I spent most of the past four months in Northern California at my dad’s house. After my mom died everyone converged on the house, and in short order a lot of other things fell apart. No one went home for a long time. I made some strange decisions about what to bring when I loaded the car that initial morning - watercolors, a stack of cookbooks, my camera, a favorite knife, a huge bin full of spices. I thought about bringing my favorite donabe, but was worried it could break and grabbed my pasta machine instead. Not a bad call - a lot of pasta was made! My nephew is especially enthusiastic about it, so I decided to branch out to a new shape - cavatelli.
The move to cavatelli was partially out of necessity. My workhorse, the Atlas pasta machine, has issues at my dad’s house. There is nothing to clamp it on to. Every countertop and table is too thick. It’s maddening. I noticed the clamp on the cavatelli maker seemed like it might be wider, so I thought we’d try it instead. It is also worth mentioning, I've been meaning to buy a cavatelli maker for years. Ragazza, a sweet little Italian spot, was just up the street from where we lived in San Francisco. The owner Sharon tipped me off to how she made their cavatelli from scratch with a little hand-cranked machine (something like this one) - and I've meant to get my hands on once since. This seemed like the right time.
About this Cavatelli Recipe
After a good amount of experimenting, I've settled on the following as my basic cavatelli dough and technique. Once you master it, the variations you can explore are endless (see below). The cavatelli machine likes pasta dough that’s not-too-wet and not-too-dry. If you hit the sweet spot, you’ll be able to crank out a pound of cavatelli incredibly quickly. If your dough is getting stuck in your machine, pat it with flour, dust off any excess, and try again. You’ll eventually get a feel for it!
What if I don’t have a Cavatelli Machine?
Not a big deal! You can make it by hand a number of other ways. Here’s a page that demonstrates how to shape cavatelli with a ridged board, fork, or grater. I’ve also seen it shaped traditionally in Puglia using something like a butter knife.
What Flour Should I Use?
Cavatelli is traditionally made with durum wheat semolina flour. But, if you don’t have that on hand, don’t let it stop you. Last week I was out of semolina flour, so the cavatelli you see pictured here was made with “00” flour. “00” is powder-fine and made with low gluten, soft wheat flour. If you don’t have “00” you can certainly use all-purpose flour. A long way of saying, make cavatelli with 100% semolina flour if you have it, or use equal parts “00” and semolina, or just “00"….go for the all-purpose flour if that's what you have.
How To Freeze Cavatelli
Freezing is my preferred method of storing any cavatelli I’m not cooking immediately. Arrange freshly made, uncooked cavatelli across a floured baking sheet. Try to make sure they’re in a single layer. Freeze for a couple of hours, and then transfer to double layer plastic bags. You can freeze for up to a couple of months. And you can cook straight from the freezer. No need to thaw, just dump the cavatelli into boiling salted water, and increase the cooking time a bit.
In the recipe below you can see how you can tweak basic cavatelli pasta dough by adding different seasonings and spices. I wanted to make a bright, sunny plate of pasta with lots of roasted yellow and orange vegetables and ingredients like cauliflower, golden yellow beets, and winter squash (pictured above). I added turmeric and black pepper to the pasta dough for a little flavor, color, and boost. The possibilities are endless here.
You can also play around with the water. In place of water you can use vegetable juices, purees, stocks or broths, anything of that sort is fair game.
Making fresh pasta is one of my favorite things to do. It's even better when you have others around to help, taking turns in shifts. I did a basic primer on making homemade pasta a while ago, if you love fettuccine noodles or anything along those lines, start there. You can also try making gnocchi (it's perfect with this pesto), here's a beautiful beet fettuccine, and a favorite simple tomato sauce. And all my pasta recipes live here. Enjoy!
See the notes in the post above related to flour choices. Basically, semolina flour is traditional, but you can use “00” flour, semolina flour, or a combination of the two.
- 160 g water
- 300 g semolina flour, “00” flour, or a combination of the two
- 4 g / scant teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- 1 medium yellow beet, peeled, cut 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 small head of cauliflower florets
- 1 medium delicate squash, halved lengthwise and deseeded
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine the flour, water, and salt in a large bowl. Add the turmeric and black pepper as well, if using. Stir until combined. If you added the turmeric, knead in the bowl to avoid staining your counters. If you skipped it, then turn out onto a lightly floured countertop. Use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball and knead for 7-10 minutes, until the dough is silky smooth and elastic. Keep in mind, some flours are thirstier than others. You can add a bit more water as you go if you feel like your dough is too dry. Or dust with more flour if it is too wet. I’ve found that a spray bottle is my favorite way to add water to pasta dough without adding too much.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a plastic bag, alternately or plastic wrap. Allow the cavatelli dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to a day, or freeze for up to a few months.
Unwrap the dough and, use a rolling pin to roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 3/4-inch wide strips. Use a cavatelli maker to shape the pasta. Alternately you can shape the cavatelli by hand. Spread the pasta onto a baking sheet in a single layer and dust generously with more flour. Keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to cook.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the cavatelli for 2-3 minutes, or until tender. They’ll float to the top of the pot as they cook. Drain, reserving 2/3 cup of the pasta water. Serve immediately.
While the dough is resting, I typically roast or prep any vegetables or sauce I’m going to use with my pasta. In this case, arrange the beets and cauliflower on a large baking sheet. Slice the delicate squash into 1/2-inch thick crescents. Add them to the baking sheet as well and toss well with a couple big plugs of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and bake until golden - 30 minutes or so.
Immediately after cooking the cavatelli, transfer to a large serving bowl along with the reserved pasta water. Add most of the Parmesan cheese and toss well. Add the roasted vegetables, lots of scallions and lemon zest. Toss again and serve topped with the remaining Parmesan, more scallions and lemon wedges to squeeze.
Serves 4 - Makes 1 pound dough.