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.”
Customer: “Top shelf, behind you. The cavatelli.”
Merchant: “Ahhh. The gavadeel?”
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.
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.
Serves 4 (or 2 if you’re really hungry!)
16 oz. Ricotta Cheese
1 Pinch of Salt
3 Cups (1 pound) All Purpose Flour
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.
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″.
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:
4.5 cups Flour
1/2 lb Ricotta
1 Tsp Salt
Ground white pepper to tasteCombine cooled sweet potatoes, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper
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:
Check back next week, when we turn our attention from Pasta Month and start looking at other great flavors of Fall. See you then!