Pasta Series #4: Cavatelli al pomodoro e basilico

Breaking news: my nonna Ada has discovered FaceTime, and neither of us couldn't be more pleased about it if we tried. My nonna  – a dazzling 93 years old, portati benissimo, as we say in Italian – refers to her iPhone as a “pezzo di vetro magico,” or a “piece of magical glass,” and gets a real kick out of being able to speak to me and see me whenever she likes, not at all surprising given that when she moved to a different continent in 1951, she relied on letter-writing to stay in touch with her family back in Italy. Evidence of her pure delight below:
  
  
With FaceTime, my nonna can instantly join in on whatever I'm up to when she calls (usually any time from 6pm on, when she knows that I'm out of the office). Examples include, but are not limited to: catching a glimpse of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius on my usual walk home from work; getting to have a look at Latteria Studio, and therefore see one of my favorite places to spend time in Rome; having the chance to “meet,” my friends, who might be with me at dinner or an aperitivo when she calls; taking a tour of Kitchen Roma, the shop around the corner that caters to all my culinary needs; and most importantly of all, phoning when I’m in the middle of cooking, at which point our conversation turns instantly to what I’ve made, and how I’ve made it, and what the verdict on the dish is, something that interests her -- one of the very best cooks I know -- immensely.

If you have been living under a rock or something and thus  haven't yet heard about my newfound obsession aka pasta-making (I talk about it non-stop not only on this blog but also to anyone who knows me -- I really have such patient friends) consider yourself now in the know! Pasta is my new favorite thing to make, and my nonna, Italian signora that she is, is delighted by this, thrilled with my new adventures in pasta-making, and lately, it is the focus of many of our FaceTime calls. We've discussed in depth the tricks and tips to making good ravioli (turns out we have the very same pasta machine!), the exceptionally delicious results of my first attempt at a lasagne with homemade pasta, the nonna-esque satisfaction of flicking gnocchetti sardi off the board in quick succession, the trials and tribulations of orecchiette, and the next pasta on my list, the dumpling-like curlurgiones from Sardegna. 

Most recently, we chatted about these cavatelli, the next pasta in the blog's monthly Series, one that is very similar to last month's gnocchetti sardi, made again with water and semolina flour, but shaped differently, with a knife instead of a gnocchi board. The word "cavatelli" comes from the verb "cavare," which means to remove, or extract, or to glean (thank you, wordreference.com!) referring to the pulling and dragging motion of the knife, which shapes the formerly plush square of pasta dough in to a smooth seashell sort of shape. My nonna was very impressed, and listened patiently while I told her all about the beyond simple summer tomato sauce that went with it, the pastas lovely, chewy texture, characteristic of semolina flour pastas, and how the whole thing was excellent with a grating of Pecorino cheese, but ricotta salata would've been delicious too. 

At the end of our conversation I promised her we'd make cavatelli together -- after all, I'll be home in August! -- to which she responded: "You're a good cook, you know. You take after me," which is the highest of compliments coming from her, a real life Italian nonna, one of the best cooks I know, and so if you stay tuned, you'll be seeing a post about us two good cooks making pasta, just Rhode Island instead of Rome. Stay tuned!  

A couple of notes: When making this sort of pasta, the proportion is 2:1, so for example if you're using 200 grams of semolina flour, you will need to put about 100 grams of cold water. I put cup/tablespoon measurements below, but I recommend you use a kitchen scale when possible when making pasta. Note that the dough here should be quite stiff, not softer like your usual egg pasta dough. The brand of flour that I was advised to use (thanks C.T) and have had good results with is De Cecco. You can use this dough to make everything from orecchiette to strascinati to cavatelli pasta; to learn how to make these different shapes, the Pasta Grannies channel on YouTube is a great resource. Note that you will most likely end up with leftover tomato sauce, which is never a bad thing! Store it in the fridge for your next pasta.

Want to know what recipes #1 #2 and #3 are in the pasta series? I've got these ravioli fatti in casa, this  lasagne ai carciofi, and these gnocchetti sardi

CAVATELLI AL POMODORO E BASILICO
Serves 4-6. Sauce recipe from Carla Tomasi.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:
300 grams (about 1 3/4 cups) of semolina flour
150 grams (About 1/2 cup water + 2 tablespoons) or so of water

Ingredients for the sauce:
2 pounds (1 kilogram) plum tomatoes (piccadilli tomatoes)
A good bunch of chopped basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper 
Freshly grated Pecorino, Parmesan, or ricotta salata cheese for serving

Directions:
1.) Start with your sauce! To make your sauce, start by cutting an X in the bottom of each tomato. Blanch them for 1 minute in a pot of boiling water, then strain them and let them cool.  Remove the tomato skins and then squish the tomatoes with your hands to break them in to smaller pieces. Next, heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a pan and cook the tomatoes and basil until soft and saucy and flavorful; taste and adjust seasonings.
2.) To make your cavatelli: It is possible to make the dough with the food processor: place flour and water in the bowl fitted with the metal blades. Run at full speed until a scraggy mass is formed. Tip it out of the bowl and knead it into a dough. Cover it with an upturned bowl and leave it to rest for a little while. Otherwise, place the flour in a large bowl and pour in the water. Use your hands to get the dough to form a shaggy mass, and then turn it out on to a clean work surface or pasta board and knead it for 10 or so minutes, or until it is smooth and shiny. You can see how to knead the pasta here. The dough is anyways ready with you touch it with your finger and it springs back (note that the imprint of your finger will remain and that is fine). Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap, or place it under an overturned bowl, and let it rest for at least half an hour.
3.) To shape the cavatelli: cut off a piece of dough (keep the rest covered) and roll it out in to a long rope with your hands. If the dough dries out a little and becomes difficult to roll out just wet your hand with a little cold water. Using a knife or a bench scraper if you have one, slice off little pieces of dough (about 1cm each). Press down on each piece of dough with a butter knife and your pointer finger (see demonstration below!) and as you press down, drag the piece of dough towards you and around the knife; once the dough is completely rolled onto the knife, it will be easy to release them. You can see a good demonstration of this technique here, courtesy of my fellow food blogger Tina!
4.) Cook the cavatelli in a pot of boiling salted water for anywhere from 7-8 minutes; to see if they're cooked, take one out and cut it in half to see if it is cooked throughout. Note that the pasta will still be chewy, but pleasantly so. Drain the cavatelli and toss them with the tomato sauce, sprinkle with a little extra basil and a little extra cheese if you would like, and dig in. 

































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