Cavatelli Pasta from Southern Italy

Cavatelli Pasta from Southern Italy.

cavatelli pasta
Dried Cavatelli

Rather similar looking to Sardinian gnocchi (malloreddus), cavatelli pasta are originally from the Molise and Pulia regions, but popular throughout Southern Italy and traditional today in Abruzzo, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. Each of these regions has its own typical cavatelli recipes.

Made from three simple ingredients, durum wheat semolina flour, lukewarm water and a pinch of salt, cavatelli are considered to be one of the oldest pasta types .They have an elongated shape with a hollow cavity which is obtained by pressing ones fingers into small pieces of pasta. However, the size of this pasta varies from region to region.

Cavatelli pasta homemade
Homemade cavatelli pasta

Classic cavatelli from Puglia and Molise are made by rolling the pasta dough into long ropes or snakes of about ½ cm in diameter and then cutting them into pieces 5cms in length. The cavatelli are then formed by pressing the three middle fingers of one hand into the piece of dough to create a cavity. However in some parts of Southern Italy,  cavatelli are made shorter using only the index and middle finger, or even longer by doubling the length of the piece of pasta to about 10 centimeters, and using the 3 middle fingers of both hands. Calabrian cavatelli, known as ‘cavateddhi ‘in the local dialect, are  the smallest and are made using only the index finger.

Cavatelli are also made with ridges or grooves (rigate). In order to make them this way, you need a small wooden board, similar to an gnocchi board. You can watch cavatelli rigate being made by hand in Puglia on this video from Pasta Grannies!

cavatelli pasta

Pasta Legends!

Legend says that in the old days a bride-to-be’s future mother-in-law would inspect her finger tips to see if they looked well-used and somewhat worn. This was the tell-tale sign that she knew how to make cavatelli and would, therefore, make a great wife!

Cavatelli are traditionally served with different ingredients from region to region. In Molise, the original home of cavatelli, this pasta has long been  an important part of family Sunday lunch menus. Even today, no Sunday lunch or special occasion is complete without the typical cavatelli and pork sausage ragu. This is a hearty substantial sauce based on pork ribs, sausages and tomato pulp.

cavatelli pasta with peperoni cruschi (Senise peppers)
Cavatelli pasta with peperoni cruschi (Senise peppers)

Other regional cavatelli pasta recipes.

In addition to the traditional pork ragu, cavatelli are also served with ‘spigatelli’ (broccoli in Molise dialect)  and chili peppers or in what is known as a ‘widow’s sauce’ without meat and made with oil, a piece of lard, parsley, fresh tomatoes and basil. This pasta is also served with a ragu di ventricina, which is a sort of luncheon meat typical of Molise and Abruzzo, where they also eat ventricina ragu with cavatelli.

cavatelli homemade

In Basilicata, the classic way to serve cavatelli is with dried sweet peppers known as peperoni cruschi, breadcrumbs and chili pepper (peperoncino) or with broccoli rabe or king oyster (cardoncelli) mushrooms as well as with the local meat sauce, known as ragu Lucano.

cavatelli pasta with mussels
cavatelli pasta with mussels

In Puglia, where this pasta is also called ‘cictielli’, cavatelli are eaten with rocket and tomatoes, with seafood such as mussels or with chickpeas and also with king oyster mushrooms and sausage. In Calabria you will find cavatelli dishes made with typical Calabrian ingredients such as nduja and Tropea onions and in Sicily, eggplant, tomatoes and ricotta salata are often paired with cavatelli.

cavatelli pasta with chickpeas and tomatoes
cavatelli pasta with chickpeas and tomatoes

As you can see cavatelli  is a very popular type of pasta throughout Southern Italy, so there are many recipes for us to discover. The first one I have posted here is the cavatelli con peperoni crushi from Basilicata. Although it’s possible to buy dried and fresh cavatelli outside of Italy, the dried sweet peppers in this recipe, known as Senise peppers, may be more difficult to find. However, I know they can be bought online.


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