Friday, June 17, 2011


A cavarola is a carved wooden board used to make pasta. In Basilicata, a deeply ridged cavatelli called orecchie di prete is made by rolling a small cylinder of dough across a cavarola. The pasta’s plump, lobed shape resembles its namesake, priest’s ears. Head east into Puglia and you will find a completely different shape: a rectangular pasta that is made by pressing a flat piece of dough into a cavarola. The resulting shape is called stracenate.

Giuliano Bugialli in Bugialli on Pasta [1988] describes stracenate (also called stracnar) as “attractive pasta rectangles, which are patterned in herringbone with a suggestive antique board called a cavarola….” Bugialli continues: “some semolina is mixed in with white flour, but the pasta is rich with egg. This is another of those great old pastas that must be made manually and is disappearing, but let us work to revive it.”

That stracenate risks disappearing is lamentable. It is a handsome, ridged pasta that holds a range of sauces well. It is also one of the few traditional Southern Italian pastas made with a combination of wheat flours and eggs (as opposed to only durum-wheat flour and water). Yet Bugialli’s exhortation hints at a possible reason for stracenate’s possible demise. Although not difficult to make, stracenate takes a good deal of time. First you make a dough that you roll out to create a thin sheet of pasta; next you hand cut out tens of small rectangles; and finally, you individually press each piece of pasta onto a cavarola.

And then there is the cavarola. Before the Internet opened up the world, finding a cavarola in the United States (and likely elsewhere) was difficult. Now there are websites in the United States and abroad that sell rare artisan pasta tools like cavarola boards, corzetti stamps and garganelli combs.

Here is the dough recipe that I use to make approximately 1 pound of stracenate. Variables such as temperature, humidity and variations in flour and eggs can affect pasta dough. You may need to slightly adjust the amount of flour or perhaps add a bit of water to correct your dough.
  • 200 grams Caputo tipo 00 flour
  • 100 grams Giusto’s Extra Fancy durum flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt

Making stracenate is similar to making pappardelle with the following differences: (1) mix the durum and tipo 00 flour together before sifting the flour; and (2) after rolling the dough through setting No. 6 (the penultimate setting on an Atlas 150), cut the sheet with a knife or fluted pastry wheel into rectangular pieces that are approximately 1-inch wide and 2¼-inches long. With the tips of your fingers or the heel of your palm, press each piece of pasta onto a cavarola to create the pasta’s distinctive herringbone pattern. Place the stracenate on baking sheets coated with course semolina flour to rest for approximately 1 hour before cooking. This brief drying period helps the pasta to retain its decorative pattern when cooked.

No doubt to Mr. Bugialli’s delight there is evidence that stracenate is making a comeback. The 2011 English translation of Monica Sartoni Cesari’s Italy Dish by Dish [2005] has the following entry in its section on Puglia and Basilicata for stracenate: “It’s…the name of [a] pasta shape that’s made with flour, lardo and water. The shapes are made by rolling rectangular pieces of dough using a ridged rectangular wooden utensil that leaves a pattern on the pasta.” Stracenate’s inclusion in this excellent resource guide bodes well for the pasta’s future.

I have served stracenate with a number of different sauces. A favorite combination is stracenate with a pork sugo made with dry-farmed tomatoes. Bugialli on Pasta pairs stracenate with a classic Southern Italian sauce of cherry tomatoes, anchovies and toasted bread crumbs.