata and grilled eggplant are served with cavatelli.
How to Make Homemade Cavatelli
Homemade cavatelli pasta is easier than you think. It’s all about getting into the zone while kneading, and keeping a light tough when rolling the dough into shape.
While classic cavatelli pasta recipes from regions like Puglia and Molise dictates forming the dough into long ropes before cutting them into small pieces, Chef Thomas Keller’s delicate take on the form first rolls the dough out into thin ribbons.
Chef Thomas Keller’s Cavatelli Recipe
- 500 grams Tipo “00” flour
- 250 grams egg yolks (ideally from Jidori hens)
- 1 whole egg
- 15–30 grams milk
- 25 grams extra-virgin olive oil
- Large cutting board or pasta board
- Bench scraper
- Sealable plastic storage bag
- In the center of a large cutting board or pasta board, place the flour in a mound. Use a bench scraper in hand, set aside about 1/6 of the flour. This flour is reserved for if your dough is too wet, as it is easier to add flour to a wet dough than to add liquid to a dry dough.
- Make a large well in the center of the mound. Pour in the yolks, the whole egg, milk, olive oil, and salt. With two fingers, begin swirling the ingredients together, incorporating in flour a little bit at a time, until it becomes a thick paste.
- Use the bench scraper to fold flour over the paste and cut in the flour. Once the flour has been incorporated, knead the dough until it resembles a smooth ball. If the dough is very sticky, add a small amount of the reserve flour as needed. It takes practice to know when the dough has reached the right tightness. If using later, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.
- Roll the pasta dough into 1/16-inch thick sheet. Cut your sheet of pasta dough into 3⁄8-inch wide ribbons. Then cut the ribbons into 1-inch long pieces. Place one of the rectangles of dough onto the ridged side of the gnocchi paddle and with the edge of the butter knife, apply pressure to the edge closest to you. Push down on the knife with your thumb and roll forward, to curl the dough off of the paddle and into the cavatelli shape. The side profile of the cavatelli should resemble a tightly rolled “C.”
- Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil. Add the cavatelli to the boiling water, and cook until al dente—usually just a few minutes. Remove from the cooking water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a sauce if using, or pair with a good drizzle of olive oil and your favorite seasonal ingredients.
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