Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chili Cavatelli

This creamy basil & calabrian chili cavatelli is a spicy bowl of pasta goodness. Pillowy cavatelli pasta tossed in a silky-smooth sauce that’s full of rich flavor. The sauce comes together effortlessly and is ready by the time the cavatelli is done boiling. This is one of those pasta dishes that you’ll be making over and over again.

Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chile Cavatelli on a serving platter

ingredients for Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chile Cavatelli measured out

creamy basil & calabrian chili cavatelli – the inspiration

There’s a little specialty Italian store near me that I love to go to when I need some inspiration. They sell imported Italian products, many of which you can’t get at a larger grocery store. Everything about the place feels so authentic.

I recently picked up a jar of calabrian chili peppers and immediately wanted a big bowl of spicy, creamy pasta. These chiles are grown in the Italian region of Calabria. They’re packed with heat and give a robust, bold spiciness to any dish.

I like to buy them chopped and packed in olive oil. They are the perfect addition to sauces, aiolis, vinaigrettes, flavored butters, chopped salads, etc. If you can’t find a store nearby that sells them, you can also order them online.

cavatelli in a skillet being tossed with the pasta sauce

What I love about this dish is that the sauce comes together in just the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. I recommend prepping all of the ingredients before you start cooking to make the process as seamless as possible.

You’ll start by cooking shallots and garlic in butter until soft and caramelized. Fennel seeds, tomato paste, and the calabrian chili peppers go in next, giving the sauce plenty of flavor. Heavy cream and starchy water simmer with those ingredients for just a couple of minutes before the cavatelli pasta is added in.

Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chile Cavatelli on a serving platter

Cavatelli is a type of short pasta that resembles stretched out shells. When cooked, they’re extremely soft and pillowy, with a carved out center that effortlessly traps the sauce.

Make sure to cook the cavatelli for a minute less than the package’s instructions so that it can finish cooking in the sauce, absorbing all of the spicy tomato flavor.

The final additions include lots of fresh basil, oregano, and parmesan cheese that melts right into the sauce. Serve it up with more herbs on top and dig in!


Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chili Cavatelli

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cavatelli pasta tossed in a creamy basil & calabrian chili tomato sauce

servings: 4-6


  • 1 lb cavatelli pasta
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • kosher salt
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp calabrian chili peppers (crushed in oil)
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly cracked black pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Prep all of your ingredients.
  2. Drop the cavatelli and cook for 1 minute less than the package’s instructions.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a 12” stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Add the butter. Once melted, add the shallots. Cook for about 2 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for another minute or so until caramelized and tender, stirring often. Season with a good pinch of salt.
  4. Stir in the fennel seeds, tomato paste, and calabrian chili peppers and cook for another minute or so. Pour in the cream. Retrieve a ½ cup (plus a little extra on the side if needed) of starchy pasta water and add it to the sauce. Stir well to combine. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for a minute or so to thicken.
  5. Stir in the oregano and basil. Season with a pinch of salt. Drain the pasta, add it straight to the sauce, and stir to combine. Gradually add in the parmesan cheese, stirring until it melts and the sauce clings to the pasta. (If the sauce is too loose, raise the heat to medium and continue to stir until it thickens. If it’s too thick, add in a little more pasta water.)
  6. Plate the pasta with freshly cracked black pepper over top. Optionally, garnish with basil leaves and more parmesan.

Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chile Cavatelli on a serving platter

6 thoughts on “Creamy Basil & Calabrian Chili Cavatelli

  1. As a herb aficionado I love all the fresh herbs in your recipes! Hubby and I loved this dish and will be our go to when craving a creamy tomato pasta dish.

    1. I’m so glad to hear! I truly love utilizing fresh herbs – I think they add such great freshness and a much deeper flavor to any dish. Thanks for the feedback! – Kayla

  2. So delicious! Wonderfully spicy, I think next time I’ll add 2.5 tablespoons of the peppers instead of 2. I also added Italian sausage. This will become a repeat recipe in this house!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Sarah! I LOVE adding sausage to this recipe. So glad you enjoyed!

  3. Amazing flavors, but brutally hot with the Calabrian chilies! Can’t wait to make it again, but probably with only one tablespoon instead of two!

    1. Hi Katie – thanks for the feedback! The peppers definitely pack in a lot of heat. I hope you enjoy it a little less spicy next time!

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