My parents were of 100 percent Italian descent, and my grandparents remembered a time when their ethnicity, food, and customs were not so beloved in America. But that changed in the post-World War II era, and although our New York City community was (and is) known as Little Italy, with relatives on every corner, it was a happy pastiche of Jewish, Irish, African-American, and Italian neighbors living in harmony—middle-class people with mid-century tastes, aesthetics, and values.
We had grape vines, fig trees, and basil plants in the yard, and ate huge meals served late in the evening, starting with salads and antipasti, ending with fruit and sweets—all homemade. Anything “prepared” (except maybe dried pasta, or a potato chip) was sacrilege. When there was a warm early spring, we’d clear the yard with a hose and bucket to eat outside.
My parents were open-minded, curious, and cultured. I was taught about music and art, fine fabric and blown glass, and I was taught that these are things to be shared and celebrated. The same held true for food.
(My daughter, my mother, my grandmother, and me)
Every year at Easter, my mother and my grandmother would make cavatelli—mixing the dough, letting it rest, and then laboriously rolling hundreds and hundreds of them into the iconic shape (the name means “little hollows”).
One year I came home from school with my usual gang. When we opened the door, the cavatelli were all over the house, covering every surface. My friends were delighted as my mother explained that they were drying out for the upcoming Easter meal, but I was horrified. It was bad enough that I perpetually smelled like garlic, but now the whole school would know the truth: I wasn't cool. I was ethnic. I died a million cavatelli deaths that day.
My mother told my friends that if they wanted to eat the cavatelli, they should come back the next day when it was being served with marinara sauce in the clean outside dining room. And they all came back. My grandfather was kind of mad about it because he had envisioned leftovers for days, but there were none to be had.
That day my friends learned about our culture. I was too self-conscious to understand my mother’s inclusive and kind gesture then, but my friends did. Some of those people are still my friends, and they still remember our house and the pasta on the furniture. But, as most times in life when we open our hearts, they do not remember with judgment; they remember with fondness.
Aimee DeMartino Tapia is a sales and marketing consultant and partner at JAAC Promotions.
Here's the thing about my mother and grandmother: They never wrote anything down. So Martha Stewart’s version will have to do. She skips the drying-out and puts the cavatelli right into the refrigerator, something that my mother couldn't do because she made too much, and the fridge was filled with other stuff.
1 3/4 c. fine durum semolina flour, plus more for baking sheets
½ t. coarse salt
2 t. olive oil
1/2 c. water
Mix flour and salt on a clean surface, make a well in center, and gradually add water and oil, working flour into center until a dough forms.
If dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Knead dough until it is smooth and springs back when gently pressed, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic.
Sprinkle two rimmed baking sheets with semolina flour.
Divide dough into 8 pieces; keep covered with plastic wrap.
Roll one piece at a time into a long rope, about 1/3 inch in diameter, then cut rope into 1/3-inch-long pieces.
Using tips of index and middle fingers, firmly press each piece and pull dough toward you so it lengthens slightly and forms a curl in the middle.
Transfer pieces to baking sheets.
Repeat with remaining dough.
The cavatelli can be refrigerated, covered, up to 4 hours.
Or freeze on baking sheet; once firm, transfer to a resealable bag, and freeze up to 3 months. (There's no need to thaw before cooking.)
Or dry them all over your house.