Savor the flavors of Florence in my Cavatappi with Creamy Tomato Sauce. No passport required!

As some of you may know, I’ve dubbed myself a “reluctant exerciser,” and finding motivation is essential when you’re in the kitchen all day with amazing food.

For some, that little nudge into the gym may be a great playlist blasting in their ears; for others it’s an encouraging friend who holds you accountable for your daily walk. I’ve found inspiration in a powerful, four-word mantra that works on even the most non-motivated days, that answers the question “why” when I’d rather dig into a good book than jump on the treadmill – “Because I love pasta!”

That love affair is a deep-rooted one for all sizes and shapes, simply sauced or stuffed, sprinkled with cheese of one delicious variety or another.

This Cavatappi with Creamy Tomato Sauce recipe showcases an elegant, rich tomato sauce, spiked with cream and red pepper, and I serve it on top of a unique pasta that may need a little introduction.

Let’s talk about cavatappi.

The cavatappi pronunciation is “cah-vah-TOP-pee,” and it’s a helical, tube-shaped pasta, about one-inch long, with ridges on the sides.

The literal cavatappi definition is “tap extractor” (yes, like a beer keg), and this cavatappi “corkscrew” with tons of surface area is especially suited for clinging to sauce like its life depended on it. It’s the perfect home for big ladles of my creamy tomato sauce, instantly transporting you to the patio of some romantic trattoria in the heart of Tuscany.

Bellissimo.

Chefs and home cooks alike love this fun pasta, so there are plenty of cavatappi pasta recipes to choose from, even ones you may have enjoyed at some popular restaurants.

There’s the cavatappi Applebee’s serves with three different cheeses, basically a cavatappi mac and cheese, with roasted chicken. Red Lobster’s version, lobster cavatappi, has a light, roasted garlic sauce with shrimp and lobster. Cavatappi amatriciana (named for the Italian city Amatrice) is Carrabba’s version and is tomato-based with little bits of crispy pancetta, an unsmoked Italian bacon.

My Cavatappi with Creamy Tomato Sauce has more in common with Carrabba’s version than the others, but I think you’ll find my sauce is heartier and richer, enough to satisfy even that clingy pasta.

The recipe does have a few ingredients, but the only real effort required is a little chopping and some patience while the sauce simmers. Just pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready for the amazing smells that will be coming out of your kitchen soon!

Sautéed onions are first layer of flavor, slowly browned to caramelize and release their sugar, along with red pepper flakes for a very sublte hint of heat, and some chopped prosciutto.

If you’re not familiar with this Italian ham, it’s dried rather than cooked, sliced paper thin, and usually served on a charcuterie plate or wrapped around a piece of melon or other fruit (though it also makes a great pizza topping, since the thin slices get really crispy when baked).

Many classic Italian tomato sauces use either pancetta or prosciutto to provide that savory, meaty-quality without having to add so much meat. Pancetta is just a fattier choice, so I like to use prosciutto in this particular recipe.

There’s fresh garlic, of course, but only enough to provide subtle flavor, not enough for an all-night reminder of what you had for supper.

One of the things that sets my Cavatappi with Creamy Tomato Sauce apart from other recipes is using three different sources of tomatoes: 1) crushed – light, bright, and acidic; 2) sundried – bright but intense and sweet; and 3) paste – rich and full-bodied.

These three types of tomatoes build layers of flavor you just won’t appreciate until you take that first bite.

Don’t forget the wine! I use a crisp, light white instead of the red you might expect in this cavattapi pasta dish. Red would certainly add to the depth of flavor with its robust qualities, but white wine highlights the fruitiness with just a touch of sweetness. I think it enhances rather than competes with the sauce.

To finish off my Cavatappi with Creamy Tomato Sauce, I add a bit of cream to mellow out the flavors in the most perfect way, along with fresh basil, the hallmark of a classic Italian dish (a little freshly grated Parmesan wouldn’t hurt either).

I think it’s pretty amazing such a magnificent meal can come together practically in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta, so definitely don’t be intimated by the list of ingredients.

Soon you’ll be sitting down to a dazzling dinner and thinking this wonderful bowl of pasta might just be enough to get YOU to the gym tomorrow!

RECIPE NOTES:

Sauciest of sauces – Saving the cooking water to use in the sauce is an old chef’s trick.  The cooking water is enriched with the flavor of the pasta and concentrated starch released as the pasta cooks. Adding it to the sauce creates a silky texture that embraces the pasta perfectly. It’s truly is a magical ingredient. The recipe calls for adjusting the consistency of the sauce as needed, and I find I use about ¼ cup of the pasta water. The sauce stays nice and thick while still being thin enough to distribute evenly.

Stickler for instructions – The instructions on this recipe aren’t hard, but you do need to follow them. Don’t rush the onions. If they don’t brown well or if they burn, you’ll miss out on important flavor development. Note also that both the crushed tomatoes and the white wine are added in two stages. This is important to allow the flavors to develop a bit with the first addition, while preserving the wonderful fresh qualities of the additions made just before serving.

Pasta substitutes – If you just can’t find cavatappi, you can substitute fusilli regate, penne rigate, or penne mostaccioli. Just remember when looking for an alternative to cavatappi, smooth noodles won’t do. Make sure you find something with those sauce-carrying ridges!

Basil – I definitely recommend using fresh basil for this dish. There’s a bright quality that just can’t be duplicated with dry, not to mention the gorgeous green color. If you chop yours ahead of time, those green leaves will brown, though. Don’t worry – while this color doesn’t match the Italian flag anymore, it won’t impact the flavor.

More Sauce Recipes?

Tzatziki Sauce –  Thick, rich and creamy flavored with garlic, lemon and dill.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce – Perfectly spiced and sweetened, thick sauce!