Cavatelli Crazy

As Pasta Month winds down, we’re left with a savory trip into the hearty, if sometimes misunderstood, world of the cavatelli. Why savory? Hollowed-out ricotta cheese dumplings served with a mushroom thyme sauce, that’s why. Why misunderstood? Cavatelli are often confused with, and substituted for,  gnocchi. But believe us — these are definitely gnot gnocchi!

Where gnocchi are (usually) made with potatoes (though ricotta cheese versions also exist), cavatelli are a product of recipe rigidity: it’s ricotta or nothing! Additionally, where gnocchi are solid cylinders, cavatelli are more like tiny little hot dog buns.

Another, likely more hotly debated idea, is how to pronounce their name. Cavatelli. Kah-vah-TELL-ee. Rolls off the tongue, yeah? Try asking for them here in South Philly.

Customer: “I’d like a bag of cavatelli.”
Merchant: “Huh?”
Customer: “Top shelf, behind you. The cavatelli.”
Merchant: “Ahhh. The gavadeel?”
Customer: “Huh?”

Thus, the pronunciation merry-go-round whirls until both sides agree to disagree, and the transaction is thus completed. Depending on where you are, how you say your cavatelli is almost as important as how you eat them. Speaking of…

In order to make cavatelli, you’ll need a cavatelli maker like the one we carry. Cavatelli makers can be difficult to get a hang of, but the tasty rewards are well worth the effort.

Cavatelli Maker

Cousin Elisa’s Cavatelli Maker

Some homemade recipes call for shortening, flour (either semolina, all-purpose, or a mix of the two), and/or eggs. We settled on a plain-and-simple combo of ricotta, eggs and AP flour with a dash of salt. It left us with a soft, pillow-y noodle, with exterior ridges and the hollow center, both great for picking up our delectable sauce.

Ricotta Cavatelli

Serves 4 (or 2 if you’re really hungry!)

16 oz. Ricotta Cheese

2 Eggs

1 Pinch of Salt

3 Cups (1 pound) All Purpose Flour

Flour power

Begin by portioning out your ingredients. Sift flour together with salt and make into a mound on your board or counter.  Make a well in the center of your flour. Break eggs into the well, and add ricotta. Slowly beat the eggs and incorporate with cheese and flour mixture.  Mix and knead until you come up with a delicious and homogeneous ball of dough, like you see here.

Time for business…

Wrap your dough ball in plastic wrap, or covered with a towel, for at least an hour, so the dough can rest. And so you can take a quick nap. (Kneading can be hard work!)

Next, quarter your dough ball (making sure to re-wrap the other 3 quarters to keep them from drying out). Roll your first portion into a ribbon, about 2 feet long. You’re looking for a thickness of about 1/2″ to 3/4″.

It should be about this wide when it moves through the machine

After making sure your dough ribbon is well-floured, you can begin to slowly move it through the cavatelli maker by inserting the tip of the dough ribbon into the rollers and turning the crank. This will simultaneously grab the dough, fold it into the hot dog shape, and cut it while making impressions on the outside. The key is to find the correct speed: too fast, and you’re likely to clog the machine with dough. Too slow, and the machine simply won’t function properly. Don’t worry if you start out with a few mistakes! They can easily be worked back into a dough ball to use again.

Repeat with your other quarters of dough. Be sure to lay the finished cavatelli on floured cookie sheets. After you’re finished, you can drop them into a pot of boiling, salted water (for about 5-7 minutes) or freeze. We elected to let them hang out on our cookie sheets while we prepared our sauce…

Mushroom Thyme Sauce

8 oz. mushrooms (we used a variety pack of shiitake, crimini and porcini)

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 tbsp butter

2 cups dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups chicken stock

2 small shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil on low in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Add the shallots, garlic, salt, and pepper and sweat until juicy, about 5 minutes. Add butter and mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes.  Turn the heat up to medium, add the wine and reduce by half. Add the stock and thyme and reduce again by half, then add the cream and reduce until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly shiny, about 5 minutes.  If you would like a smoother sauce, strain into a clean saucepan, pressing very well on the solids to work out all the liquid. Otherwise, ladle finished sauce into your finished cavatelli and toss!

Note: the meat in our photo is braised chicken, which was diced and added later.

We also will be trying Nadia’s  Sweet Potato Cavatelli recipe in the store.  The dough recipe is below:

1 lb Sweet Potatoes = 1.5 cups cooked, peeled and passed through a food mill or ricer
4.5 cups Flour
1 Egg
1/2 lb Ricotta
1 Tsp Salt
Ground white pepper to tasteCombine cooled sweet potatoes, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper
Place flour on kneading board. Make a well and add the above ingredients.
Keep kneading until the dough comes together and has a smooth consistency. If sticky, add some flour.
Cut off a small chunck and roll it into a rope about 1/2″ thick.
Roll rope in some flour before feeding it through the cavatelli maker.
Cook them by gently dropping them in a pot of boiling, salted water for 4-5
You can also refrigerate or freeze them. To cook them frozen, add about 5  minutes to your cooking time.
Annie’s Butter Sage Sauce
2 sticks of salted butter
4 large sage leaves chopped
1/8 tsp of white ground pepper
Melt butter in sauce pan.
Add sage and pepper and serve, with a small ladle of pasta water if sauce is too thick.


And with that, we bid adieu to Pasta Month. If you haven’t been keeping up with us this month, be sure to check out these earlier features and recipes:

Positively Pasta! – frequently asked pasta questions and a recipe for Cacia e Pepe

Stamp of Approval – history on how-to on corzetti, a beautiful stamped pasta from Liguri

Ga Ga for Garganelli – great info on an easy but rarely seen pasta

A Moment With Mary Ann Esposito – Q-and-A with the host of America’s longest-running cooking program

Check back next week, when we turn our attention from Pasta Month and start looking at other great flavors of Fall. See you then!

Leave a comment

Filed under Pasta

Submit a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s