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X Italian Pasta Dishes
Cavatelli with tomato sauce
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Any time
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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Home-made cavatelli dough

For Tossing
Any tomato sauce, preferably home-made
Grated cheese, preferably Parmesan or Romano


o Make cavatelli dough.

o Make tomato sauce.

o Toss with cheese, and enjoy.


Prior to World War II pasta made for everyday meals did not include eggs or even salt. Flour and water were the only ingredients used -- at least this was the case in Molise. However, pasta served on festive occasions included flour and eggs. In fact, lasagna had no water in the flour whatsoever -- just eggs. Cavatelli, on the other hand, were done frequently. Often they were served with "white sauce" rather than "red sauce." "White" sauce generally referred to any tossing that did not include tomatoes in it. Often, "white" cavatelli were tossed with fresh (not air-dried or smoked!) bacon which was fried with garlic, and mixed with boiled rappini. In any case home-made pasta is relatively easy to do (even if you don't have a Kitchen Aid or a Pasta Maker!). If you are an impatient or indifferent cook (Sometimes I am) you simply let the dough "rest" for "quite" awhile (Let's say overnight), and then you get a very easy dough to work with. Rolling out pasta dough is child's play compared to rolling out pastry dough. Shaping "cavatelli" is also quite easy. Of course, it helps if you have someone to demonstrate the procedure. Luckily for me, one of my mother's favorite dishes is "cavatelli." It's also one of my niece's favorite dishes, as well as my nephew's, so "cavatelli" is an old standby at the Melfi household. In fact, it is such an important part of my culinary (Or dare I say, cultural?) history, that I think of "cavatelli" as a "dessert" dish when it is obviously anything but. In fact, to my mind cavatelli (i.e., my mother's home-made cavatelli) is better than chocolate. A choice between the two is no choice of all. One more thing -- prior to World War II cavatelli was tossed with grated "cacio" -- cheese. "Cacio" was mostly made with sheep's milk, thought not necessarily. Sometimes goat and cow milk was added. Nonetheless, as soon as Southern Italians immigrated to North America they did not get into the habit of using "pecorino" sheep milk cheese to toss their pasta as one would have expected, but instead opted for Northern Italy's cheese of choice -- Parmesan. Admittedly, in the late 1950s most new immigrants had their relatives send them the cheese that was made in their hometowns, but by the late 1970s very few Italian North Americans did that anymore. To make a long story short, Southern Italians fell in love with Parmesan, in particular "parmigiano reggiano" and it seems they are now willing to pay any price for it.... Photo and notes: Mary Melfi.

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