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ricotta cavatelli

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Exactly ten years ago, we exchanged vows in front of 150 of our closest friends and family. It was a special day and a beautiful ceremony unlike any other. We stood under a Jewish chuppah inside a Christian church, married by a gay pastor and a lesbian rabbi. The building was bright and welcoming with high vaulted ceilings and a rainbow flag displayed proudly in front of the church with the words “All are welcome” for everyone to see. We walked down the aisle hand in hand as our friend played “Love” by John Lennon on the grand piano. Under the canopy, the four of us stood in a semi-circle facing the audience, so now every time we think back to November 5th, we can picture everyone’s smiling faces in our memories.

After the ceremony, the reception took place in the hall just outside the sanctuary, where we served French profiteroles topped with chocolate sauce and enjoyed sparkling juices for refreshments. Back in 2006, gay marriage was not yet recognized by the state, but we wanted to have a wedding and exchange rings, regardless of the legal status. Once the law changed in 2013, we had an intimate sunset ceremony on the beach with our immediate family where we renewed our vows and officially signed the marriage license, so now we have two anniversaries! Last night we celebrated ten years of Husbandhood with a quiet, candlelit dinner here at the house. Of course it’s fun to go out on occasions like this, but we recently learned how to make cavatelli noodles with fresh ricotta, and it sounded good to stay in and cook a delicious Italian meal at home, side by side.

Once you’ve tasted homemade pasta, there is no going back. The flavor and texture are far beyond anything you could find at the store, plus it’s less expensive to prepare yourself. This recipe uses homemade ricotta to make the noodles extra creamy, and if you have never tried making it yourself, please listen carefully: write down milk, cream, salt, cheesecloth, and a lemon on your grocery list this very second, then head to the store as quickly and safely as possible. Its silky-smooth, rich, delicate flavor is incomparable to anything store-bought, it is incredibly delicious, and easier to make than you would imagine.

Making the noodles is simple too. The ricotta is mixed with two eggs, then combined with flour and salt, and that’s it. We learned how to shape the cavatelli noodles at a pasta-making class we took on our recent trip to New York, one of the fun activities that Saveur Magazine planned for the nominees this year. The class was held at Covina, where we were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour of the restaurant, which is worth visiting just to see the detailed architecture and stunning artistic interior design. We felt so lucky to have the well-known chef Tim Cushman show us how to make cavatelli downstairs in the basement where they make all the pasta for the restaurant.

He also shared some authentic Italian secrets with us, which is where we learned how to make this tangy marinara sauce that uses just three ingredients. We couldn’t believe a sauce this delicious calls for just tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. The method he taught us was to simmer a clove of garlic in olive oil, then add blended San Marzano tomatoes and let it gently cook while the noodles are being prepped. It is one of the easiest sauces we know and certainly one of the tastiest. You can make the ricotta in advance and even freeze the noodles, so at a moment’s notice, all you need to do is prepare the sauce. Garnished with a dollop of homemade ricotta and fresh basil leaves, this simple dinner is elegant enough to celebrate a ten year anniversary.

Ricotta Cavatelli
serves 4

For the ricotta:
6 cups (1.4l) whole milk
2 cups (473ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice

For the cavatelli:
1 pound (454g) all-purpose flour (about 3 cups), plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound (454g) ricotta
2 large eggs

For the marinara sauce:
28oz (794g) canned peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
salt to taste

To serve:
ricotta
grated parmesan
basil leaves

Make the ricotta:
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and salt. Attach a cooking thermometer to the side of the pan, and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 190-195ºF. Alternatively, if you do not have a thermometer, cook until the milk is steaming, beginning to get frothy, and almost boiling. Once the milk reaches the desired temperature, remove from heat and add the lemon juice, stirring the mixture a few times to blend. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. While it is sitting, place a fine-mesh strainer over a large heatproof mixing bowl, and line the strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth. Once the mixture has rested for 10 minutes, pour it slowly into the strainer. Let the mixture drain for 1 to 2 hours: the liquid whey will drain out, leaving the solid ricotta behind. Once the ricotta has drained completely, transfer it to a bowl or storage container. If not using right away, keep refrigerated for up to 3 days. The whey can be discarded, or used in another recipe.

Make the cavatelli:
In an extra large bowl, combine the flour and salt. In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta and eggs until blended. Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in the ricotta mixture. Slowly stir the two together, gradually forming a craggy dough. Use your hands to begin kneading the dough, adding extra flour a few tablespoons at a time if the dough is sticky. Continue kneading for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Form the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces, and roll each piece into a rope that is 1/4 to 1/2-inch wide. Cut the rope into pieces 1 1/2 inches long. Use a gnocchi rolling board to give the cavatelli ridges by placing a piece of dough on the board, then using your thumb to roll the dough over the ridges, forming a round hollow shape. Alternatively if you do not have a gnocchi board, you can use the back of a fork or the tines of a whisk to form the cavatelli. Let the finished pieces rest for 15 -20 minutes. If not using right away, the cavatelli can be frozen: lay them in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet, and place it in the freezer. When completely frozen (at least 1 hour), the pasta can then be placed in a zip-top bag or other storage container and kept frozen until ready to use.

Make the marinara sauce and cook the pasta:
Pour the entire can of tomatoes, including the juice, into a blender and blend until smooth.

In a large heavy skillet with a lid, combine the olive oil and minced garlic. Place the skillet over medium heat, and as soon as the garlic begins to sizzle, pour in the puréed tomatoes. Simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt, and add more as needed, since every brand of tomatoes is different (we usually add about 1 teaspoon of salt).

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cavatelli, stirring once or twice to break up any clumps, and cook until the pasta floats—room-temp pasta will take about 90 seconds, and frozen pasta will take slightly longer. Once all the noodles are floating, drain into a strainer then return the pasta to the pot. Add as much marinara sauce as desired (you might not use all of the sauce), and stir to combine. Serve immediately, topped with a spoonful of ricotta, grated parmesan, and basil leaves. Enjoy!

notes:
— The milk for the ricotta must not be Ultra Pasteurized (UHP), which will not separate properly.
— The cavatelli uses 1 pound of ricotta, so there will be extra left over. It is delicious as a garnish for the pasta, or spread on toast, or in any recipe calling for ricotta.
— When boiling water for pasta, a good rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon of salt for every quart of water. So for this recipe, we use 5 quarts of water and 5 teaspoons of salt.
— We mix and knead the pasta dough in a very large metal bowl, which is less messy than doing it on a countertop. However, if you don’t have a big enough bowl, feel free to mix the dough right on a clean countertop, dusted with flour as needed to prevent sticking.
— You can buy cooking thermometers, cheesecloth, and gnocchi boards online or in stores.