|Caccavelli alla Valli|
Just before Christmas I made my weekly journey to my hometown version of "foodie mecca," our local Italian grocers. Over the better part of the past year Valaroso has been expanding and upgrading and along with that they are introducing whole new lines of pastas, sauces, and ingredients that leave me weak in the knees. When I am searching for fresh ricotta, morel mushrooms or figs this is my "go to" place to find those longed for ingredients to add excitement to my diningroom table. Italians are known for taking ‘simple’ dishes and basic ingredients to the height of perfection.
Their latest addition to their pasta families are from an area called Gragnano that is famous for it's pastas in Italy. In today's modern world large corporations such as Barilla, founded in Parma in 1887, and De Cicco produce thousands of tons of pasta made from imported and domestic wheat to be shipped all over the world. Alongside these large manufacturers smaller artisanal and organic companies such as the ones found in Gragnano in the mountains of Lattari and overlooking the Gulf of Naples have produced pasta for over 500 years in time-honoured tradition.
Gragnano has always been well known for its production of prestigious pasta, sparkling wine and its delicious "Monk Provolone". Making pasta in Gragnano is an ancient form of art that involves history, culture, patience, family secrets and traditions. To be born and grow up in Gragnano means to be surrounded by the exalting taste and scent of durum semolina and the pasta that springs from it. This region of Naples is abundant with natural springs that provide power for the mills allowing the area to produce large quantities of pasta. There were once over 300 pasta factories in the area which has now been reduced to approximately 12 at last count. Recently I came across a tour where this area was explored as well. Without the spectacular contributions to Italian cuisine made by generations of innovators in Naples, our popular notions of Italian food would be very different. This colourful, exuberant city is home to all the foods that most commonly signify Italy... pizza, pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella and gelato. Each was invented here or reaches its apex of quality here. How perfect for a foodie would that be!!!
In the past pasta dough was originally kneaded by the local men with their feet on “a large flat board with high edges,” adding water and taking turns before handing the dough over to the women. Back in the day the famous "maccheroni ' made with water, durum wheat semolina, passion and love was produced when the women competed against one another to roll up as much fusilli as they possibly could in one hour. From someone who was born in a textile mill town it sounds a lot like "piece work" to me. During the nineteenth century, as pasta production moved northward with the Industrial Revolution, pasta making moved north.
Stuffed pasta has been enjoyed in Italian cuisine since at least the fourteenth century, when tortelli appeared in Florentinian cookbooks. The pasta producers at the La Fabbrica Della Pasta di Gragnano have come up with some very unique pastas that will all show up eventually here on the pages of More Than Burnt Toast. To start us off I purchased a package of “Caccavella” which came with 4 earthenware vessels made in the mountains of Italy. This pasta was introduced in 2009 at the Flavours and Knowledge Fair in Pompeii, Italy. This "big boy" pasta is currently the world's largest pasta shape. This is one time when size really does matter since one 'caccavella' measures approximately 4 inches (11cm) in diameter at its widest point. Produced by the Gragnano company in the south of Italy, caccavelle are delicious when stuffed with bolognese sauce, squid or fried chopped eggplant, covered in a simple tomato or bechamel sauce, and cooked in a hot oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Traditional Neapolitan pasta sauces, as you’d expect, make use of what’s locally abundant. In the Gragnano region and Naples that means tomatoes,seafood, garlic and oil. I see that the possibilities are limited only by your imagination! Buono!
**Caccavelli alla valli**
1 box of "Caccavelli" Gragnano
250 g of a mixture of ground beef and Italian sausage (casings removed)
200 g fresh buffalo mozzarella
120 g fresh ricotta.
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated,
Salt and good quality olive oil according to your taste
2 cups of your favourite pasta sauce
3 tablespoons pesto sauce
In a large saucepan bring salted water to a boil. Add Caccavella and cook for approximately 15 minutes as directed by manufacturer.
To make stuffing saute meat mixture without oil, add a touch of salt. Drain off any fat and allow to cool in a separate bowl. To the cooked meat mixture add fresh mozzarella (cut into small cubes), fresh ricotta cheese, egg yolk, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt. Mix well and fill caccavella.
Make your favourite pasta sauce. This works best with a sauce with a more liquid consistency. To this add pesto sauce. Set aside.
In individual casseroles place caccavella in the centre and fill up the vessel almost to top edge of the pasta with the sauce, Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes, serve hot. Sprinkle with additional grated Parmesan. Drizzle with good quality olive oil.
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