Michele and his parents often repeat the mantra that the secret to good food is cooking with amore e passione. In the family home, elaborate feasts are produced in a tiny but highly-organised kitchen, where recipes are shared, learnt and mastered (untampered with). Favourite dishes are those with the taste of nostalgia, bringing recollections of kitchens, cooks and family occasions past. For Michele’s family, cavatelli (gnocchi made with flour and water), made to his grandmother’s recipe and always served the same way, are an example of such a dish. We often eat them as the primo for Sunday lunch after a hard morning’s work at the olive grove, and take the afternoon as festa.
Cavatelli are no less delicious than potato gnocchi, but they have the advantage of being lighter, and easier to make. This recipe comes from Michele’s paternal grandmother, Nonna Immacolata, who must have rolled out thousands of these little pasta shells in her lifetime. Shaping the cavatelli is time consuming, so they are traditionally reserved for feste or weekends when the family come together. Cavatelli roughly translates as ‘little hollowed out things’, and they have a curled shape which is excellent for trapping thick sauces. In Michele’s family they are invariably eaten with sugo (literally ‘sauce’) – a tomato sauce cooked with braised meat – and a generous helping of parmesan, followed by a crisp green salad.
Cavatelli can be prepared with cold water but Nonna Immacolata’s recipe uses boiling water so the cavatelli are almost pre-cooked.
800g plain flour (Tipo 00) and 200g semolina OR 1kg flour
1l water (approximately)
A generous pinch of salt
How to make cavatelli
Boil the water. Combine the flour, semolina and salt and gradually add the water to this mixture, stirring with a fork, until you have a rough, dryish dough (you may not need all the water). Tip the hot dough onto a floured surface and work into a smooth dough with your hands. Add water or flour as necessary until the consistency is soft but not sticky. Work the dough for 5 minutes until smooth. Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Flour your hands and the work-surface, cut off a piece of dough and roll it into a log about 1cm in diameter. Slice the log into pieces approximately 1.5cm long and dust them with flour to stop them sticking together. To form the cavatelli, press three fingers into a piece of dough and drag it towards you – the dough will stretch out along the work surface and roll up into a cowrie shell/ hot dog bun shape. Place on a floured surface and sprinkle with more flour.
Cook the cavatelli in salted boiling water until they rise to the surface. Serve with sugo or another thick sauce and lots of Parmesan. Buon appetitio!