Friday, November 21, 2014

Ricotta Cavatelli: Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge 13, Ethnic Foodways

Challenge 13:  Ethnic Foodways
November 16 - November 29
Foodways and cuisine are at the heart of every ethnic group around the world and throughout time. Choose one ethnic group, research their traditional dishes or food, and prepare one as it is traditionally made.

The Recipe:
Grandma Vincenza's Ricotta Cavatelli

I chose a recipe from an ethnic tradition I know very well--Italian. All of my grandparents came to America from Italy and brought with them a culinary tradition that combined both the best of their homeland with the best of their new country. My grandmother, Vincenza Picciano Gianguzzi, was the grandparent I knew the best; she even lived with my family for the last four years of her life. I was a teenager then so was usually preoccupied with my life and friends, but I did help her to cook on many occasions. Vincenza grew up in a small town called Campochiaro in Abruzzi (now in Molise), Italy. She was a great story-teller and loved to reminisce about her life in that town. She also loved to cook, and because we shared that love, I spent lots of time listening to her spin tales from her youth as we made pepper cookies, meatballs, marinara sauce, gravy (tomato sauce cooked with meat), and pasta.

One of the macaroni recipes we made together was for Ricotta Cavatelli. The name for this type of pasta comes from the Italian verb cavare which means "to carve or hollow out." Cavatelli are shaped like hollowed out shells so the name is quite appropriate.  

The recipe itself is very easy because all that is needed is fresh ricotta and flour (Grandma preferred to buy the ricotta from a local Italian deli rather than make it herself which made making this even easier).  Instructions are included below for making your own ricotta, but you can use store-bought without any guilt! 

Step 1:  Make the Ricotta
3 Cups Whole Milk 
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
4 1/2 Teaspoon White Wine Vinegar

1. In a stockpot with a thick bottom (enameled cast ironware is best), mix together the milk and the cream.  Bring to a simmer registering 200ยบ F and keep it at that temperature for about one minute. Then remove from the heat.

Simmering the milk and cream. 

2. Add the salt and the vinegar to the pot and stir.  It will separate into cheese curds and whey (milky water).

3.  Let the mixture sit off heat for 15 minutes.  While waiting, line a sieve with a cotton kitchen towel and place over a bowl.

Sieve over bowl

Line the sieve with a cloth.

4. Strain the curds and whey by pouring the entire mixture into the cloth-lined sieve.  Let strain for 15-20 minutes.  You can also squeeze the whey out of the curds by squeezing the cloth.  This recipe should yield a little over a cup of ricotta.

Pour into Sieve

Curds and Whey Beginning
to Separate

Finished Ricotta

Step 2:  Make the Pasta Dough
1. Measure the ricotta in a cup and note the amount, and then dump the ricotta into a mixing bowl.  Wash and dry the measuring cup.  

2. Using the same measuring cup, measure out the exact amount of flour, making it equal to the volume of ricotta that you previously measured in that cup. Add the flour to the ricotta and mix together until it forms a ball of dough that is soft. Add enough additional flour so that the dough is no longer sticky and can be rolled out into logs.

Ricotta Cavatelli Pasta Dough

Step 3:  Roll Out the Cavatelli

The only stumbling block with this recipe is the amount of time it takes to roll out all of the cavatelli pasta. 

1.  On a floured board, roll out long logs of dough.  Cut the logs into small (half inch) pieces.  
Dough, Log of Rolled Dough, Gnocchi Board

2.  Using a floured gnocchi board, place each piece of pasta dough on the board.  Press it into the board with your index finger.  Then, gently drag the dough toward you with your finger.  It should curl up around your finger and become ridged on the side that you dragged against the board.  Don't have a gnocchi board?  You can press each piece of dough on your floured board with the tines of a floured fork instead of your finger. Voila!

Roll each piece on the gnocchi
board toward you.

Notice the ridges or rigate.

3.  Lay each piece of finished pasta on a floured cookie sheet and freeze.  Then, you can bag them up and return to the freezer for future use. You should have about one pound of pasta if using the homemade ricotta recipe listed here.

Step 4:  Cook and Serve the Cavatelli

1.  Cook the cavatelli in salted boiling water just like any other pasta. It only takes a few minutes for them to cook. They are cooked when they rise to the surface of the boiling cooking water.

2.  Drain the cavatelli and cover with your favorite tomato sauce.

Note:  Gluten Free Version
Follow the instructions as written but use a good gluten free flour that has xanthan gum. 

Date/Year and Region
Late 19th to Early 20th Century; Campochiaro, Abruzzi/Molise, Italy and New York, NY

How Did You Make It
See above.

Time to Complete

This recipe can take hours of rolling and shaping the pasta.  Make sure your day is free before you start! 

Total Cost
About $5 for the dairy products.  I had the flour.

How Successful Was It?
This is a big hit!

How Accurate Is It?
It is accurate to the history of my Italian/Italian-American family!


  1. Wow! Great post. I never thought to make ricotta before but now I'm inspired to try.

    1. Thanks. FYI-You can make the ricotta thicker by letting it drip longer. Good luck, and I expect to hear about your results!

  2. Oh, this looks so good. I made ricotta a couple weeks ago, let it get too thick/dry.I Will try again. I do have a gnocchi board but was unsure how to proceed. Thanks for the photos- I believe I can do this.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.