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 Puglia regions. However, this pasta is 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. Cavatelli have an elongated shape with a hollow cavity made by pressing one’s fingers into small pieces of pasta. But, the size of this pasta varies from region to region.

Cavatelli pasta homemade
Homemade cavatelli pasta

Different sizes of cavatelli

Classic cavatelli from Puglia and Molise are traditionally made by rolling pasta dough into long ropes or snakes and then cutting them into pieces 5cms in length. The cavatelli are then formed by pressing the three middle fingers of one hand into each 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 only the index finger. In some places, people make them even longer by doubling the length of the piece of pasta to about 10 centimeters. They then use the 3 middle fingers of both hands. Calabrian cavatelli, known as ‘cavateddhi’ in the local dialect, are made using only the index finger. Nowadays it’s also common to see people make cavatelli using a knife or a machine.

homemade cavatelli pasta
my own homemade ridged cavatelli pasta

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 the video from Pasta Grannies in my post for homemade cavatelli with oyster mushrooms and sausage.

cavatelli pasta

Pasta Legends!

Legend says that in the old days a bride-to-be’s future mother-in-law would inspect her fingertips 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. Another cavatelli recipe from Molise is ‘widow’s sauce’. This has no meat, just oil, a piece of lard, parsley, fresh tomatoes, and basil. Cavatelli with ragu di ventricina, which is a sort of luncheon meat, is typical in Molise and Abruzzo.

cavatelli homemade

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

cavatelli pasta with mussels
cavatelli pasta with mussels

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

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)
Cavatelli with rocket (arugula)

Cavatelli recipes on The Pasta Project

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 posted on The Pasta Project was 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 (Senise peppers) may be more difficult to find. However, I know they can be bought online.

puntarelle pasta with burrata
Cavatelli with puntarelle and burrata

Update; I recently made my own homemade ridged cavatelli with oyster mushrooms and sausage. The recipe for homemade cavatelli can be found on that post. Click on the link below to check it out and try your hand at making your own cavatelli pasta!

Cavatelli recipes on The Pasta Project.

  1. Homemade cavatelli with oyster mushrooms and sausage
  2. Cavatelli with rocket (arugula)
  3. Cavatelli with peperoni cruschi (Senise peppers)
  4. Pasta with puntarelle and burrata

Watch cavatelli being made by hand in Bari in this video from Pasta Grannies.


Italian Pasta Types - Cavatelli

You May Also Like


  • Avatar
    August 6, 2019 9:17 am

    Shalom and Greetings from Jerusalem!
    We recently visited Sicily and ate tons of cavatelli! It is my favorite since it can hold so much sugo! Silly question, what is the meaning of the word cavatelli? Orecchiette I understand, conchiglie I understand, calamarata I understand, cava is a quarry but…?
    Thank you

    • Jacqui
      August 6, 2019 12:19 pm

      Thank you for your comment Miki! The word cavatelli actually means ‘little hollows’. It comes from the Italian ‘cavo’ or ‘incavo’ meaning hollow or indent The closest English word would be cavity! I will add this info to my post about cavatelli. All the best from Italy!

Leave a Reply