Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).
I’m skipping the second two recipes from Calabria for now because they require the oven and I just can’t do it in the middle of this New York heatwave. So, we move on to Campania.
The name of Campania means “countryside.” The region was originally referred to by the Romans as campania felix, Latin for “fertile countryside”. The capital of Campania is Naples, one of the most well-known Italian cities. In this region, you will find the iconic Mt. Vesuvius, the ruins of ancient Pompeii, and the coastline towns of Positano and Amalfi.
One of Campania’s regional recipes is Cavatelli Con le Noci, Cavatelli with Walnuts. “Cavatelli” in Italian means “little caves,” so called because of the little grooves in the center. Those grooves make this pasta perfect to use with thick or hearty sauces because it collects in the “caves.”
This is one of my favorite recipes in this project so far. It’s so delicious with minimal amount of work. Having said that, I did need to make adjustments to the recipe.
First, I cheated. The recipe gives ingredients and instructions for making fresh cavatelli. Making fresh pasta is not difficult, but it does require time, which is something I’m in short supply of. So, I took the easy way out and used dry pasta. That was alteration number one.
The second alteration was not my fault. I went to the store to buy cavatelli, and thanks to Murphy’s Law, they had every type of pasta you could possibly want except the one I needed, cavatelli. I had a bag of orecchiette at home, so I decided to just use that. Orecchiette means “little ears,” and also do a good job of catching sauces in their “cups.”
Other adjustments had to do with the vagueness of the ingredients, but they aren’t worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning is the fact that the instructions call for pounding walnuts into a paste, then cooking the paste in some olive oil. I was wary of this, and what I suspected would happen, did. It quickly started to burn, because apart from the oil, there was no liquid. The walnuts quickly absorbed the oil, and then started to scorch. So, as the pasta cooked, I began adding some of the pasta water to the walnut mixture to make it more saucy. I suspect that this was the outcome that the authors had intended.
In the end, the dish was so flavorful, so tasty, and I would definitely make it again.
Cavatelli con le Noci
Cavatelli with Walnuts
Recipe adapted from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Published by Rizzoli Publications.
Makes 2 servings.
2/3 cup walnut halves
1½ cups cavatelli (or other short pasta)
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Pound the walnuts into a paste, preferably with a mortar and pestle. (You can also pulse them in a food processor, but don’t overprocess them, or you’ll get walnut butter.). Set aside.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until it’s al dente. (The amount of time will vary depending on the type of pasta you use.)Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet or saucepan. Add the garlic and red pepper and sauté until the garlic starts to brown, about a minute or two.Add the walnut paste and a teaspoon salt and stir. Cook a minute.Add a ladleful of water from the cooking pasta and lower the heat. Stir occasionally. If it starts to dry out, add a little more water. Stir in the parsley.When the pasta is done, reserve about a cup of the water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir. If it’s too thick or dry, add a little of the reserved water and stir it in. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed.Transfer the pasta to bowls and garnish with more parsley. Serve.