Cavatelli with Broccoli al Limone, Traditional Dish from Puglia

This is my original recipe for lemony Cavatelli and Broccoli — inspired from the original at Emilia’s Deli in Newark, New Jersey. It’s become my favorite (and my Dad loves it when I make it for him too!)

When I was starting my career right out of college — long before I ever became a travel writer — I worked in Newark, New Jersey with victims of violent crime. It was an interesting first job to say the least. Newark was still a pretty rough city then, before some positive changes came about in the late 1980s and 90s.

Northern New Jersey is home to first-, second-, and longer generations of immigrants from all over Latin America, Europe, and Asia. And urban cities like Newark, Bloomfield, Livingston, and the Oranges in Essex County are especially diverse — all this lends itself to these neighborhoods having food that is delicious, and still authentic!

The food was my favorite part of working in the city. There were (and still are) some incredible ethnic neighborhoods all around Newark — especially in the largely Portuguese section known as Down Neck, or the Ironbound — with delicious and authentic food. Newark alone has some crazy good food places from Korean-owned salad bars (lunch by the pound), dumpling shops, and southern soul food diners, to Portuguese paella and Italian peasant food.

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Lemony Cavatelli and Broccoli

Lemony Cavatelli and Broccoli

>>> Read more about the fascinating history of Newark’s Ironbound section.

But I’ll never forget the first time my co-workers took me to Emilia’s Deli, a tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery where guests would sit at communal wooden tables and shout out your order to Emilia Spalliero herself who was usually at the stove.

She’d ladle up your order and by the time you helped yourself to a soda or water from the fridge and chunk of fresh bread from the basket, your lunch was waiting for you to dive in. There were usually two or three huge pots on the stove with dishes like pasta with red sauce, Italian wedding soup, or fish stew, with the specials of the day handwritten on a small board.

But she always had Cavatelli and Broccoli. I’d never had this dish growing up so I tried it, (even though the dish originated near Puglia where my grandmother’s family is from. Pasta dishes with cavatelli and orecchiette are famous in that region.) After that, every time we came, I’d have it again and again.

After I got married and moved away, I missed the dish so much I spent years perfecting the recipe from memory. Sadly, Emilia’s Deli is now gone, replaced with condos, and Emilia herself has passed on. This is as close to her Cavatelli and Broccoli as I can remember, with perhaps a few more drops of lemon for good measure.

If you’ve never had Cavatelli and Broccoli, give it a try. I guarantee you’ve never had it like this. The soft broccoli and lemon combo coats the cavatelli for a comforting Italian dish. While you can use dry pasta, the frozen cavatelli in the frozen food section is so much better.

I thank Emilia from my heart for her gift of Italian cooking!


Cavatelli and Broccoli


One medium onion, chopped

2 fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp pepperoncino (crushed red pepper), if desired

One full head of fresh broccoli cut into rough 1” florets. You can use frozen or pre-cut florets (but cut them all to 1” pieces) but fresh is always better. Be sure and peel the main stem of broccoli and slice into thin discs

Juice from one fresh lemon

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

One 12 oz bag of frozen cavatelli (in the frozen food section)

One Tblsp fresh chopped Italian parsley

One tablespoon cornstarch, for thickening

Garnish: grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese, and pepperoncino (crushed red pepper)


Put a pot of water on for pasta, and simmer water until sauté mixture is complete.

In a microwave-safe dish, add a few tablespoons of water to the broccoli and steam (loosely covered) on the Fresh Veggie setting, or on High for 4 to 5 minutes. You want the broccoli soft but still bright green (not al dente, or browned on the edges). Set aside.

Sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add crushed red pepper to the mixture, if desired.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock to the pan, reserving 1/2 cup for the end. Add lemon juice and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to low simmer.

Cook frozen cavatelli according to instructions.

About 2 minutes before cavatelli are finished cooking, add cornstarch to remaining 1/2 cup of chicken stock (make sure stock is cool, not hot) and whisk with a fork until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to chicken stock, bring to a slight boil to thicken. Return to low simmer.

When cavatelli are done cooking, remove with a spider strainer one ladle at a time, and add directly to the thickened chicken stock. Do not rinse with water! Stir cavatelli until coated.

Stir in steamed broccoli and cook entire mixture for several minutes over low heat and allow the flavors to meld. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with grated cheese and/or crushed red pepper if desired.