Cavatelli and Broccoli – the right way

If you’re going to make cavatelli and broccoli the right way, you first need to learn to say it the right way.

Your eye scans the menu and your immediate response is oh! Ca-va-tell-ee! I haven’t had that in ages.

But say it with me now. Ga-va-deal.

What rules of pronunciation dictate that the ca becomes a ga?

I don’t know. But that’s the way my family says it. That’s the way I grew up saying it.

So I kind of cringe when I hear ca-va-tell-ee. Much the same way I cringe when I hear sauce instead of gravy or ca-know-lee instead of ga-nawl.

Is it the region of Italy we’re from? Is it the town in which we settled upon arrival to the States?


It’s probably just my family.

But I digress.

Cavatelli and broccoli.

The right way.

Okay before I can tell you how to make it, I have to let you in on the little inside joke about making it the right way.

My Grandma Grace (my mom’s mom) is one of four sisters. She had brothers too, a big Catholic Italian family, but it’s the sisters that are important in this story.

I grew up with a very Italian grandma and three very Italian great-aunts.

My mom grew up with a very Italian mother and three very Italian aunts.

When I say very Italian what I mean is very loud, very bossy, very opinionated, very loving, and did I mention very loud?

One louder than the other.

I laugh when my Auntie Anna calls me and says “Jacky, it’s your Auntie Anna.” Oh trust me, Auntie Anna. I know it’s you.  I would know that voice anywhere.

These aren’t your average hard-headed and head-strong Italian women. These are Romano women. They are a breed unto themselves.

When my great grandmother was told she could no longer go to Florida by herself, she shrugged and said, fine, then I’ll die.

And guess what, despite her good health, she did.

She willed herself to die. Stubborn woman.

The Romano women are the strongest most independent women I have met in my life and I am grateful to count them as family and as role models.

They taught my mom, and later me, how to run a household, how to stand on your own two feet, how to hold your ground, how to support yourself, and how to curse.

They also taught us how to cook. It’s their recipes that I turn to most often.

So the cavatelli.

My mom always cooked for the whole family for Christmas. Aunts, Uncles, Great-Aunts, Great-Uncles, Grandparents, they all piled into our house.

And our house shook with their voices.

And I usually hid upstairs in my room. (Only child, remember?)

Christmas dinner starts at 2 O’clock with antipasti, moves onto pasta around 4 O’clock, continues with Turkey and the trimmings around 6 O’clock and concludes with coffee and dessert some time around 8 O’clock. There is copious amounts of wine necessary in between.

After the marathon of eating, and the even more intense marathon of cooking required to turn out the spread, everyone would contentedly sit back and thank my mom for the meal.

With one exception.

My Aunt Josie was the oldest of my grandma’s siblings. She never married. She worked as a waitress and had a big old house in Orange that everyone at one time or other lived in and that she later rented out to boarders.

She was a pip.

(When we went through her house when she sold it to downsize, there was a sign in one of the drawers that said “Keep the F* out. This means you.” My mom laminated and has it in her office now.)

She looked at my mom one Christmas, after my mom had slaved away over four courses of delicious food, and said, next time, if you want to make the cavatelli the right way…

The right way!

My mom and I will always and forever tease each other and ask the other if she is making the recipe the right way.

Recently I asked her, what is the right way?

She didn’t know.

I called my Grandma. Grandma, what’s the right way to make cavatelli?

Well, this is how I make it, was her response.

Meaning, well, my way is the right way.

I don’t think any of us know the right way to make it anymore, since Aunt Josie left us a few years ago. Maybe she’s making it the right way for St. Anthony. Maybe if we pray to St. Anthony we will find the right way to make it.

(For you non-Italians, Anthony is the Saint you pray to when you lose something. Don’t believe me?  Next time you lose something, say “”St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something’s been lost and cannot be found.” I lost the bracelet my boyfriend gave me for our one year anniversary (twice, once in Port Authority and once in Duane Reade) and after praying to St. Anthony, I got it back (twice).

But I don’t want to bother him about the recipe.

Instead, I’ll make it Grandma’s way and I’ll call it the right way.

This is a fantastic recipe for those nights when you think take out is the only option. It’s super fast and pretty much fool proof. And because it can be served hot or cold, it’s also a great recipe to make ahead if you know it’s going to be one of those weeks where you’ll be lucky to get out the door with two matching shoes. You can also dish this out into Tupperware for a grab and go lunch.

For cavatelli and broccoli you will need:

  • Cavatelli
  • Broccoli
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic

See, four ingredients. Super easy. You can add parmesan cheese at the end if you want, but that’s entirely up to you.

Also, this is a one pot meal since you’re going to cook the broccoli and the cavatelli in the same water.

So bring a pot of water to a boil.

Chop the broccoli into bit-size florets and drop into the water once it is boiling.

You don’t want to overcook the broccoli here. You want it to still be crisp. Give it 30 seconds to a minute tops, then scoop out of the water and into a big bowl.


Set aside the broccoli and add the cavatelli to the boiling water.

There is a lot of debate surrounding pasta water. To salt or not to salt?

I’ve seen Scott Conant rip chefs to shreds on Chopped when they don’t salt the water.

So I am going to quietly and quickly say that I don’t salt my water, but it’s because my grandma doesn’t either.

Scott, you can’t yell at my grandma. And you can’t yell at me because I am making this dish her way.

While the cavatelli cooks (follow the instructions on the packet for time), dice up two or three cloves of garlic. We’re not cooking the garlic, so you want as small a dice as possible.


When the cavatelli is cooked, drain and pour the hot pasta over the broccoli.


Drizzle with olive oil to coat and then add the garlic. A few grinds of black pepper can be added, too, if you wish.

Toss to combine. The pasta will warm the olive oil and the garlic and form a sauce that will coat the crisp broccoli and the tender cavatelli.


If you want a burst of freshness, you can squeeze half a lemon over the warm pasta. Or, you can sprinkle over a handful of parmesan. Or you can get crazy and do both.

Serve hot, immediately. Or refrigerate for a cold dish later.

Much as we joke about there being a right way to make the dish, the truth is that the beauty of cooking is that you can take your family’s recipes and make them your own. Adjust seasonings to suit your tastes. Add a twist that’s uniquely yours.


If anyone gives you trouble, you just channel Frank Sinatra and say, Hey, I did it my way!

36 thoughts on “Cavatelli and Broccoli – the right way

  1. Pingback: Itty Bitty City Kitchen - The SITS Girls

  2. Hi! I came over from SITS girls! I might have missed it, but I couldn’t find your name….so make sure you add it in somewhere. Maybe add a little bit of your about to your home page too and link to your about.

    I really loved some of the recipes I checked out and I love your writing! I think that is what really grabbed me and that is what can set a blogger apart. Great how you shared a story from your family with the recipe.

    Here’s some other things to do as you grow. Start your post with a good picture right away or almost right away to lure us in. Make your pictures bigger. Add Pinterest because you can really get followers from there, especially with good recipes. Add your blog to bloglovin.

    That’s it for now! Best of luck blogging and I’ll start to follow you!

  3. Oh my gosh!! Ga-va-deal for sure!! My grandma would be so proud. I grew up with this and then I started to hear Cavatelli and I’m all…what’s that?? This is GREAT! Love your site.

  4. I’ve been pronouncing it wrong… sigh. This is so simple and I’m sure even kids would like it. Thanks for posting!

  5. We Irish Catholics rely on ST. Anthony quite a bit too! Thanks for sharing him! LOL! I love the images of your family together at holidays. It used to be the same in my family only the wine was beer and, well, the food wasn’t nearly as good. This recipe sounds just right for those crazy days you need something quick. Thanks! Happy SITS Day!

  6. This looks nice and easy … and delicious. Everyone in my family, right down to the youngest kiddo, loves broccoli.

    I really enjoyed reading the back story your provided too. Sounds like you come form a family full of strong and magnificent women!

  7. Okay- this is the BEST recipe and post with an incredible story line EVER!!! i am in love with you. Seriously love you. I love your writing and your family history and every piece of your perspective!!! YAY!! Oh, and this recipe is easy enough for me to try!! BONUS. But I will definitely have to practice saying it.
    You ROCK my new friend!!

  8. Loved reading about your family tradition and how much your poor mama cooked…bless her. The recipe sounds easy enough and since I am helping my daughter with her supper, this will be added to the menu! Thanks! Love your blog, too…will be following along…:)

  9. HILAR! OK – I’m one of the ones that mispronounces everything but I need to learn how to pronounce it correctly, esp. as I go to the Italian Market so often. As for peeps ripping into you re: salt the water vs. not salt the water – you are doing it “your way” and if they have grief – send them my way and I’m sure a good stiletto whap will set them straight 🙂

    I love how simple this recipe is – a few quality ingredients and you have a stellar dish

  10. I enjoyed that so much! Will try to remember Ga-nawl. However, I just know when I ask for it, someone will say, “You mean Ca-know-lee?” I still remember, years ago, asking for a ni-coy-see salad. The huge football-player-looking boy behind the counter said, “Do you mean Nee-swa?”

  11. First – the recipe looks delicious and right up my alley – easy!!!
    But – I love your style – your background story drew me in and I can’t wait to read more!!!
    Happy SITS day!!

  12. looks so yummy and love your story! Food is so much more than just food isn’t it? ox

  13. Great stories! Love the teach on how to pronounce the words. Hope you had a great SITS day. Glad to meet another story-telling food lover. Pop by my blog sometime and say hi. Glad to meet you virtually!

  14. That was very entertaining! I don’t particularly care for cooking (actually, I hate it), so recipe blogs are not my favorite. I must say you made it worth the read. I’m sure I’ll never prepare “ga-va-deal,” but I may come back to re-read your story just for the fun of it.

    • I’m sorry to hear you hate cooking. You know, you can come for the sotries and pass the recipes on to a family member and ask them to make dinner for you : )

  15. A friend of mine who is Italian talks about cavatelli each year around the holidays because it is a tradition her family. Thank you for helping me figure what it is! She would talk about and I tried to look it up, couldn’t figure out the spelling!

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