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Food & Recipes

Chef Reveals the Cavatelli Swap That Makes Hearty Pasta Dishes Even More Delicious

It's the southern Italian secret that guarantees each bite is packed with flavor!

We can’t get enough of pasta! There’s something just so comforting about a plate of noodles, plus the endless possibilities of sauces and garnishes make it anything but boring. And if you’re making a hearty sauce like meat bolognese or a chunky marinara, here’s an easy secret straight from Italy: Simply pair it with cavatelli. The pasta’s ridged shell shape has plenty of nooks and crannies to hold onto the meaty sauce. So you get the perfect bite with every forkful. Keep reading for a quick guide on cavatelli and two mouthwatering recipes to add to your weeknight dinner roster.

How cavatelli is made

The process of making cavatelli is special as it produces the shell shape and serves as inspiration for the pasta’s Italian name. 

“Made with simple ingredients (semolina flour, water and salt), cavatelli have an elongated shape with a hollow center, created by pressing the dough with fingers,” explains Fabrizio Cercatore, Maestro Pizzaiolo (master pizza maker) and founder of Passione Brands and Hot Italian. “The name likely derives from ‘incavo,’ referring to the action required to shape them by hand.”

Cercatore adds that cavatelli is a staple among home cooks in Molise, a region in southern Italy. And it’s also popular in other southern regions including Puglia. 

Homemade cavatelli pasta on a wooden cutting board.
Freshly made cavatelli pastaMonzino/Getty Images

Best sauces to pair with cavatelli

Cavatelli has a unique texture with ridges on the outside and a smooth, slightly concave interior. These ridges help trap sauce, creating a just-right blend of flavors in every bite. Cercatore says cavatelli is ideal for holding thicker sauces like bolognese and marinara. In fact, cavatelli tossed in a rich pork ragu is a typical Sunday comfort dish in Molise. (Click through for how to make fresh tomato sauce and a filling bolognese to serve with cavatelli.)

How long cavatelli cooks

Cavatelli is sold both in dried (Buy from Instacart, $3.87) and frozen form (Buy from Acme, $3.99) in most grocery stores and specialty Italian grocers. For tasty results, boil the pasta for around 5 to 7 minutes, or until it floats to the top of the water and is firm yet tender to the bite (aka al dente). Then, you’re ready to dress it up with sauce or move onto the next steps of your desired recipe.

2 yummy cavatelli recipes

Cavatelli is favorite among our test kitchen, and below are find two recipes that transform this pasta shape into an extraordinary dish. The best part? These recipes are easy to prepare and guaranteed to become pasta night staples — a win-win!

Pasta with Vegetable Sauce

Pasta with summer vegetable sauce served in a white bowl.

Chunks of eggplant, red pepper and tomatoes add plenty of garden-fresh flavor to this toss-together pasta dinner.


  • 1 small eggplant, 8 oz., cut into ¾-inch pieces, 3 cups
  • 1¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 package (12 oz.) frozen cavatelli pasta
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small red pepper, cut into ¾-inch pieces
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1½ lbs. plum tomatoes, seeded, each cut into 8 pieces, 4 cups
  • 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar (Buy from Walmart, $5.72)
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley or basil


  • Active: 45 minutes
  • Total time: 1 hr., 15 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  1. In large colander set over bowl, toss eggplant with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand 1 hour to release liquid. Rinse well with cold water; drain and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Add eggplant, red pepper and oregano; cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Cover; over low heat, cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and remaining ¼ tsp. salt; over medium-high heat, bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until vegetables are tender, uncovering during last 3 minutes. Stir in vinegar. In serving bowl, toss sauce with pasta. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley.

Cheesy Sausage and Cavatelli

A baking dish filled with cheesy sausage and cavatell.
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Got leftovers? Everything from cooked chicken to veggies can be tossed into this family-pleasing meal that’s topped with melty mellow fontina cheese.


  • 8 oz. Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
  • 1 red pepper, cut into ¼-inch thick strips, halved crosswise
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste 
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 (12 oz.) package frozen cavatelli
  • 4 oz. fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh parsley


  • Active: 30 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr.
  • Yield: 6 servings
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 2½-quart baking dish. Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until no longer pink, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove.
  2. Coat same skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add pepper and onion; cook, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices, tomato paste, salt and sausage. Bring to a boil; cover. Over medium-low heat, cook until sauce is flavorful, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in large saucepot cook cavatelli pasta according to package directions until al dente; drain. Return pasta to pot and stir in sauce. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with shredded fontina cheese. Bake until cheese melts, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.

For more pasta-perfect tips and tricks, check out the stories below:

Orzo Is the Tasty Rice Swap With 75% More Protein — And It Couldn’t Be Easier to Make

This Easy Hack Will Make Your Pasta Way More Flavorful and Delicious

How to Reheat Pasta so It Tastes al Dente Again

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