17 February 2011

Leave me Weak in the Knees with "Caccavelli alla valli"

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.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. This is unusual, and the first time I have seen the pasta product. It looks yummy. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Gragnano is one of my favorite specialty pastas and I was about to say that I had never seen these before when I remembered that I had seen these at the Slow Food" Salone del Gusto" this autumn. I went back to my photos to make sure. They displayed a variety of huge pasta along with this one as decorations on a Christmas tree. Very cool indeed. They didn't have these nice pots though. Nice recipe and looks ready for a cozy winters dinner.

  3. Wow, I've never seen those pasta shells before. A unique dish that looks scrumptious.



  4. I've never seen or heard of this particular pasta. You can bet I'm going to be on the lookout for it at some of Chicago's Italian markets.


  5. We have a specialty shop that imports from this company...however, I never had the pleasure to meet such a beautiful shell. I'll have to ask the owner about these.
    The filling sound incredibly appetizing ;o)

    Flavourful wishes,

  6. Oh that's wild Val! I've never seen anything like that. I love the filling, I can imagine how scrumptious it was. I love that the pasta comes with the bowls!

  7. In all of my pasta eating, I have NEVER seen that shape before! But it really is the perfect little bowl for such a scrumptious filling!

  8. That giant pasta shell is simply inspired, what a great idea... and the goodies in it are even more spectacular!
    Hope you have a lovely weekend.
    *kisses* HH

  9. What a great presentation, Val. I've never seen this pasta before and would love to find it and the perfect little bowls to bake it in. Maybe I can find it in Chicago in one of their fabulous Italian deli's. Lovely post.

  10. I'm totally in love with this! I have an Italian market nearby that sells this brand of pasta...and you can bet that I'm going to stop by there today in search of this shape (and the perfect little bowls). I've purchased interesting shapes from time to time but I, too, have never seen this variety. The brand is pricey but worth it. Great job, Val -- and thanks for the history lesson too.

  11. Fantastico post Val! Divine looking recipe. Can't wait to try this. And you know what? You and I were romanced by exactly the same pasta and pots! Mine are still patiently waiting in my pantry, softly whispering sweet Italiano nothings to me. Now you have re-inspired my big noodle lust. Grazie all around!

  12. Bloomin' heck that pasta is some size. Wow! I adore the bowls you got with the pasta or the other way around. Just lovely to serve it in. What joy to have such a shop.

  13. Hi Val - WOW! These are awesome. I gotta get over to the Italian market and see if they sell them there. I need these for my next dinner party! Thanks for the info.

  14. I am with Joan...going around New York looking for this...Val it is absolutely wonderful...

  15. There is so much about this post I love, from imagining the aisles of your Italian grocery, to the pasta in crocks.

  16. they looks fabulous val - i wonder if i can track them down in london...

  17. Everything Joan said, double for me. I even know the owner, and will ask her to bring them in. These are fantastic. I love the entire idea, and more importantly - the thrill of seeing something completely novel! And the ideas that come with it. I am so excited! Thank you, Valerie!

  18. Very pretty shape of pasta. Now, I must hunt for this Caccavelli. Thanks for sharing your recipe Val.

  19. This is the first time I've seen these shells. I may be able to special order them. I loved your description of the store where you shop. I remember the smell of Italian stores from my childhood. Things today seem sterile and shrink wrapped by comparison. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  20. I so hope you can all find these in your area. The onky tip I would have for you is to cook the pasta for the required 15 minutes otherwise it will still be too "al dente":D

  21. OOH this looks great. Love you blog

  22. When we lived in Minneapolis we used to go to an Italian grocer whose shop was so tiny there wasn't enough room to swing a cat - but shopping there was wonderful. We don't have pasta big enough for stuffing - but, we're going to Italy in May.... I have a feeling the car will be loaded on the return trip.

  23. i misss a "meca foodie" for myself.
    I never seen before this kind os pasta, but,i love all ingredients, sounds delicious !!!

  24. Now this looks really interesting. I can get that brand of pasta here in the grocery store but have never seen that particular shape. I may have to look when I am in Italy this fall.

  25. Fascinating story, Val. And that is one HUGE pasta...I've never seen it before. What a lovely recipe too, really delicious. Perfect stuffing for your pasta.
    I love the "food meccas". I could spend hours in them, just looking and reading. Like men in a hardware store!

  26. What a beautiful pasta. I always visit a good Italian grocer when I am in the city.

  27. I now have pasta-shape envy! It makes sense to have something in the shape of a little cocoon for the filling. Loved hearing about this region of Italy - if left a little wistful.

  28. i'm always amazed at the tremendous variety of pasta shapes available. this one is actually brand new to me, and it looks like lots of fun!

  29. What a spectacular recipe and fascinating story to go along with it, Val, both of which leave me hankering for this wonderful pasta! I'm penciling in a pilgrimage to my own hometown Italian "foodie mecca" grocer today to see if they have it.

  30. Guess what I found today at my favourite gourmet shop in TO - the Cheese Bouique? woo hoo


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