Picture-Perfect Pasta

It's the individual shapes of handmade cavatelli that make it so special - here, Chris shares the method his family uses to make this pasta from scratch.

During the Home & Garden Show this February at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, we invited a wide variety of trained chefs and talented home cooks to join us in the WQED Cooking Center to share their passion and talents for cooking.

During the course of each of their demonstrations, I asked each one of them what tool he or she finds most important in his or her kitchen. In almost every case, these cooks simply held up a hand. Physical contact with food can tell you just when a piece of meat is cooked rare, medium or well. It is the perfect utensil for integrating shortening into flour for flaky crusts.

Loosely held fingers are a handy strainer for lemon pits, and there is something satisfying about pounding a clove of garlic under the palm of your hand to remove the papery skin. Your hands are always right there, never hiding among the skewers, tongs and spoons in your utensil drawer. And clean up is a breeze.

At the very end of my right index finger is a cavatelli maker. I’ve had it for years, and it always works perfectly to transform little bullets of dough into bumpy curls of pasta with an inner recess to catch and hold any sauce they might be bathed in. I’ve heard there’s a mechanical device that will do the same job. I’m not buying it. The slight irregularities and individuality of my cavatelli are part of the enjoyment. Try a batch of these hand-made pasta, and you’ll discover that you have the same perfect tool at your fingertip.

See below also for my recipe for basil pesto, perfect with the cavatelli. Remember, the more leaves you pick from your basil plants, the more productive they will be. Keep picking and you’ll have basil all summer long.

Handmade Cavatelli
serves four


1 cup flour to begin; more to achieve correct consistency and to flour board
1 egg
1/2 cup ricotta
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix 1 cup flour, egg, ricotta and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add more flour until you have fairly stiff dough. Knead the dough on a floured board until it is smooth and no longer sticky. Let it rest for 5 minutes, covered with a bowl.

Divide the dough into 4 or 5 small balls and roll each ball into a thin rope (about 1/4 inch in diameter). Cut the rope into 1/4-inch pellets and dust them lightly with flour. Roll each pellet against the inside of a cheese grater with the tip of your finger. This creates pasta shaped like a hollow football with a bumpy exterior from the grater’s indentations. (It takes a little practice and a little patience, but my Aunt Mary taught all of us to do this by the time we were 5 years old.)

Lightly flour a large tray and put the cavatelli into a single layer to dry slightly. After about 2 hours, bring 4 quarts of water (with 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 tablespoons of salt) to a boil and drop in the pasta a few at a time. Boil for approximately 6 minutes. Drain and serve.

Note: You can also put the uncooked cavatelli onto a tray in the freezer for a few hours. Once they are frozen, you can put them into a zip-top bag and return them to the freezer. Do not thaw before cooking.

Basil Pesto  


2 cups (tightly packed) basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pignoli nuts
1/2 cup Romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Carefully wash and dry the basil and parsley (I use my salad spinner). In a food processor with the metal blade attached, process the basil and parsley, add the garlic, nuts and cheese. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil to form a paste. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Put into a jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a week. I know people who pour this into ice-cube trays and then put the cubes into a plastic bag in the freezer. They take out cubes all winter long for pasta, sauces, etc. It never lasts that long in my house.

Categories: Eat + Drink Features