Last week I wrote about my regret at never having had the chance to take a cooking lesson with Anna Tasca Lanza. My disappointment was alleviated in a big way while I was down in Sicily, since I had the great good fortune of cooking with Anna’s daughter, Fabrizia.
Fabrizia now runs the school her mother founded, and continues to hold classes in the same kitchen that is part of the Case Vecchie on the Tasca d’Almerita Estate. A large table for communal meals takes up most of the space, while an open kitchen with an island is located at the end of the wood beamed room. Pots and pans, tin utensils and brightly colored Sicilian pottery hang from the walls, making the space as warm and as inviting as Fabrizia herself.
When we arrived for our lesson, Fabrizia was already getting started. Arms covered in flour up to her elbows, she was wrangling what would become part of our first course: the dough for cavatelli. Cavatelli are a small (about 1 inch long) pasta shape. They almost look like tiny, ridged, hot dog buns, that roll up on themselves. They are made out of grano duro flour and water and are most common in the south, especially Puglia and Molise.
Working the dough with grano duro and water is no easy feat. It’s a much harder dough to work with than one with more eggs and softer flour. But Fabrizia – despite looking unlike any hardened Italian mamma/housewife I’ve ever seen – had no trouble bringing the ingredients together for enough pasta to feed 20 people
Like orecchiete, cavatelli usually take quite a bit finagling and skill to turn them into small, neat shapes. But Fabrizia proudly brought out a nifty little gadget that turned ropes of the challenging pasta dough into perfectly formed cavatelli with a few turns of the handle. Even pasta-phobic me was quickly cranking them out. “It’s from America,” she explained, “I think you can order it online.” Well, ok then, you know what to get me for Christmas.
Fabrizia had already prepared the sauce before we arrived. I think she probably thought it wasn’t worth having an actual lesson about it, since it was just pesto, which everyone knows how to make, right? Wrong. As I snuck a spoon into the big bowl of green for a secret taste I realized that this was unlike any pesto I’d had before. Fabrizia, seeing my surprise, smiled and said one word: Salvia. Sage. It was sage pesto! What a daring, and completely brilliant idea. But actually, since there were huge bushes of it in the herb garden, and massive pots of it in the courtyard, I’m not that surprised she’d come up with this new twist on an old favorite. In keeping with the Sicilian/local theme, instead of pine nuts a handful of almonds provided the nutty component.
While I always hope to come away from a cooking lesson with new recipes (and I did ) it’s the technique that’s always so crucial. How do other people do things? While I wish I had taken a video of Fabrizia making the dough to show you how it’s done, I did take enough photos to show you how she pulls it all together at the end.
Rather than just dump the load of pesto on top of the pasta and then mix it all up, she carefully spooned some sauce into a large, wide serving platter, adding a bit of pasta cooking water to loosen it up. Alternating pesto ,pasta and water, and only gently stirring it every so often, she made sure each little curly cue of pasta was perfectly dressed, yet not bruised or mangled.
Don’t be intimated by making fresh pasta. If Fabrizia can do it, while looking all elegant and never breaking into a sweat, then you can do. Especially if you go online and order one of these nifty cavatelli makers.
- 1.2 kilos / 2.2 pounds of grano duro flour*
- 300 grams/ 10 ounces of all purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 100 grams of ricotta
- MIx the flours and place on a clean work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour.
- Mix the eggs and the ricotta together.
- Place the eggs and ricotta into the well and begin mixing the flour into the center, adding just enough water to pull it all together. For this amount of flour you will probably need about 2 cups of water. But it all depends on the humidity and temperature, as well as your flour. The dough will be very stiff. Keep kneading it until it is smooth and elastic.
- Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap, for about a half hour.
- When the dough is ready, pull bits off and shape it into a rope, about a half inch in diameter. Run the dough through the cavatelli maker, spreading the formed cavatelli out on a clean, floured dish towel.
- To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add cavatelli and cook till done. Start checking them after 5 minutes, since they may cook fast.
- To serve, toss with Sage Pesto. (See recipe below)
- 2 cup Sage leaves
- ⅓ cup toasted almonds, with skin
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ to ¾ cup olive oil
- ½ cup grated mild pecorino cheese
- Place the sage leaves, almonds and garlic in a blender. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With blade running, drizzle in the olive oil.
- Put the pesto into a bowl, and stir in the cheese. Taste and adjust for salt.
(multiply by 4 for the above amount of pasta)