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X Italian Pasta Dishes
Cavetelli dough (with flour and water, Version I)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Any time
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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For cavatelli (sometimes spelled as cavatielli) dough

4 cups of flour [or 3 "iemela"]*
1 1/2 cups water**

*To get an "iemela" of flour, you place both your hands into a large flour container and when your hands are cupped together and over-flowing with flour this is an "iemela." My mother's "iemela" seems to be equivalent to 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of flour. A "pugno" of flour on the other hand seems to be less than a cup.

** Measurement is approximate, noting that dough used to make cavetelli and fusilli is much softer than "everyday" pasta dough which is used to make spaghetti


o To make home-made pasta the old-fashioned way you put the 4 cups or so of flour on a floured wooden board, gather it all up into a mound, make a well or hole in the center, then add water a little at a time, slowly mixing the water and flour. Form the mixture into a thick ball of dough. Continue mixing until the ball of dough cannot absorb any more water (if the dough is too dry add more water, if it's too wet, add more flour). Knead the dough on the well-floured wooden board for about ten minutes. For those who have a Kitchen Aid, or any other type of electric kneader, the process is ridiculously simple and no explanation is required -- simply knead for about 10 minutes at medium speed. For those who don't have a Kitchen Aid and don't want to do it the old-fashioned way, one can mix the dough in a big bowl (It's easier than doing it on a wooden board) and knead for about 10 minutes.

o When you have a pasta dough that is smooth and malleable, form a ball and then place it under a container. Place a kitchen towel over the container (to keep it warm).

o Let the dough rest for an hour or two at room temperature.

o Knead the "rested" dough for four or five minutes. Let the "rested" and "re-kneaded" dough rest for another two to three hours, or overnight (one will get a more malleable dough by doing this).

o Remove the rested dough from the container and form in a cylinder roll. Slice a piece of dough (about 2" x 2"), flatten it with your hands, and then pass it through the pasta maker at the widest setting. If it doesn't come out nice and smooth, flour the pasta sheet and pass it through the pasta machine again (The process of passing the dough through the pasta machine, besides flattening it out, also "kneads" it).

o Adjust the pasta machine to a smaller setting, and pass the pasta sheet through the roller once again.

o Continue passing the pasta sheet to smaller settings until you get to the required thickness -- about 1/4 of an inch thick [Of all the pastas cavatelli uses one of the softest dough, and one of the thickest]. Generally the third or fourth setting on an Italian-style pasta maker will get a pasta sheet that is the right thickness. The length of the pasta sheet will not matter as it is will be cut into smaller pieces. After one has finished one pasta sheet, place the remaining pasta in the container, cover and process the first set of cavatelli (The dough hardens, so it is best to process one pasta sheet at a time).

o Place the rolled-out pasta sheet on a thinly floured wooden board and cut thin strips of dough -- about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide.

o Using your two fingers (those closest to the thumb) press on the dough and roll it towards you (The less flour on the wooden board, the easier it is to roll the strips of dough), so that two tiny shell-like indentations are made on the pasta strips. Keep doing this until all the pasta strips from the first rolled out pasta sheet are shaped.

o Place the cavatelli on a lightly floured cookie sheet (one that will fit inside the freezer) and spread the cavatelli out. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer. P.S. Technically one does not have to freeze the cavatelli, one can air-dry them for about an hour, and then cook them. This might actually might be the best way of preparing them. However, because of the delicate structure of the cavatelli, the freezing does help the cavatelli to retain their shape.

o When the cavatelli are completely frozen (wait at least two hours), then one can either cook them at this time, or one can place them in a plastic bag or container [frozen, they will not stick together] and return them to the freezer. N.B. Some professional cooks put the frozen cavatelli in a strainer, and strain out any excess flour still clinging to the pasta, prior to re-freezing them, but this is not absolutely necessary.

o When needed, take the cavatelli out of the freezer and cook them in a large pot of boiling salted water. Let them cook for about four to six minutes (You can take them out when they rise up to the surface, but many people prefer to cook them longer so that they'll be softer.).

o Toss with sauce.

o Serve warm.


According to my mother when she was growing up in Casacalenda, Molise in the early 1930s her mother never but never used eggs in her dough to make cavatelli. Back then eggs were far too valuable to use in everyday pasta. In fact, her mother, my grandmother, Nonna Seppe, who raised chickens on her small farm, did not make use of the eggs she got from her chickens. She sold the eggs -- actually she battered the eggs for salt. In any case, in the 1930s most people living in the Molisani countryside did not include eggs to make their cavatelli or any other type of home-made pasta that was meant for everyday consumption. Eggs were only included if the pasta were to be served for a festive occasion -- e.g., Christmas, Easter, weddings etc. That said, the cavatelli that many first-generation Italian-Canadians now make at home do include eggs. My mother recently revealed that even though her own mother never used eggs in the dough, she incorporates them into the dough to help make it easier to handle, and to improve the taste, of course. This came as somewhat of a shock to me as she always in the past claimed that she avoided the use of eggs in making this famous Molisana dish. Notes and photo: Mary Melfi.

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