Cavatelli From Scratch – My I-talian Sunday

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As an Italian American I am very (almost obsessively) fond of pasta. Especially the freshly made kind. I’ve shared my ravioli and gnudi making adventures in other posts and now I have embarked on a cavatelli adventure as an experiment. I’m hoping to recreate today’s success for my dad (who was born in Italy – Soveria Manelli) on his birthday because he so appreciates these kinds of things, probably even more than I do. For the un-initiated, cavatelli are almost like gnocchi but they’re made from ricotta and a lot of flour, and they have the effective sauce-catching divet in the middle (see photo above) whereas gnocchi are more like little pillows. Though versatile, I really prefer cavatelli served with a hearty meat sauce because this pasta is built to stand up to that kind of task. The homemade version is hardy without being heavy and makes for a really good Sunday meal.

Making cavatelli is easy but very labor intensive. I definitely wouldn’t attempt to make them on your own because it’s a lot of work, but this makes an excellent family bonding activity even if, like me, your family currently just consists of you and your hubby. I imagine a future time when I can do this with the help of the little bun that’s in my oven and my hubby (and a bottle of wine) and lots of good music playing.  But I digress…

The recipe I used is here and it is an excellent one, with step by step instructions and photos. My hat’s off to the author as I didn’t need to modify a single thing. The recipe makes close to 2lbs of cavatelli.  I found that working with the dough in very small pieces was easiest, and everything had to be floured and re-floured, etc, as the dough is a bit sticky.  I used a cheese knife instead of a pastry cutter:

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DSC_1104The important thing is that the utensil you use for shaping the cavatelli is somewhat sharp-edged and metal – the plastic pastry cutter we have didn’t work. We allowed the cavatelli, well floured, to rest and dry out on cookie sheets for at least an hour and then half went into the fridge in a ziploc for dinner and the other half is in the freezer. It took roughly 3 full minutes for the cavatelli to cook and the result was magnificent. We made a simple tomato sauce with lamb sausage simmered in it and topped the finished dish with some grated parm. Heaven.

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Random Bag Night – Pasta with Sausage, Favas and Greens

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We have finally gotten the first installment of our farm share this week, and I am beyond excited about what this will mean for the rest of our summer. The veg, which we are getting from Luna Farm here in Massachusetts, is GORGEOUS. Oh, and it’s organic too.  We are sharing the farm share with our neighbors so it’s pretty cost effective too. The above dish is a combo of farm share greens – almost the whole delivery this week was greens – and Trader Joe’s prepared fava beans (so easy!) + some leeks we had in the fridge + leftover pork sausage from 2 nights ago. I am now stocking my pantry with the brown rice pasta (also from Trader Joes) which I have come to really like in lieu of whole wheat pasta. This sauce took about 15 minutes to make (the time it takes to boil the pasta basically) and was quickly thrown together so my measurements are only an approximation and this was enough to cover about 1/2 pound of pasta:

1 package Trader Joes prepared fava beans (or you can use any canned bean here)

2 leeks, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

1 generous handful of your favorite greens

salt to taste

5-6 tablespoons olive oil

2 cooked Italian sausages, cut in chunks

Place the oil in a sauce pan, big enough to hold the greens, etc. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and turn the heat to medium high. Saute the leeks until they are soft and translucent and then add the beans, the wine and the chicken stock. Keep the heat on medium high to allow the liquids to cook down. Once the liquids have reduced by at least 1/3, add the sausage and the greens and stir to combine. At this point you can lower the heat to a simmer and allow the sauce to bubble a bit while the pasta finishes cooking.

If you don’t have cooked sausage on hand, you can use raw sausage, just toss it in at the beginning after you have softened the leeks and allow it to brown a bit before adding the beans, etc. You could also substitute bacon or pancetta instead and do the same. The sauce needs the heft of the meat flavoring otherwise it’s quite bland.

Serve over a short pasta of your liking and doused with some parmesan.

Random Bag Night – Penne with Broccoli Rabe

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This is a Friday night quickie pasta dish thrown together using ingredients I have purchased over the last week or so but not expressly for this purpose. Broccoli rabe is not something I liked growing up, and if you’ve never had it, it is definitely an acquired taste. The bitterness of the vegetable can be off-putting on its own, but paired with the right ingredients it tones down to a slightly more mellow note. I’m not sure exactly when I moved from not liking broccoli rabe to really liking it, if not craving it every so often. It is something that my mom would make on occasion, just simply sauteed with garlic and olive oil. I like broccoli rabe paired with sausage or pasta, or sometimes as my mom makes it, sopped up with some good crusty bread. 

I used the Emeril Lagasse recipe for Braised Broccoli Rabe as my sauce, substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth because I already had a carton open from using it earlier in the week. I used penne, but any short pasta will do just fine with this. Also, if you leave out the pancetta, this is easily a good vegetarian dinner. Or, you could substitute some sausage for the pancetta and make this a more meatitarian meal. Make sure to top the pasta with a generous dousing of grated parmesan or romano, it also pairs well with the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. When you are preparing the broccoli rabe, it’s important to remove the thick lower stems, as they are more bitter.

3-Bean & Tomato Pasta

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This is one of the other side dishes I served this weekend. Probably not the ideal for warm weather, but I wanted a substantial carby side dish and I really hate cold pasta salad (not sure why). Also, this is a good side to serve when having vegetarian friends to a BBQ – it’s a nice substantial meal in and of itself. I used 3 kinds of beans: Kidney, chickpea, and cannelini, but you can use any number of combinations. My family calls this “pasta fagiole” which is essentially pasta with tomatoes and beans. Tonight I plan on cooking some chard leaves in a little vegetable broth and tossing the pasta in to reheat in order to add a little more punch to the recipe. Here is the original recipe:

1 pound short pasta – I used penne

2 cans plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands (including juice!)

1 can chickpeas, rinsed

1 can cannelini beans, rinsed

1 can kidney beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1 teaspoon dried basil (or 5-6 fresh leaves if you have them)

1 white onion, sliced

3-4 large garlic cloves, lightly smashed

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese – grate on top when you are ready to serve

Place the olive oil, onion and garlic in a pan on medium heat and cook the onion until it is softened (3-4 minutes). Add the 3 beans and stir to coat. Allow to cook for another minute and add the tomatoes and all their juices, the basil, parsley and a pinch of salt. Allow the sauce to simmer while the pasta cooks. I would allow this sauce to cook for a good 20-30 minutes. The longer it goes, the higher the likelihood that the beans will start to fall apart – while this adds a certain creamy texture, it’s not the most appetizing. I like to have the beans relatively intact when I am ready to serve.

Random Bag Night – Pasta with Tuna & Olives

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Yesterday was definitely inspired by the sea. My husband and I set out to run some errands in the gloriously warm weather. We headed over to the Inman Square area of Cambridge to check out some potential gifts to take to London with us this week (vacation !!) and while we were over there, my husband mentioned that he had been wanting to check out a good seafood vendor he’d heard about. We have been looking for a place to get good fresh seafood for a while. The stuff you get at Shaws and even Whole Foods is kind of meh, so boy were we excited when we entered the New Deal Seafood shop (www.newdealfishmarket.com). The staff is super friendly (seemed like there were a lot of regulars there) and extremely knowledgeable, offering tips on how to prepare their various seafood offerings. In addition, the selection was the best I have seen in the area so far in terms of freshness and variety. After debating the many options we had and convincing ourselves we didn’t have to try EVERYTHING this time, we picked up a whole red snapper and several fresh sardines. I’ll have the results of those recipes in the next post.

After we got home, we were starving so for lunch I made a quick tuna & olive pasta sauce. I don’t make this one too often, but it is tasty every now and again and we happened to have all the items in the pantry so it was easy to throw together. The cat LOVES this dish because he usually gets a little piece of tuna to nosh on while I cook. This makes enough for 2 people:

1 can tuna, preferably packed in olive oil

2/3 can of tomatoes, lightly crushed

Handful black olives, I used oil cured but Kalamata would be great too

2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 pound of linguine

Start your pasta water. In the meantime, for the sauce, place the olive oil including any excess oil from the tuna can and garlic in a pan on medium heat and let the garlic get lightly browned. Once garlic is lightly browned, add tuna and give a quick stir. Add tomato and simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes are nice and bubbly. Turn heat to low, add olives and parsley and a pinch of salt to taste.

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The sauce will be done when the pasta is ready. Cook the linguine until it is al dente, and then add it directly to the pan. I don’t usually add any cheese to this dish but you can feel free to do so.  Also, you could add a little white wine in the beginning just make sure you let the sauce simmer a little longer to let some of the alcohol burn off.

Random Bag Night – Pasta with Chickpeas

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Today was our last ski day of the season, ironically ahead of a huge snowstorm moving in tonight…  But I digress…

It was another reach-into-the-cabinet-and-surprise! type of meal tonight. We had a hankering for pasta, and to health it up a little I am adding chickpeas (though very offset by the presence of pancetta in the pan… ). Here is the recipe:

1/2 lb short pasta (I used whole wheat rotelle)

1 16oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 16oz can diced tomato

1/2 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons chopped pancetta

1/4 cup dry white wine

8-9  black oil-cured olives

3 cloves of garlic, slightly smashed but still in large chunks

1 sprig of thyme

3 tablespoons of olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

A quick note – You’ll see i said “slightly smashed garlic” – which is something that you achieve by laying the side of your knife on top of a garlic clove, and VERY CAREFULLY applying pressure with your hand to smash the clove. This makes the garlic much easier to peel, and it releases the garlic flavoring while leaving you with a large enough chunk to fish out. I almost always do my garlic this way because I love the flavor but don’t like to ingest a lot of actual garlic clove – nothing says “mmm pretty” like a nice garlic belch, eh?

This one is pretty simple, I like to start the sauce a little before I turn the heat on under the pasta water. Place the olive oil in a saucepan and turn on to medium heat. Add onion and pancetta, stirring regularly to avoid burning the onion but not so often that there isn’t any carmelization. Once the onion has started to soften a little, add the garlic and thyme sprig and continue to stir.

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After about 5 or 6 minutes, the onions should be pretty soft with hopefully a little bit of brown bits starting to form at the bottom of the pan. At that point, add chickpeas and stir. Allow to cook for about 1 minute, then add wine and a pinch of salt. Allow the wine to simmer off a touch before adding the tomatoes (maybe a minute) and olives. Lower the heat to a simmer and stir on occasion.

Once your pasta is done the sauce should be ready. Drain the pasta and toss with some sauce. Garnish with grated cheese of your choice.

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