Fresh Cavatelli with Cauliflower, Almonds and Breadcrumbs

I lived in New York City from 1988 till about three months ago, and in all that time, I’d been in only two apartments where the kitchen was bigger than my bathroom. Like many New Yorkers who love to cook but who are strapped for space, I adapted by being economical about kitchen appliances (e.g., no microwaves) and by curtailing my ambitions. That’s one reason why you don’t see many recipes for anything involving dough and/or baking on this here foodblog thingy. In my last apartment, where I lived for nearly 10 years, my kitchen was barely larger than 6′ x 8′. Available counter space barely exceeded 2′ x 3′. It’s as if whoever designed my apartment had a hatred of cooking.

All of that has changed since my move to San Francisco.

The kitchen in our flat is way more spacious than the one in my previous unit; it’s made me more ambitious than ever before. For instance, I’ve started to teach myself how to bake. The results have been spectacular as well as scrumptious.

Irish soda bread

Irish soda bread

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Buttermilk biscuits

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Thumbprint cookies

The ones on the left contain lemon curd. The ones on the right have apricot-raspberry jam.

Another recent triumph involved learning how to make pasta. It really is as easy as basic math; I needn’t have worried.

Fresh cavatelli with cauliflower, almonds and toasted breadcrumbs

Fresh Cavatelli with Cauliflower, Almonds and Breadcrumbs

Cavatelli are a short, hollow form of fresh pasta. Literally “little hollows”, they’re also known by the colloquial name orecchie di prete (“priest’s ears”).

The recipe for the cavatelli was adapted from this Wall Street Journal article.

The recipe for the cauliflower was adapted from “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy“, page 279.

For the cavatelli:

2 1/2 cups 00 flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sparkling mineral water
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the cauliflower:

8-inch chunk stale bread
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper flakes, or to taste
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
1 batch fresh cavatelli
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

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Dump flour on a wooden board or large bowl and make a well in center. Pour sparkling water into well, then oil. Using a fork as if scrambling eggs, gradually incorporate flour from inner walls of well into liquid. Once you reach a pancake batter-like consistency, use a bench scraper or knife to transfer remaining flour, a little at a time, into well, and incorporate.

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Even though you see a fork in this picture, I ended up using my hands. They’re literally the best kitchen tools available, and what’s more, they’re free!

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Eventually the mixture will come together into a solid mass. Knead it for a few minutes, then shape into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, or ideally, 24 hours.

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Remove dough from refrigerator and slice off a small section, about 1-inch wide, then slice that in half. Roll both pieces against a lightly floured wooden surface to form tubes slightly skinnier than your pinkie. Cut tubes into segments as long as your thumb is wide.

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To begin shaping cavatelli, stick your right thumb up and then turn hand so thumb is pointing left. Maintaining even pressure, use thumb to push a piece of dough forward and up, like an airplane taking off. The dough should spring up and form around the curve of your thumb. Use a bench scraper or knife to transfer cavatelli to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and sprinkled with flour, making sure no pieces of pasta touch. Continue until all dough is used.

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The amount of cavatelli shown above is about 3/4 of the total amount of pasta dough. I saved the remainder for a pasta course for dinner a few days ago.

Let pasta dry slightly, 30-45 minutes. Laying them atop a sheet of parchment paper will ensure they don’t stick to the surface they’re resting on.

Fill a large pot with salted water (approx. 5-6 quarts water with 1 tablespoon salt), and bring to a boil.

Grate the stale bread chunk on the coarse holes of a box grater into a mixing bowl. You should have 2 cups of fluffy crumbs. Pour 5 tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet. Set it over medium-high heat, and scatter in the garlic and crushed red chile pepper flakes. Let them sizzle for a minute or so, then dump in the bread crumbs, and stir to moisten them with the oil.

Toast the crumbs for about 5 minutes, tossing them and shaking the pan almost continuously, until they’re golden and crisp. Adjust the heat so that neither the crumbs nor the garlic gets too dark. If they darken too much, they’ll burn and become bitter.

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Turn off the heat, and pour the toasted crumbs into the serving bowl.

Meanwhile, start cooking the cauliflower and cavatelli. With the cooking water at a roiling boil, drop in the salt and cauliflower florets, and cook them for approximately 3 minutes, until barely tender. If you want to test a piece of cauliflower, there should be some slight resistance to it when you bite into it. Drop in the cavatelli, stir, and return the water quickly to a boil. Cook about another 4 to 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is fully tender and the pasta is al dente.

Quickly drain (you can empty the pot into a colander) and spill the pasta and florets on top of the bread crumbs in the bowl. Sprinkle over the bowl the almonds, parsley and salt, and toss everything together well, until the crumbs and almonds are evenly distributed and coat the pasta and cauliflower florets. Drizzle the remaining olive oil, and toss again.

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Serve at once.

This recipe is sized for 4-6 people.

Time: About 90 minutes, including prep. I had the dough rest for the minimum amount of time (30 minutes), and it turned out okay.

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