First made in Molise, Cavatelli spread widely at the beginning of the thirteenth century, with Frederick II of Swabia documenting the dish and holding it in high regard.
Cavatelli is a type of Italian shaped pasta formed into a miniature shell typically served with thick sauces. The name Cavatelli means "little hollows", named after the hollow shape of the small pasta shells. Cavatelli originated in the Southern Italian region of Molise as a main dish in their culture, before spreading to the area of Puglia. It is known as one of the oldest pasta shapes in Italy.
Its name differs depending on the area in which it is produced. Still, they all refer to the same pasta type - Capunti or Strascinati in Puglia and Basilicata, and Crusicchi or Cecaruccoli in the various municipalities of Campania.
How is Cavatelli traditionally served?
Traditionally, this unique pasta is made by hand, creating a cavity in the dough and forming the shell shape. Cavatelli requires a few simple ingredients - durum wheat semolina flour and salted water. They belong to the group known as "strascinata", or dragged pasta, named for the way they are produced, which is by hollowing out the piece of pasta by dragging it with one or more fingers on a pastry board.
Cavatelli pastahas an elongated shape and is hollowed inwards, which is obtained by pinching the small piece of pasta. The length of a Cavatello can differ from region to region. Its surface can be smooth or ribbed depending on whether it is made with by hand or with the help of the tines of a fork or with an appropriate machine. This pasta shape allows it to hold sauce and cheese, both typical additions for Cavatelli.
In Molise, its birthplace, homemade cavatelli is served with sauce and vegetables, such as broccoli or cardoncelli mushrooms. It is customarily paired with red wine, such as the local Tintilia del Molise or fresh rosé. In Puglia, Cavatelli pastais prepared with other sauces. Other ideal ingredients for seasoning are Burrata cheese or seafood from the region, in addition to turnip greens, with exquisite pesto and Canestrato, a cheese from Puglia.
The cavatelli was initially a cheap dish for poorer families, due to the common and inexpensive ingredients needed to prepare the dish.
However, its status as a dish for the poor was elevated to become a fine delicacy as chefs for noble families began preparing Cavatelli for important meals and high-class banquets.
Cavatelli were also served at the historic “Colloquium General”, the meeting of all royal officials and dignitaries held in Foggia Apulia on 8 April 1240. (source: thefoodwonder.com)
This made it a traditional dish in southern Italy, where it is customary to be served at various festivities throughout the year. In the Campania region, it is seasoned with sauce, while in Sicily, they are prepared with a tomato sauce, basil, and fried eggplant, with salted ricotta cheese to top
Firmly rooted in the Molise culinary tradition, Cavatelli is celebrated in numerous festivals within the region around July and August, at which different variations of Cavatelli are served.
In the town of Petrella Tifernina, Cavatelli seasoned with sausage and pork sauce is prepared at the festival of "cavètièlle e savecicce". At the end of July, the Cavatelli Cercesi festival takes place in Cercemaggiore, featuring Cavatelli with pork or wild boar sauce. In Pietracatella, Cavatelli seasoned with sauce is served at their festival. At the same time, Caggiano holds their crusìcchi festival, another name for Cavatelli.
A festival takes place in Vitorchiano for three days every summer at the beginning of August in the town square, where the pasta is seasoned with the classic tomato, garlic, and fennel sauce. In Ruvo del Monte, there is the cavatelli "cu 'u cas' r'cott'" festival, which refers to Cavatelli seasoned with cacioricotta (a type of cheese from Puglia) and sauce.
In Tufillo, the Cavatelli festival takes place, with Castelpoto sausage and Liver sauce, or more traditionally with Ventricina sauce. Rutigliano also celebrates its Cavatelli Festival annually on the first Sunday of August. While these festivals are more recent, mostly emerging within the past century, they display a wide variety of methods of serving Cavatelli.
Today, Cavatelli is made across many regions in central and south Italy, with different variations and methods. People now use machines or tools such as cavatelli pasta boards or knives rather than making them by hand.
It has evolved from being a homemade staple dish in the southern Italian household into a pasta that is manufactured and available in Italian cuisine in many places around the world. This dish has gone through many stages of evolution throughout the centuries, playing a key role in Italian culinary tradition.
As a highly celebrated dish, Cavatelli is more than just one of their favorite pasta. It is a dish that holds deep meaning and ties in with Italian traditions, holding on to its southern roots even after all these centuries. Due to its importance as a traditional dish in southern Italy, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies has listed Cavatelli as a Traditional Agri-Food Product of the Puglia region.