Cavatelli: to write or to say the word as it is written is something of an embarrassment. To any Italian American this dish is called “Gah-vah-deels.’ Any Italian American knows that word in the way that they pronounced it. Of course, the correct Italian is “cavatelli ” (Kha-vah-tell-ee). Back in the day, in the 1950’s and 60’s, cavatelli were a special dinner that appeared on the table on special occasions. Cavatelli were not made at home in my house. They came from two very different sources. Most often my father bought the cavatelli from an old time shop in West Philadelphia where he also bought the home made ricotta. In those days the ricotta came in a perforated metal container that was covered in a sheet of plastic held tight by a rubber band. We used to make string line telephones from the cans. The other source of cavatelli was our neighbor, Alfred the tailor, whose wife made them herself and sent them over. Alfred and his wife also made their own wine and grew a garden of rows of lush red tomatoes and green Swiss chard. The old shop is long gone and so is Alfred, but cavatelli are a very easy and quick pasta to make at home. It’s also one of those foods that offers a certain tactile enjoyment in its preparation. The simple dough has a soft and silky skin-like touch that is pleasing to fold and roll.
In some traditions cavatelli are confused with gnocchi. But cavatelli and gnocchi are very different creations. Gnocchi are made with potatoes or cheese. They are plump and rich. Cavatelli, on the other hand, have a firmer texture. Unlike many other pastas, cavatelli have no eggs. In this way they are part of the Neapolitan macaroni family. Most recipes found on Google Italy use semolina flour, but since semolina is not always readily available, I have used regular unbleached flour. Cavatelli are the simplest blend of flour and water worked by hand. The pasta is then rolled and sliced down into walnut sized bits. The bits are flattened than rolled back on themselves against a small stick of the back of a knife. The one trick of the flour and water preparation is the proportions. Generally, about one cup of water will work with about two and half cups of flour. But as you mix add the water slowly. But, if the dough is too wet, just add a bit more flour. You really can’t make a mistake as long as you get a workable dough. Cavatelli are probably best with a sweet pork or wild boar ragú but you can also serve them white with a vegetable in a cream sauce. Many Italian recipes prepare cavatelli with all kinds of seafood including shrimp and mussels. Whichever way you choose, cavatelli can be made in just a few minutes and are among the simplest and most satisfying of traditional pasta dishes.