Cavatelli with Sardinian meat sauce

On the radar:  cavatelli

Originally appeared in the February 03, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

As I write this, local meteorologists are forecasting the potential arrival of a record-breaking snow-and-ice storm.  If the Doppler-radar prophets of doom are correct, then we may all be thawing out from a few days of vicious precipitation.  But no worries.  This recipe, cavatelli with Sardinian meat sauce, will help knock-off the chill.  More after the jump:Similar to fricelli and casareccia (aka strozzapreti:  “priest choker”), cavatelli is a slender, pucker-shaped pasta, whose elongated crease is perfect for holding heavy, chunky sauces.

One of the other highlights is the saffron.  Decidedly one of the most (if not the most) pricey spices in the world—not to mention a critical contributor to characteristic dishes like paella and risotto Milanese—saffron is an autumn-flowering plant, containing precisely three vibrantly orange stigmas, which are hand-picked and dried.  On average, it takes roughly 225,000 finger-plucked stigmas to produce one pound of saffron spice.  Despite the grocery-store sticker shock, there’s no imitating or substituting the distinct aroma and flavor of saffron.

So even if our venerable forecasters are off the meteorological mark, my humble prediction is that you’ll agree this recipe is pure, cold-weather comfort food—snow day, or no-snow day.

Cavatelli with Sardinian meat sauce

Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, small chop
  • ¾ pound spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes (28-ounce can)
  • 3 tablespoons chiffonade fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • 1 pound cavatelli
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano, plus additional for garnishing

1.  In a large, high-sided sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over moderate heat.  Add onion and cook till tender.  Add sausage, breaking pieces apart as you stir.  Cook until meat is no longer pink.

2.  Reduce heat to low, and add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.  Stir in garlic (make sure you don’t burn).  Add red wine, stirring spoon against bottom of pan to deglaze brown bits; allow to reduce slightly.  Stir in tomatoes, mint, parsley, salt, and ½ the saffron (save the other half for the pasta water).  Simmer sauce until thickened (about 15 minutes).

3.  Meanwhile, in a pot of salted, boiling water, cook cavatelli along with remaining pinch of saffron.  Cook pasta until al dente.  Reserve ½- to 1-cup of pasta water.  Thoroughly drain cavatelli and toss with sauce and basil.  Lighten mixture with reserved pasta water if necessary.  Mix in a small amount of parmesan, then garnish the pasta with extra cheese before service.

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