How to Make Cavatelli - Grandma Boreali Style
My grandmother, Grandma Boreali, really knew her way around a good cavatelli. She made them for me (with an assist from my wonderful Aunt Juju), like clockwork, anytime and every time I managed to escape for a “Grandma visit” upstate. By the by, Grandma also always made this addictive beast of a cheesecake below (recipe is in our first book), but that is another post entirely.
Grandma’s ricotta cavatelli were ingeniously light – not an easy feat for a dough made with over 2lbs of ricotta and 5 1/2 cups of flour. And she doused them in a dreamy red meat sauce that I have yet to perfect – a sauce only made possible with a lot of time, patience and discipline (lately, I feel as though I lack all three elements).
While grandma was alive (she lived a long life – more energetic at 85 than most 50 year-olds), I never attempted to recreate her cavatelli. It was unnecessary – slightly sacrilegious. This was a recipe she made for her family – a recipe she would have happily shared and enthusiastically mentored us through – but the real joy of her cavatelli was eating them. It almost seemed beside the point to assign more importance to making them.
When grandma passed away, I inherited her cavatelli machine (something very close to this make and model – but for a brand new model, try this maybe?). The machine was old, but like all great vintage kitchen equipment, it was hearty – real wooden rollers/heavy-gauge steel. No plugs. No plastic. Just clamp it to the (old Italian rustic farmhouse) table and go. The machine will probably outlive many generations of cavatelli eaters.
Mind you, grandma rarely used a machine – she preferred the “by hand” method (again, I am lacking in time and patience). My Aunt, however, used the crank (same model as grams) and, in later years, the bulk of the cavatelli was made at my aunt’s house. Though this recipe is written for a machine, you can obviously adapt for hand rolled use.
After a few tries, I would estimate that I have almost come close to grandma’s cavatelli (I still need decades of practice). They aren’t quite as light as hers (perhaps they never will be), but I can assure you this recipe is still great. And, like all homemade pasta, insanely better than the store bough variety.
Some General Notes About this Cavatelli:
-This recipe makes A LOT of cavatelli. This is great for large gathering, but even better, the cavatelli freezes like a dream.
-To make the process go faster enlist a friend or family member to help. One person can roll and cut the dough, while the other person cranks.
-This dough will conceivably need up to one more cup of flour to complete (don’t worry if it seems like an absurd amount) – all depending on the moisture of your ricotta.
-For the love of grandma: use farm fresh eggs!
Grandma Boreali’s Homemade Cavatelli
2lbs fresh ricotta – mostly drained (but not dry)
5 ½ cups flour, about 690 grams (plus more for kneading, etc..)
(note: you can sub up to 2 cups of semolina flour for the regular flour – not necessary, but it does make the dough a little lighter)
How To Make:
Whisk the eggs and ricotta together in a large bowl. Place the flour in a separate very large bowl, and make a well in the middle of the flour. Scoop out the ricotta mixture into the well, and use your hands to pull the flour from the sides of the bowl over the top of the ricotta. While the mixture is still in the bowl, bring the mixture together with your hands – working the dry into the wet – until the dough comes together in a sticky ball.
Flour a work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface, and keep kneading and turning dough – adding more flour as needed – until the dough seems elastic, but not sticky. This could take up to 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two balls and cover loosely with plastic wrap for 20-30 minutes at room temperature, than refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
Scoop a cup of flour into a large, clean bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Remove one ball of dough, divide it into about 8-10 slices -they don’t have to be identical sizes/weight (I use a bench knife to cut) and roll out dough on floured surface until it is just a hair over ⅓ inch thick. Slice the dough into strips (just shy of ¾ of an inch in width – length does not matter), run each strip of dough through the flour in the bowl (this will help prevent the dough from gumming up the cavatelli maker), then feed the dough through the wooden rollers of the cavatelli machine. Crank away until you have a bajillion cavatellis. Repeat process with other dough ball.
Gently spread the cavatellis into an even layer across the two parchment lined sheets and freeze for 30 minutes.
Remove from freezer and portion out into plastic baggies and keep in freezer until using.
To cook: add to boiling, salted water and cook until all of the pasta floats to the top. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce.