A traditional pasta 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 con rucola.
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.
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.
Cavatelli pasta with rocket is a very economical 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 the ingredients that makes these simple Italian pasta recipes so tasty.
Wild or cultivated rocket.
Traditionally, this cavatelli pasta 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, it also has a marked bitter aftertaste that not everyone likes. I used cultivated rocket to make this dish.
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 Brussels 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.
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!
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 recipe. Rocket actually cooks faster that other greens like kale or collard greens and has more flavour than spinach or Swiss chard.
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!
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.
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?
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!
Other cavatelli recipes on The Pasta Project
- Homemade cavatelli with oyster mushrooms and sausage
- Cavatelli with peperoni cruschi (Senise peppers)
- Cavatelli with puntarelle and burrata
Other orecchiette recipes on The Pasta Project
- Orecchiette with broccoli rabe
- Orecchiette with Romanesco broccoli
- Pasta with braciole alla Barese (beef rolls)
- Orecchiette with zucchini and speck
- Orecchiette with roasted tomatoes
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This recipe was originally published in 2018 but had been updated.
Cavatelli Pasta with Rocket
- 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
- 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
- 1-2 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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If you are interested in learning how to make homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi, check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of my autumn/winter pasta recipes cookbook!?