Unlike Italian cooking most Americans know, lots of pasta dishes from the south of Italy share a few key elements; peperoncini, eggless pasta, and nuts as the star ingredient in sauces. Let’s break it down…Jump to Video Jump to Recipe
During the Middle Ages, the aristocracy held great banquets with elaborate dishes meant to impress. Chefs of the day prepared rabbits, peacocks, stags, pheasants or anything worth hunting, and created rich stuffings, fillings, and desserts, each one more over-the-top than the last. Meanwhile, the tradition we now call Cucina Povera which means peasant or poor cooking, grew out of pure necessity for everyone else to stay alive by using natural, local ingredients and to turn them into nutritious, hearty foods. Now these dishes are considered gourmet and are served widely in Italy. You might have heard of one or two…pizza, pasta e fagioli, calzone, bruschetta, biscotti, or eggless pasta. These dishes of Cucina Povera are the soul food of Italy’s south.
Cavatelli con le Noci is no exception.
Peperoncini – simply the generic Italian name for peppers: sweet, hot, red, green, all of the above. They come in so many shapes and sizes in Italy and show up in many dishes. Take Cavatelli con le Noci — Add the peperoncini and garlic to the olive oil in the first step of the recipe. The flavors infuse the olive oil and carry over to the rest of the sauce and then the entire dish. Feel free to choose the right pepper for your own level of heat!
Next, crushing and toasting the walnuts in the flavored olive oil provide rich, meaty, and hearty consistency.
Finally, the cavatelli are made from eggless pasta using only semolina flour and water. They are easy to make and lots of fun. In the accompanying video, I show several methods to shape these little paste. They are so cute, and they roll off the finger or the gnocchi board to make a hollow ridge that holds the sauce like a trough.
You can use all-purpose flour, but the durum wheat semolina flour makes for a wonderful chewy and satisfying pasta and is more traditional.
This recipe makes 2-3 servings, but can easily be doubled.
Cavatelli con le Noci – pasta with walnut sauce
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 dried peperoncino, chopped or 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- ⅔ cup walnuts, worked to a paste in food processor or mortar and pestle
- ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley chopped
- 150 grams semolina flour, pasta flour
- 80 ml or 3/4 cup room temperature water
- 1 tsp. salt
Make the Cavatelli
- On a board, dump the flour and create a well in the center. Sprinkle in the salt.
- Just a bit at a time, add in the water. Using your fingers, mix and incorporate the water into the flour. Keep adding water a bit at a time, kneading it into the flour.Hint: It will be tempting to want to add extra water because the dough will seem stiff while mixing at first. The challenge to this dough is to keep kneading and working to let the flour incorporate the water. Only use 80 ml (3/4 cup) of water. If you add more water, the dough will be easier to mix at first, but once it rests for 30 minutes, it will be too moist and nearly impossible to work with. Be patient, and plan on kneading the flour and water for 5 minutes. Believe me; it works. The video shows the process.
- After kneading, cover the dough and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare and assemble the ingredients for the walnut sauce.
- Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, pulverize the walnuts to a paste. Chop the peperoncino and the parsley.
- After the cavatelli dough rests, cut the ball of dough into 8 equal pieces.On a lightly floured board, roll each piece into a long snake about 12 inches long. Cut into 1-inch pieces. To make the cavatelli shape: place your index and middle finger side by side in the center of the cavatelli piece and pressing down hard, roll your fingers toward you. This action will create a little well in the center of the cavatelli. Alternatively, you can roll each one off a gnocchi board or a fork to create an indented trough. Again, the video will give good visuals for this step.Keep rolling each section of dough and forming snakes and then cavatelli until all the dough is done. As you complete the cavatelli, place them on a floured board or tray so they don't get too sticky.
Bringing the dish together
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add peperoncino and garlic cloves. Cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the walnuts and toast them in the olive oil for 5 minutes on medium low heat.Meanwhile, once the pasta water is boiling, cook the cavatelli for 3-4 minutes until they float to the top of the water. Add 2 ladlefuls of pasta water to the walnut sauce, stir, and then add the cooked cavatelli. Cook and stir everything together for 2 minutes and lastly, add in the parsley. Stir to combine and serve immediately.Be sure to watch the video in full screen to see the pasta taking shape!
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More fresh pasta shapes!!