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.

Bastardizing Bolognese with Venison Sausage

dsc_0173(I’m going to resist the urge to yet again bitch about the weather, after all, I DID volunteer to move up here 2 years ago…but suffice it to say, the urge for comfort food continues to dominate)

My mother makes an amazing bolognese sauce, simmered for more than 3 hours to a delicious meat-tastic lip smacker of a sauce. My hubby makes an excellent lamb bolognese which he too simmers for hours until it is delicious and slightly gamy (in a good way). So it’s MY turn. And if you haven’t figured it out already, I have no patience and/or attention span, so this one is for the faster cooks out there who like their meat-sauciness to be ready in less than an hour. The ingredients are kind of a crap shoot, since I haven’t been to a supermarket in over a week, and I kind of made things up as I went along. The star of the dish – the venison sausage – was something my future brother-in-law is responsible for (along with my father-in-law) so it isn’t something we have around often or really ever. You can definitely use any sort of favorite sausage in this recipe, but if you are brave (not afraid of snacking on bambi) and you know a hunter, venison sausage is really truly worth trying. Here is what made it into the sauce pot:

Generous coating of olive oil

Approx 1lb sausage, cut into chunks

4-5 small shallots, finely sliced

Generous handful of baby carrots, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup sliced carrots)

1/2 package of mushrooms, diced

2 heaping tablespoons (small handful) dried mushrooms, soaked in 1/4 cup water

4 tablespoons half n half (or milk, or cream)

1 can tomatoes, ground or diced (I used leftover tomato sauce from the freezer)

1/2 cup red wine

Pinch of red pepper flakes

small handful fresh chopped parsley

salt & pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan, coat the bottom with olive oil and turn the heat on to a medium setting. Add shallots and carrots and saute until softened (about 5 minutes). I like to salt as I go along, so I add a small pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes at this point. Add sausage, increase heat to med-high, and start to brown the meat (about 3 mins).  Add fresh mushrooms, and allow to soften for about 2 minutes. You should be stirring every so often throughout this entire process.

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Add dried mushrooms plus their soaking liquid and the wine, plus another pinch of salt. Allow the liquid to simmer at a high heat until cooked down some – about 5-7 minutes. Add half & half, stir, simmer for 1 more minute. Add tomato.

At this point you can start your pasta water. Lower the sauce to a med-low setting and allow the sauce to cook down. Once the pasta is about 3-4 minutes from being done, add parsley to the bolognese sauce. I used a short pasta (like Penne) for this sauce, I think it handles the sauce better than a long pasta (spaghetti) would.

When you are ready to serve, add some grated Parm and chow down!

Random Bag Night – Pasta with Sausage, Spinach & Tomato

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We are fortunate enough to have a member of the family (my father-in-law) who has been successful in making his own homemade sausage. Above is a batch of the sweet sausage which we had in the freezer. I mentioned in one of my earliest posts that basic tomato sauce can be modified to add almost any sort of vegetable or protein to it, making the possibilities almost endless. This is one such dish which is an easy modification of the original tomato sauce recipe and all of the ingredients were things we had on hand at home making this a true Random Bag Night since nothing at all was picked up on the way home. For those of you who hate to do dishes (like me), this is just a 2 pot dish – 1 pot for sauce and 1 for the pasta. 

The following are the ingredients for the sauce:

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

1/2 onion, sliced thin

sausage – I had about 1/2 lb, sliced

2 generous handfuls fresh spinach

1 can tomatoes, crushed

Basil – 1 Tblsp dried, 5~6 leaves chopped if fresh

Olive oil – enough to coat bottom of sauce pan

salt & pepper to taste

Coat pan in olive oil, add garlic and onion and saute on medium heat until the onions have softened (maybe 3 minutes). Add sausage , browning it lightly on all sides – approximately 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, a pinch of salt and the basil. Allow the sauce to simmer on medium-low heat while the pasta cooks. When the pasta is close to being done, add the spinach to the sauce and stir in until it is wilted. The sauce should look something like this:

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I used rigatoni with this sauce – any sort of short pasta like that, or ziti or penne would work. Linguini & spaghetti wouldn’t stand up to the chunks of sausage. I know people think all pasta tastes the same, but the shape really does matter when it comes to pairing pastas with sauces! Most often, you see the shorter pastas with the meatier, thicker sauces, and the long, thin pastas with the lighter sauces (like clam sauce, or carbonara). The shape determines how the pasta holds the sauce and that, in turn, affects the flavor. (I could, of course, be completely talking out of my @ss right now, but have you ever seen penne with a white clam sauce !?!?)

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This kind of modification of basic pasta sauce will work for many other combinations. For example, you can start with the garlic, onions & olive oil and add cauliflower & tomato, or zucchini & tomato, or eggplant, black olives & tomato, etc. etc.  You get the idea. There are many permutations for making delicious and interesting pasta dishes.