While I really don’t have any reason to add any more pasta tools to my collection, I did add one more this past Christmas and I have to say that I really like it: my cavatelli maker. While I’m still getting the hang of it, I wanted to share one of my more successful recipes in using it: drunken red wine cavatelli with pancetta and basil.
The key to getting cavatelli dough is to make it neither too soft nor too stiff, and Heidi Swanson’s basic cavatelli recipe has served as a really helpful guide. Hers doesn’t call for any cheese or potato–basically it’s a mix of semolina and 00 flour, depending on how much you have of each on hand. I tend to do a half-half blend, and adding the red wine gives a nice violet hue to the dough that turns burgundy when you finish the cavatelli in the pan with a little more red wine along with the pancetta and garlic.
One thing about making cavatelli is that it’s one of the faster homemade pasta doughs to make if you have a machine. Yes, you need to bring the dough together by hand, let it rest for half an hour, roll it out by hand, and cut it into strips, but once those are ready, all you have to do is feed the dough strips into the machine and turn the crank. A few weeks ago after we came home from National Harbor I realized that I had forgotten to make a batch of cavatelli for my father-in-law as one of his birthday presents, and that Friday night I brought the dough together, let it rest while I packed my overnight bag for the next day, and then formed the cavatelli and it took, resting time included, about an hour and a half. We froze them to make them easier to transport, and they survived the trip quite nicely.
Heidi notes that the great thing about cavatelli dough is how versatile it is, and she’s
totally right. We’ve made her turmeric and black pepper dough to go with lamb ragu which was fabulous, and I want to do a version with pimenton de la vera, maybe do an herb-infused dough–we shall see. If making fresh pasta is something you’ve been interested in doing but don’t want to spend the money in a good pasta machine just yet, you can get a cavatelli maker for around $30, making it a fun way to test the waters without having to buy too much stuff. The other tool you definitely need is a ruler, but you should have already had that in your kitchen drawer anyway, right?
Drunken red wine cavatelli with pancetta and basil
Dough recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Makes about a pound of cavatelli, with the final dish serving 4 people
- 150 g semolina flour
- 150 g 00 flour
- 160 g red wine
- 4g kosher salt
- ½ lb pancetta, cut into lardons
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
- ¼ cup red wine (ideally use same wine you used to make the cavatelli dough)
- 1 cup grated pecorino romano,
- ½ cup basil leaves, chiffonade
To make the dough: combine the two flours in a bowl, and make a well in the middle of the flour, Slowly pour the red wine into the well, and with a fork, whisk the dough together until stars to form into a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface, and knead for 7-10 minutes until the dough forms a smooth ball. Depending on the weather or the flour you may need a little extra liquid, but add it sparingly–maybe a teaspoon at a time. When the dough is smooth, wrap in cling and let it rest at room temperature for a half-hour.
When ready to roll the dough, lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough until it is ¼ of an inch thick, and cut into ¾ inch strips, Take each strip of dough to the cavatelli maker and feed it per manufacturer instructions, turning the crank to form the cavatelli. If any don’t come out ridged, you can use a fork or a gnocchi rolling board to form them by hand. Keep the pasta in a single layer on silicone mats or parchment paper, and dust them with semolina flour, and either freeze (in a single layer) or refrigerate until you’re ready to cook. (If you’re going to immediately start the pasta dish at this point, you can let them sit on the counter/table.)
Fill your pasta-cooking pot with water, and keep it on medium-low heat while you make the sauce. To start the sauce, render the pancetta on medium-low until it is crispy and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. (If you can have someone else do this while you shape the pasta, it will make the process much faster.) Turn the pasta water up to boil at this point, season the pasta water with salt–about a tablespoon–and add the cavatelli.
While the cavatelli cooks, turn the pan up to medium, add the garlic, and cook until the garlic is golden and fragrant. Add the crushed red pepper if using) and drain the cavatelli, reserving a cup of the starchy water just in case. Add the cavatelli to the pan to coat the pasta with the pancetta fat, garlic, and add the red wine and let it cook down for about two minutes. Take the pan off the heat, add the pancetta back to the pan, add the basil, and then add half of the pecorino cheese and stir well to combine. Serve immediately in bowls with additional cheese if desired.