In this dish, the cavatelli are dressed with a sauce of fresh fava beans, always a great treat in season. Another special ingredient here is ricotta salata, or salted ricotta, a marvelous product made from fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta that is pressed, dried, and aged for a few months, until fairly firm, retaining the mild, milky taste of fresh ricotta yet with more complexity. It is a traditional accompaniment to fresh favas—a delicious pairing you will taste here—but ricotta salata is a great final seasoning on many other pastas as well. As I instruct in this recipe, ricotta salata is best grated on top of the pasta just before you serve it. Put a chunk of it on the table with the grater, and let people shower on more ricotta salata as they dig deeper into their bowls.
- 4 pounds fresh fava beans in the pods
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
- 4 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 1 batch (1½ pounds) Fresh Cavatelli or 1 pound dried pasta
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino 6-to- 8- ounce chunk ricotta salata
You will need a medium saucepan for blanching the favas; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger; a large pasta pot; a hand grater with large shredding holes (a flat, box, or rotary grater); 1 wire strainer.
To blanch the favas:
Fill the pasta pot with 4 quarts water, and heat to a boil. Split open the fava pods, and collect the beans, still covered with a thick skin. When the water is boiling, drop in the favas, and blanch them for 2 minutes, just until they turn green and the skin has loosened. Lift out the beans with a wire strainer, and drop them into a bowl of ice water, to set the color. When they’re chilled, drain the beans and peel off the skins; you should have about 3 cups of fully peeled favas. Now pour at least 2 more quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt into the hot blanching water, and heat again to the boil, to cook the cavatelli.
To make the sauce:
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, and set it over medium heat. Stir in the onion, garlic, and peperoncino. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Ladle a cup or so of the pasta cooking water into the skillet, and simmer until the onion begins to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Spill in the favas, and season with the salt, ladle in another 3 cups of pasta water, and bring to a steady simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the favas are very tender and beginning to break down and thicken the sauce. Keep the sauce barely simmering while you cook the pasta.
With the pasta water at a rolling boil, drop in the cavatelli, stir, and return quickly to a boil. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the cavatelli are al dente, lift them out with a spider or strainer, drain briefly, and spill them into the skillet. Toss well, to coat the cavatelli evenly with the fava dressing. Turn off the heat, sprinkle over skillet the grated pecorino, and toss again. Heap the cavatelli in warm bowls, and shred the ricotta salata chunk through the large holes of the hand grater, showering slivers on each serving.
Serve immediately, passing the rest of the chunk of ricotta salata and the grater at the table, for adding seasoning as needed.