In times of Covid-19 lockdown it seems that we all need to take some comfort in carbs, so I have been saving making this dish and it seemed like the perfect time, to take the time to do it.
Every year I go to NYC to exhibit, and I've tried my very hardest (someone has to do it) to make the most of the trip every time. I tend to go with the mantra 'well this might be the last time I do this, so I best make the most of it!' I can confirm that I have done this! One of the places I went to eat was Frankie Spuntino's in the West Village, I took a seat at the counter and ordered a dish of cavatelli with spiced italian sausage and brown butter and it was bloody lovely! So I naturally went back with friends, another day. I then also went back the next year, just to make sure it was still as nice! This year, I went to visit to find it had gone and been replaced with another restaurant, which was I have to say also delicious and worth adding to your NYC list. I decided to do my version of the dish, and I have to say I was pretty chuffed with the result. It was my first time making cavatelli, so naturally these bad boys need a little work, I am totally aspiring to be an Italian Nonna, knocking them out in my sleep, curling them in seconds with my thumbs that have spent a lifetime making pasta, but that's going to be a work in progress!
INGREDIENTS - SERVES 3
For the Cavatelli
250g Ricotta - creamy in a tub kind, not solid!
300g Pasta flour 00, or plain flour will work.
1 Free range egg
Wild Garlic - a bunch of leaves
1/2 tsp of Sea salt
For the Polpette and butter sauce amazingness.
1 packet of 6 high welfare plain sausages* or 300g - 400g of plain sausagemeat
Fennel seeds - 2 tbsps
Dried chilli flakes - a pinch
A good handful of fresh sage leaves
Salted butter - approx 40 - 50 grams
Grated parmesan to serve.
As a guide I'd do 100g of flour per person and an egg per 200g of flour so if you were doing it for 4, I'd add another egg and another 100g of flour and up to another 100g of ricotta.
*I used Waitrose free range plain ones. You need to use ones that don't already have strong seasoning, so not Cumberland, Lincolnshire etc style ones.
Firstly you need to make the Polpette
These are super simple. Toast the fennel seeds in a pan on the hob, watch them carefully, you just want to lightly toast them so keep an eye so they don't burn.
When they are toasted and slightly cool, grind them in a pestle and mortar.
Get your sausages and slit down the length of each sausage, the skin, should easily peel away and you can put the meat in a bowl, repeat with each sausage.
Add your ground fennel seeds to the sausage meat a nice pinch of dried chili flakes. Get your hands in and scrunch together till well combined. Using wet hands shape your polpette into little balls you want these to be about the size of a large grape, and put on a dish, use all the mixture and then cover with clingfilm and chill whilst you make the cavatelli.
How to make the cavatelli...
If you've got a blender or magimix, pop the wild garlic in, and blitz. Then add the ricotta and just pulse a little to combine.
(If you've not got any wild garlic don't worry just make plain cavatelli and omit this step. )
Pop your flour and salt on a clean work surface or a bowl, and make a well in the middle, crack your egg into the well and combine with a fork, then add in your ricotta, you want to bring this altogether into a dough, if it's a bit crumbly then just add a little water - spoon by spoon till it comes together as a nice smooth dough. It doesn't want to be very sticky, you want to be able to give it a bit of knead into a nice ball. You could do this in a mixer with a dough hook, but I don't have one.
Then cut it into quarters, remove one to work with and leave the others covered in clingfilm or a clean tea towel whilst you work.
Roll out your dough into a rope length, and then cut off small sections about a cm long, about the size of thumbnail, cut a few to start and then you'll soon see if the size works for you or if it needs to be bigger or smaller.
For ridged cavatelli, you'll need a butter pat or gnocchi board, you can get these here, and then you just roll the dough under your thumb so it curls a bit like making a butter curl, these are essentially little hollows. I'd watch an Italian Nonna, as they are total badasses at this so here's a link as they are far better at demonstrating than I'd ever be! Your first ones won't be great, but you can always redo them later as you'll start getting the knack as you make your way through.
Pop each one on a tray - dust the tray with a little polenta or semolina to stop the cavatelli from sticking to each other. Pop on some good tunes or an audiobook and pretend you are sitting in an Italian kitchen and can smell the lemon trees outside, and not stuck in a studio flat in Penge*. If you're struggling with this vision, now might be the time to pour a G&T with a slice of lemon to, just to help that vision - this may or may not impair your rolling technique.
*Obviously there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a studio flat in Penge.
Pop a pan of salted water on to boil and put a knob of butter in a heavy based frying pan. When the butter has melted add your polpette, you want to keep an eye on these but let them cook until nicely browned on the bottom, and then turn, so that they colour all over. When nicely coloured, remove from the pan. At this point you can put the cavatelli on to boil. Now add the remaining butter to the pan when melted add the sage leaves, and keep an eye on the butter it'll foam before turning a lovely nutty brown.
The cavatelli will rise to the top of the water like gnocchi when they are ready, and will only take about 4 or 5 mins.
When the butter is nutty brown remove from the heat.
Drain the cavatelli when they are cooked, leaving just a little of the pasta water in the pan.
Return the polpette to the butter and combine with the pasta, and season to taste.