Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pesto Cavatelli in Tomato Sauce

Making your own pasta can be very rewarding but most forms of pasta, without the aid of a pasta machine of some description, can be very difficult. Luckily there are a few that don't require mechanical assistance even for a beginner. These would include (but are not limited to) gnocchi (pronounced noh-kee), sp├Ątzel (prounounced shpet-sluh) and cavatelli (pronounced cah-vah-TELL-lee). This particular recipe calls for cavatelli.

There are nearly as many recipes for cavatelli dough as there are sauces they can be served with but this is one of my favourites.

Ingredients
• 1½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup semolina (pasta) flour
• 2 eggs (room temperature)
• 3 tbsp pesto
• 1 cup ricotta cheese
• ½ tsp pepper
• 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese


Ingredients (Tomato sauce)
• 28 oz. can of tomatoes
• 2 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 cup sliced mushrooms
• 1 cup chopped onion
• ½ cup sliced olives
• 1 clove garlic
• 1 tbsp dried basil or 5 basil leaves


Utensils/Tools
• icing spatula or (new) putty knife
• rolling pin
• pizza cutter
• chef's knife or large knife
• large pot
• large fry pan (for the tomato sauce)


You can use any sauce you want with these cavatelli but I find a tomato sauce goes best. If you have a favourite tomato, meat or marinara sauce go ahead and make that up. If not, here is a quick and simple sauce you can prepare before starting the cavatelli.

Slice mushrooms and chop/dice onions. Place in a hot fry pan (large enough to hold all the ingredients) with a little olive oil and saute until the onion is transparent. Meanwhile chop up the garlic.

At this point feel free to add any other ingredients you like such as roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian sausage, etc.

Add the garlic and any additional ingredients to the onion/mushroom pan and continue to fry for 2 or 3 minutes (longer if you've added meat).

Slice or dice the olives and reserve. Use any olive you like, I've used green olives with pimento centers in the photos but black olives or salt cured olives would work just as well. I prefer to hold off adding the olives until about 10 minutes before serving.

Add the tomato paste and stir throughout. Continue to fry for another minute or 2. Then add your canned tomatoes. I like to use crushed/pureed tomatoes (usually the lowest sodium content of any canned tomato) but if you don't have crushed tomatoes any chopped/diced tomatoes will work. You can also crush whole canned tomatoes with your hands (watch for juice squirting out between your fingers). Of course you can use fresh tomatoes but I would remove the skin first (dip into boiling water for 30 seconds then into iced water... the skin should peel off). Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the cavatelli. Add the basil, olives and a little salt/pepper about 10 minutes before serving.

Making the Cavatelli
You can either prepare the dough in the traditional way by pouring a mountain of flour and other dry ingredients onto your kitchen counter, put a depression in the center, then add the wet ingredients one after the other while stirring with a fork until you have combined the dry with the wet. For cavatelli (as well as gnocchi) I find that using a bowl is cleaner and works just as well.

NOTE: As I have mentioned before I am a big believer in experimenting with food. You never know what you might get, sometimes it will turn out to be wonderful and other times... not so much. While preparing this recipe in order to take the photos I decided to try substituting whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour I normally use (I prefer whole wheat pasta most of the time). I can honestly say that whole wheat flour does NOT work for cavatelli. The finished noodles were dry, grainy and less than palatable. So save yourself the disappointment, use all-purpose flour, bread flour, semolina flour or a combination of these but avoid whole wheat when making this recipe.
Also if you notice that your cavatelli looks a little different then the ones in the photos the odds are this is due to the whole wheat flour being substantially darker than a more processed flour.

Pour all your dry ingredients (flour, semolina, Parmesan & pepper) into a large glass bowl. Mix thoroughly, then make a depression in the middle of the mix and crack in the eggs. Mix for a minute then add the pesto. If you want to make your own pesto I will include a recipe at the end of this blog. After a minute of so of mixing in the pesto add the ricotta cheese and continue to mix until a rough ball of dough forms.






Onto a floured counter scrap out the rough dough ball and any remaining ingredients from the bowl. Now comes the hard part. You will have to kneed the dough until it is smooth and shiny. You may need to add a little more flour or a little water in order to get the ball to shape properly.

I usually push the heels of my hands into the dough, pushing it away from me for about 6-10 inches, then folding in the sides and repeating. Occasionally turn the ball of dough or fold the edges in to make a ball and continue to kneed. This could take 15-20 minutes. Once the ball of dough is smooth (no lumps what-s0-ever) and just a little shiny you are ready.

Now roll out the dough until it is approx. ¼" thick. Then using a knife or pizza cutter (a circular blade you can roll through the dough) cut into ¼" wide strips. I recommend cutting 2 or 3 strips at a time, no more or they will start to dry out. Take a strip and roll it on the counter under the palm of your hand until the square edges are flattened and the length of dough becomes rope-like in appearance.






Using a knife, edge of a fork or the pizza cutter again cut the rope-like dough into approx. ¾" long sections. Do this for 3 or 5 lengths of dough.

Now you are ready to turn the dough into a cavatelli noodle. Using your finger, the side of a spoon or butter knife place on top of the ¾" long piece of dough, press down and pull toward yourself. The dough should curl up on the trailing end of the finger, spoon or knife creating a noodle that looks a bit like a wood chip. This may be difficult the first few times but with practice it will get easier and the noodles will look better and better.

I've seen people actually pull the cavatelli while it sits on a fork giving the noodle more ridges. This is supposed to create more nooks and crannies for the sauce to cling to and it probably does but it also makes the whole process that much more complicated. If you have plenty of time give it a try, who knows it might become your preferred method. Me, I'll stick with my favourite method.

Personally I like to use an icing knife, a thin metal blade with no sharpened edge. The metal is very flexible and if you hold your finger back about 2" from the end, press down and pull toward you a nearly perfect curl of dough should appear. I've heard a scraper or putty knife will work just as well but haven't tried them yet. Once you have curled all the short pieces mix them with a little flour and set aside on a cookie tray, pizza pan or strips of wax paper.

Now repeat the process until you have cut and rolled all the dough. This should produce enough noodles for 4 servings. If you are only using one or two you can add a little more flour to the remaining noodles, put them in the fridge for about an hour or so to firm up, then put them into plastic bags and freeze them for later use.

While curling the last few cavatelli put a large pot of water (salted) on to boil. Once the water is boiling add about half of the noodles (shake off as much flour as possible) to the water. Once they noodles are cooked they will float to the top. I usually let them float on the top for a minute or so to make sure they are fully cooked. Scoop them out of the pot with a slotted spoon (a large spoon with holes in it that allows the water to drain out) or a small metal mesh strainer. Put into a glass bowl. Some people like to add a little butter at this point to keep the noodles from sticking together.

Once all the noodles have been cooked and added to the bowl you can top them with the tomato sauce and serve. Each person can add a little Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper according to their own taste. As for a side-dish / vegetable cavatelli is great with fried zucchini, fiddleheads or buttered carrots.

If this seems like a lot of work why not make a party of it. Invite over a few friends and everyone can take a stab at making the cavatelli. I love cooking parties, especially ones where everyone can get their hands dirty (or doughy, floury or just plain messy). Each guest can also bring part of the meal (side-dish, dessert, wine, etc.) You will certainly learn who your friends are... they'll be the ones that show up to the next cooking party.

Pesto Recipe:
As promised earlier here is a simple recipe for pesto. Simply add the following ingredients to your food processor (or a blender if necessary). Fresh basil (2 cups of packed leaves), 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, 1/3 cup pine nuts (optional) and 3 cloves of garlic (minced). Pulse the food processor a few times to start breaking up the leaves and pine nuts then turn on steady. Slowly add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream until all has been added. Allow the food processor to puree for about a minute. If necessary turn off and use a spatula to scrap down the sides, then process further. This will make about 1 cup of pesto.

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