I usually say that when you make fresh pasta you don’t make only something to eat but you can explore also your artistic side by doing sculpturing. This is particularly evident for those pasta shapes that are being formed only with the hands plus sometimes with the aid of simple tools.
Little hollows or better known with their original name (Cavatelli) are small masterpieces of pasta sculpture originating from the Italian south. They are made always from durum-wheat semolina that has more gluten potential than normal wheat flour, hence it allows firmer sculpturing and produces pasta shapes that are resistant to deformation during boiling. The semolina is simply mixed with water and the resulted mash is kneaded to a firm and smooth dough. The latter is being rolled out by hand to cylinders about as thick as pencils. The cylinders are cut into small pieces that are drawn using a finger or a blunt-tipped knife across a rough surface. The resulted cavatelli have a curved, smooth surface on one side and a hollow (or more) on the other with a characteristic rough texture that helps to collect better the sauce. They have relatively thick rims that will remain always 'al dente' after cooking but the inner surface should be thin enough so as the light can pass through it.
They are mostly connected with the region of Puglia but can be found also in others like Basilicata, Campania, Sicily and Calabria. Accurately speaking, cavatelli is not a single pasta but rather a family of similar shapes. They can have one, two or even three hollows depending on how many fingers the pasta maker uses to shape them. These variations give rise also to distinct pasta names based on the exact shape but also the area of their invention.
Cavatelli can be combined with various sauces, having as main component either meat, vegetables or legumes.
Fresh Cavatelli with artichoke and mint pesto
served with malathouni cheese from Tinos
This dish was prepared during the fresh pasta workshop that I gave for the 2019 edition of the Tinos-Food-Paths festival on the Greek island of Tinos.
durum (hard) wheat semolina 200gr (this makes roughly two portions)
water (a bit less than 100gr)/the exact amount depends on the semolina type plus the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity) and should be adjusted each time based on feeling the dough consistency while kneading it
- Mix the semolina with water in a bowl and work it with your hands until most of the water has been absorbed.
- Continue on a working surface by kneading the dough using the classic stretching and folding technique as to develop the gluten structure. If it feels dry add a bit more water. The dough will be ready after few minutes when it adopts a smooth and firm texture with a consistency of a play-dough. It shouldn’t be sticky at all and your hands plus the working surface should be completely clean at the end.
- Cover the dough with a plastic wrap or a bowl and let it rest for 10-20 min.
- Cut small pieces and roll them out with your hands to form small, snake-like rods with a diameter of a pencil.
- Cut small pieces of approx. 1cm long.
- Press each piece with your thumb and draw it across a rough surface (preferably unfinished wood).
- Let off from your finger the formed cavatello.
Pesto and cooking
Exact measures of ingredients are not important. Keep as main components the artichokes, mint and olive oil and then tune with the rest to your personal taste.
Pesto sauces are delicious even without adding cheese. That’s why I keep cheese out and I add some only at the end, on top of the pasta.
I had the chance to bring back home some malathouni cheese from Tinos to accompany the dish but you can use whatever cheese you feel like it or even not at all.
unsalted nuts of your preference (almonds, walnuts, pistachio etc.)
extra virgin olive oil
salt/pepper/chili/balsamic vinegar for seasoning
- Peel the artichokes and collect the hearts, keeping also the inner leaves that are yellow/white and perfectly edible. Precook them shortly until tender with a bit of olive oil and water in a covered pan.
- Let the dried tomatoes, the raisins and the nuts for at least a couple of hours in warm water to rehydrate and soften.
- Add everything except the seasoning ingredients in a food blender and mix until a thick pesto sauce is formed. Adjust the smoothness to your taste by adding also a bit of the water that was used to soak the dried tomatoes.
- Correct seasoning with salt, pepper or chili and some balsamic vinegar if you want an acidic note.
- Cook the pasta in a pot with well-salted boiling water. Depending on their exact thickness, fresh cavatelli will need approx. 5 min to be ready. Taste and judge doneness.
- Add some from the pesto in a pan and dilute it with some of the pasta water to get it more liquid, as to mix better with the pasta. Do not cook it but keep it fresh.
- When the pasta is done, strain it directly into the pan with the pesto. Mix thoroughly, adding some extra pasta water if it gets dry.
- Serve, drizzle with some olive oil, grate some cheese of your preference and enjoy.