Cavatelli Pasta with Rocket (Arugula)

Cavatelli Pasta with Rocket (Arugula); recipe from Puglia.

This healthy and delicious vegetarian cavatelli pasta with rocket is a traditional dish from Puglia in Southern Italy. Typical of the Southern Italian culinary tradition, it’s one of many simple recipes made with just a few fresh seasonal local ingredients.

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

Cavatelli pasta with rocket is a typical Apulian recipe, which is also often made with orecchiette. This is a very simple and easy to make dish, even if you use homemade cavatelli or orecchiette. The last cavatelli recipe I posted was made with homemade pasta. But, this time round I used dried cavatelli. You can use either. If you wish to use homemade cavatelli pasta, check out the recipe on my cavatelli with oyster mushrooms and sausage recipe.

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

The pasta.

Both cavatelli and orecchiette are traditional pasta types in the beautiful Southern Italian region of Puglia. If you’ve never been, put it on your bucket list! Cavatelli originated in the neighbouring region of Molise, but is popular throughout southern Italy. Orecchiette pasta comes from Puglia and has been eaten there since the 12th or 13th century. Both these types of pasta are often homemade in the Southern regions, although you can buy dried versions throughout Italy.

ingredients for cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

Cavatelli pasta with rocket is a very economic dish, typical of the rural culinary traditions of Southern Italy. It contains very few ingredients but, is really delicious! It’s the combination, freshness and quality of ingredients that makes these simple Italian pasta recipes so tasty.

cherry tomatoes with olive oil and garlic in frying pan

Wild or cultivated rocket.

Traditionally, this cavatelli pasta with rocket recipe is made with wild rocket which grows in Puglia all year round. Wild rocket is much more aromatic and pungent than the greenhouse variety, but at the same time also has a marked bitter aftertaste that not everyone likes. I used cultivated rocket to make this dish.

cherry tomatoes and tomato passata cooking in frying pan for tomato sauce

Rocket, also called arugula or rucola (in Italian), belongs to one of the healthiest groups of veggies known as cruciferous vegetables. This group includes kale, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. So, as you can imagine, rocket is very good for you. It is very high in nitrate which apparently helps reduce blood pressure. And, even contains a compound called Sulforaphane that is believed to have cancer fighting properties.

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula) cooking in water together

A little rocket history.

Rocket or arugula has been eaten in Italy since the times of Ancient Rome. However, it started life more as an aphrodisiac than a salad! The ancient Romans used it as a basic ingredient in love potions! In fact, the Romans often cultivated it in soils that housed phallic statues made to honor Priapus, the god of fertility!

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula) in tomato sauce in frying pan

In the Middle Ages, however, rocket was banned from cultivation in the monasteries because of its notorious fame. However, these beliefs were not unfounded. Researchers from the Department of Pharmacological Sciences of the University of Milan and the University of Bologna have carried out studies to verify the effectiveness of rocket as a sexual stimulant!

Rocket in Italy.

Here in Italy, rocket is very very popular. Italians eat it mostly raw in salads or on pizza or as a pesto. However, it’s also delicious cooked, like in this cavatelli with rocket recipe. Rocket actually cooks faster that other greens like kale or collard greens and has more flavour than spinach or Swiss chard.

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula) in tomato sauce in frying pan

Making this cavatelli pasta with rocket recipe.

Many pasta dishes from Puglia involve cooking the pasta in the same water as the vegetables. Another popular example is pasta with broccoli rabe. This method of cooking not only gives the pasta more flavour, but also speeds up cooking times and produces less dirty pots and pans!

So, this cavatelli pasta with rocket recipe involves just two main steps. First to make a tomato sauce. You can use fresh peeled tomatoes, ready-made tomato passata or a combination of passata and cherry tomatoes, which is what I love to do! Second, boil the pasta and rocket in the same water. Then just drain and add to the sauce! Easy peasy!

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

Other ingredients.

For added flavour people in Puglia often add a couple of anchovy fillets which certainly give the dish a umami flavout. But, you can leave them out for a totally vegetarian or vegan dish. Typical of Southern Italy, this cavatelli with rocket also has peperoncino (red chili pepper) and garlic. Both of these can be added in quantities depending on preference. If you like your pasta more garlicky or spicy, just increase the amounts in the recipe.

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

Finally grated cheese is often sprinkled on this dish before eating. However, different cheeses can be used. Some people prefer a hard ricotta or salted ricotta like ricotta salata or ricotta Marzotica.  Others use a softer ricotta such as cacioricotta, but you can also use pecorino.

Let me know if you try this recipe.

Whichever cheese you choose, I’m sure you’re going to love this dish. It can be on the table in 30 minutes. It’s tasty and healthy and, in addition easy to make vegan or vegetarian. What more can you want?

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

If you make this cavatelli pasta with rocket recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. So, please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Buon appetito!

Other cavatelli recipes on The Pasta Project

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

Other orecchiette recipes on The Pasta Project

  1. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe
  2. Orecchiette with Romanesco broccoli
  3. Pasta with braciole alla Barese (beef rolls)
  4. Orecchiette with zucchini and speck
  5. Orecchiette with roasted tomatoes

Save this recipe for later?

If you want to save this recipe for later, you can print it, bookmark this page or save it to Pinterest.

5 from 16 votes
cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)
Cavatelli Pasta with Rocket
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
30 mins

This healthy and delicious vegetarian cavatelli pasta with rocket is a traditional dish from Puglia in Southern Italy. Typical of the Southern Italian culinary tradition, it’s one of many simple recipes made with just a few fresh seasonal local ingredients.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian, Puglia, Southern Italian
Keyword: arugula, cavatelli, pasta, pasta recipe, rocket, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g cavatelli pasta or orecchiette (14oz) dried or fresh
  • 300 g rocket (arugula) (11oz) wild or cultivated
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tsp peperoncino (red chili pepper) fresh or dried
  • 12 cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 300 g tomato passata (11oz) I use Cirio passata rustica
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets (optional) I use anchovies preserved in oil
  • salt for pasta and to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 50 g pecorino cheese (grated) ( 2oz) or ricotta salata or cacioricotta
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Clean the rocket, wash it well, with cold water. Then drain it in a colander and keep aside. Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Peel the garlic. Chop the red chili if using fresh.

Make the tomato sauce
  1. Next, prepare the tomato sauce. Put the garlic cloves, the chili pepper and 4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan or skillet. (also anchovy fillets if using) Fry for a few minutes until the garlic has softened and the anchovy has started to melt. Then add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes until they start to soften. 

  2. Add the tomato passata (or a can of peeled tomatoes) and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the sauce it has thickened (about 10 minutes). After cooking, remove the garlic cloves.

Cook the pasta and rocket
  1. While you are making the tomato sauce, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil. Bring to the boil again and add the pasta. Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet (if dried). Fresh cavatelli or orecchiette will rise to the surface when they are ready, remove with a slotted spoon. 

  2. Add the rocket to the pasta 5 minutes before the pasta is ready. If you are using fresh pasta the rocket can cook with it from the start. Save a cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta and rocket. 

Finish the dish
  1. Add the pasta and rocket to the tomato sauce. Mix everything together well and season to taste. If the sauce seems dry add some of the pasta cooking water. Serve immediately with grated cheese.

Recipe Notes

Traditionally this dish is made with cavatelli or orecchiette. But, you can use other short pasta such as penne.

Some people also add onions or olives and other herbs such as basil. Meat lovers may like to add pancetta or sausage meat. These need to be cooked at the beginning with the garlic and chili.

Use vegan cheese and no anchovies for a vegan version. Omit anchovies to make this recipe vegetarian. 


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cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

cavatelli pasta with rocket (arugula)

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  • Avatar
    October 4, 2019 8:56 pm

    Cavatelli are so pretty! I always wonder who decided to create a specific pasta shape and then make it traditional!

  • Avatar
    November 3, 2018 11:09 am

    So delicious bowl of pasta with cherry tomatoes.. looks so amazing!!!

  • Avatar
    Kari Heron
    October 31, 2018 2:43 am

    I miss rocket.I seem to be living vicariously through your scrumptious recipes. I hope to find it in Aruba. This pasta looks very moreish indeed.

  • Avatar
    Adriana Lopez Martin
    October 30, 2018 7:16 am

    I love arugula and adding it to pasta, your idea looks so yummy and then the sauce and those amazing tomatoes. I need a bowl so hungry now!

    • Jacqui
      October 30, 2018 8:34 am

      Thanks so much Adriana! Arugula is such a great addition to this pasta. It goes perfectly with the tomatoes too! I’m sure you’d love this dish!

  • Avatar
    October 29, 2018 8:43 pm

    I just love your site! This dish looks so fresh and amazing ! I can’t wait to cook this up!

    • Jacqui
      October 30, 2018 8:35 am

      Thank you dear Jessica! This is such simple but delicious dish! You are bound to love it!

  • Avatar
    Chef Mireille
    October 28, 2018 6:43 am

    like all your pasta dishes looks so bright and vibrant and fresh – and I always appreciate all the historical and cultural notes you give

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 10:31 am

      Thank you dear Mireille! Yes this is a really fresh and vibrant dish! Happy you like the historical and cultural notes!

  • Avatar
    October 27, 2018 4:16 pm

    I never knew arugula also is called rocket. You’re always full of good information. Can’t wait to try this pasta! As always, it sounds amazing.

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 10:34 am

      Grazie Amanda! Yes, arugula is rocket in British English, but it’s rucola in Italian! Am sure you’ll love this dish!

  • Avatar
    October 27, 2018 3:16 pm

    I think that the simplest pasta dishes are the best! Haven’t added arugula to pasta but going to give it a go next time I make some for lunch. 🙂

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 10:35 am

      I agree Julia, simple recipes are often the tastiest and healthiest too! Arugula goes so well with pasta! I’m sure you’ll like it!

  • Avatar
    October 27, 2018 2:50 pm

    looks delicious! I’m a big pasta fan. I use orecchiette quite a bit but not cavatelli. I like the flavor combos here.

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 12:40 pm

      Thanks David! Yes this is a delicious recipe! It’s also good with orecchiette!

  • Avatar
    Lisa | Garlic & Zest
    October 27, 2018 2:19 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever had “rocket” before but knowing that it’s considered an aphrodisiac has me intrigued. Of course, your pasta dish is right up my alley. Pour the wine…

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 10:40 am

      Cheers Lisa! rocket or arugula is a great healthy veg. Good in salads and cooked too! I hope you’ll give it a try!

  • Avatar
    October 27, 2018 9:21 am

    Lovely colourful pasta and the way you have cooked it. I have loads of cherry Tomatoes and would love to try this.

    • Jacqui
      October 29, 2018 10:41 am

      Thank you Renu! This recipe would be a great way to use up some of your cherry tomatoes!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    October 25, 2018 6:30 pm

    This recipe looks amazing. Fresh and healthy and a little bit of delicious pasta. Never knew arugula also had the name of rocket though!

  • Avatar
    Heidy L. McCallum
    October 23, 2018 4:42 pm

    Your Cavatelli Pasta with Rocket Arugula looks divine. My family would totally love this pasta dish, pinning to make

    • Jacqui
      October 24, 2018 8:28 am

      Thanks so much Heidy! I’m sure your family will really enjoy this dish!

  • Avatar
    October 23, 2018 4:22 pm

    I’m loving all the fresh ingredients! Perfect for Italian night in our house.

    • Jacqui
      October 23, 2018 4:33 pm

      Grazie Ellen! Yes this dish is really based on just a few fresh ingredients but it’s so good! I’m certain you’ll enjoy it!

  • Avatar
    October 23, 2018 4:15 pm

    What a fabulous recipe! Adding this to my dinner menu for this week. I know my whole family will love it!

    • Jacqui
      October 23, 2018 4:19 pm

      Aww thanks so much Kim! Your family will definitely love this dish!

  • Avatar
    October 23, 2018 4:13 pm

    I really enjoy reading all the history behind your recipes – so interesting! I’ve never tried pasta with rocket before so I’ll have to try this recipe. I like the peppery bite of arugula in my salads.

    • Jacqui
      October 23, 2018 4:21 pm

      Happy you like the history bits Jill. I love researching food history and here in Italy people eat dishes and foods that date back to even before the Ancient Greeks and Romans! Cooked rocket is really good. I’m sure you’ll like it!

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    October 23, 2018 3:36 pm

    I love how fresh and healthy the ingredients are in this recipe. Can’t wait to try this authentic southern Italian dish.

    • Jacqui
      October 23, 2018 4:09 pm

      Thanks so much Kelly! Yes this is such a fresh and healthy recipe. Easy to make too!

  • Avatar
    October 23, 2018 2:37 pm

    This pasta dish is simple and delicious. Easy to make on a busy weeknight, and I am a pasta lover. Perfect for having leftovers too….like lunch the next day.

    • Jacqui
      October 23, 2018 4:11 pm

      Thanks Gloria! I agree this is a perfect weeknight dish. So easy to make and tasty too!

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