Whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, I find myself jumping for joy when I see cavatelli on the menu. Cavatelli is a lovely homemade pasta shape with a firm bite and a hollowed-out center perfect for nestling bits of meat or vegetables.
Cavatelli was invented in Molise, a region of Southern Italy. It’s made from semolina flour, a type of durum wheat, and water. The dough is kneaded for several minutes until soft and smooth. Then, after a long rest, it is rolled out into long ropes, and each rope is cut into pieces. Finally, each piece is hand-rolled into its characteristic shape.
How to Shape Cavatelli
There are many different ways to shape cavatelli, but after a lot of trial and error, I’m going to share my favorite method. The goal here is to drag and roll each chunk of dough, roughly 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch, until it curls over itself, forming a hot dog bun-like shape. It’s important to drag each chunk firmly to create a thin inner cavity. Too thick, and it’ll taste doughy instead of having a slight chew.
Traditionally, cavatelli is hand-rolled with one’s fingers. But I prefer using the serrated edge of a butter knife to drag the dough so your fingers don’t get too tired! I also find that the serrated edge helps “dig in” to the dough to create a thin, textured center.
You can also use this method and roll the dough over a gnocchi board or the tines of a fork if you prefer a ridged texture.
How to Cook Cavatelli
To cook store-bought cavatelli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente according to package instructions, then drain and serve with your choice of sauce.
Homemade cavatelli needs significantly less cooking time than dried cavatelli. It will take around 5 to 6 minutes to cook in salted boiling water; they’re done when they float to the surface and taste al dente but not doughy.
Tips and Tricks for Making Cavatelli
- For this pasta shape, only semolina flour or semola flour should be used; otherwise, the texture will suffer.
- Keep a water mister with you while kneading and rolling the dough. Semolina dough tends to dry out easily, especially in drier environments, so I either mist the dough or wet my hands slightly.
- To prevent doughy pasta, you need to knead it for a good 10 to 15 minutes until it’s soft and smooth.
- Make sure your cavatelli is rolled thin. When thin enough, the inside of the cavatelli should have a raised texture from being dragged across the knife.
- To prevent dense pasta, I like to separate the two ends of the “bun” to ensure there’s an opening in the center for sauce to nestle into.
How to Serve Cavatelli
Cavatelli is often traditionally served with a ragu or a simple broccoli sauce. I like to choose sauces with a bit of texture so that the sauce can cling to and nestle inside the pasta.
Looking for some sauce inspiration? Swap the pasta called for in these recipes for cavatelli:
- Creamy One Pot Pasta with Zucchini
- Sausage, Asparagus, and Mustard Strozzapreti
- Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale
- Chicken and Broccoli Pasta
Mix the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Form a well in the center of the flour, then pour in the water. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in a circular motion with your hands or a wooden spoon.
Knead the dough:
Once the texture of the ingredients has transformed into a thick paste, begin kneading the dough in the bowl for 3 to 4 minutes or until it comes together into a shaggy, rough ball.
Transfer to a large wooden cutting board or a work surface, and knead the dough for 5 to 7 minutes or until it feels smooth, no dry bits remain, and it no longer feels sticky. For the last couple of minutes, I like to switch from kneading to rolling the dough back and forth to smooth out rough areas.
Rest the dough:
Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour. This critical resting time allows the dough to hydrate properly and relax the gluten.
After the rest period, examine the dough. If it feels sticky, knead in 1 teaspoon of semolina until it is no longer sticky.
Form the dough:
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust generously with semolina flour.
Quarter the dough and take out one quarter to work with at a time. Cover the remaining sections in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out.
On an unfloured wooden cutting board, use your hands to roll the dough into a thin log with a 1/2-inch diameter. Slice the log into 1/2-inch pieces.
Form into cavatelli:
Drag the serrated side of a butter knife at a 45-degree angle across the length of each piece of dough until it begins to curl over itself, forming a hot dog bun shape. Make sure the knife digs into the dough to create a thin, textured surface on the inside; if the dough is too thick, it will taste doughy instead of al dente.
Repeat with each piece of dough and transfer to the baking sheet (make sure they’re not touching each other). Cover with a kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.
Repeat with the remaining dough, rolling each section into a log, cutting each log into pieces, and forming the cavatelli.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cavatelli and boil until they float to the surface, 5 to 6 minutes. Cook for an additional 1 minute until they taste al dente.
Fresh cavatelli is best stored uncooked and frozen. Generously dust the pasta with semolina flour, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet dusted with flour. Arrange in an even layer on the baking sheet (make sure they’re not touching each other) and freeze for 1 hour. Transfer to an airtight container or bag and freeze for up to 1 month. Cook straight from frozen.
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