Cavatelli dates to the 13th century and hails from Southern Italy, in the mountainous region of Molise before spreading to nearby Puglia (the heel of the boot). The word “cavatelli” means “little hollows” and is the perfect pasta shape for thick sauces that easily find their way into nooks and crannies found in the curl of each piece. Not only does this simple gem of a pasta shape look like a small shell, it’s easy and fun for little (and adult) fingers to shape.
This is one of my favorite ways to get my kids into the kitchen. This is also a strategy I use to sneak in foods that normally cause grumbling, hence the peas. Most people assume because I am always cooking, my kids have the palate of a French chef. I can dream, but this isn’t the case. But during a pasta night like this, they can’t help but get excited about their part, and in the process, they are open to trying new things (within reason, of course).
They love rolling and curling the dough. The night we made this for dinner, they also ended up making a handful of “snakes” and a pretty sweet Zozobra figure, which turned into some kind of imaginary battle, all which gave me time to make the sauce. And then, before their eyes, it magically appeared — steaming little shells swimming in a bowl of creamy sauce and peas. And the best part? Their faces filled with pride that their little hands made our delicious dinner.
Aside from peas, there are so many things you can add. You can add salami, cooked sausage, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, sweet corn, broccoli, spinach, etc. If you wanted to make extra pasta for use in the future, double the pasta dough recipe and freeze half the cavatelli shapes on a sheet tray. Once the pasta shapes are frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag or air-tight container and freeze for up to a month. The only requirement for a night like this is to let everyone play with their food, be OK with a little mess and keep your eyes open for the fun times ahead.
Kids night cavatelli pasta with Parmesan cream and peas
Total time: 1 hour; makes: 4 servings
For the pasta:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup water at room temperature
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup peas
½ cup torn basil leaves, for garnish
Preparation: Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, semolina flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the bowl with your hands and add the water. Mix the water in with the flour mixture until combined. At this point, transfer the dough to either a stand mixer with a dough hook or a lightly floured, clean work surface. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough has a smooth texture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let it rest for a half hour at room temperature. If using later in the day or even the next day, wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until ready to use. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Season the water with salt generously.
While the water is coming to a boil, make the cavatelli: Line 1-2 sheet trays with parchment paper, depending on their size. Sprinkle pans generously with semolina flour. Cut a portion of the dough and cut into long ropes, or as my kids like to say, “snakes.” Then cut the ropes into approximately ½-inch pillow shapes. Using two fingers or your thumb positioned lengthwise, press and roll each piece of dough away from you, making a curled piece of pasta. Another option is to hold the piece of dough to the base of fork prongs and push and roll away from you. This will make a curled pasta with ribs. Continue rolling, cutting and shaping the dough until all the cavatelli are formed.
While kids are shaping the pasta, it’s the perfect time to make the sauce: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, add the butter. Once the butter melts, add the garlic. Cook until the butter just begins to brown. Add the cream, bring to a simmer and turn heat to low. Whisk in the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add peas and keep on low heat.
When the pot of water comes to a boil, add the pasta. At first, the pasta will settle to the bottom. Use a spoon to make sure no pieces stick. After around 5 minutes, they will float to the top, indicating they are cooked. At this point, you can strain the pasta into a colander or scoop out the cooked cavatelli with a large wire skimmer. Transfer the cooked pasta to the pot of sauce. Let the pasta simmer in the sauce for a few minutes, then transfer to a large serving bowl. Garnish with torn basil leaves and serve immediately.
Marianne Sundquist is a chef and writer who in 2020 co-founded Stokli, an online general store. Find her on Instagram @chefmariannesundquist, and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.