Reinventing the Noodle

Beet Mezzaluna from Macchialina.
Beet Mezzaluna from Macchialina. Macchialina

Everyone’s favorite carbohydrate is going in new directions—and getting back to basics.

It used to be that all pasta menus were created more or less equal: spaghetti with meat sauce, fettucini alfredo, maybe a linguine with clam sauce. But no more. These days, restaurants are taking this familiar starch to new heights, using its mild flavor, approachable reputation, and long history as a blank slate for innovation. 

“Pasta is the ultimate carrier of comfort food,” says chef Richard Keys, cofounder of Food & Drink Resources, a culinary development company. “We’re trying to evolve pasta beyond what people know it to be.” As Keys puts it, it’s about pulling comfort forward. That might mean simple changes like new cuts and shapes, or smaller pastas that can take the place of rice as a carrier for Indian dishes. Or it might mean introducing new flavors, like a pork carnitas pasta, tikka masala pasta, or a chimichurri sauce over pasta. Keys is also experimenting with incorporating soft cheeses like Ricotta flavored with garlic or chili. 

Riccardo Felicetti, president of the International Pasta Organisation, is seeing a rise in regional curiosity. Traditional shapes like fusilloni, conchiglioni, and spaghettoni—“oni” means big—are increasing in demand. That pasta is growing in high-end restaurants at all is notable, Felicetti says. Ten to 15 years ago, in Italy, “we had pasta only in specific kinds of restaurants, never in starred restaurants,” he says. “You could have it at home. You went to a starred restaurant for foie gras or caviar or whatever you couldn’t have at home.” 

At pasta brand Barilla, one of chef Lorenzo Boni’s favorite dishes is the classic Roman-style Cacio e Pepe, which uses a different, milder heat: black pepper. 

“That’s a big hit right now,” he says. Indeed, it’s even being experimented with by global chefs like David Chang, whose new restaurant Nishi features Ceci e Pepe, a riff on the classic made with chickpea pasta. Boni makes his with bucatini, a popular choice right now. People also love long cuts of pasta, he says, and bucatini is newer to people and has a thicker, meatier texture than spaghetti. Barilla’s is extruded through a bronze die for a rougher surface. 

On the shorter end of the spectrum, shapes like casarecce, a Sicilian pasta long considered traditional in Italy, is gaining on the U.S. market, Boni says. It’s often served with Sicilian pesto, made with Ricotta, tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, and basil. It’s also great with seafood, like a swordfish and eggplant ragout. “It pairs well with sun-kissed sauces and smooth pestos,” Boni says. 

Silvia Cianci, chef at Missouri-based pasta producer Louisa Foods, says another riff on the classic spaghetti that’s now popping up is spaghetti alla chitarra. Chitarra translates to “guitar,” and the pasta gets its name from the instrument that’s used to cut it, which looks similar to the chords of a guitar. Sheets of pasta are pressed through the “chords,” creating a square (instead of round) pasta. In Cianci’s native Abruzzo region of Italy, it’s typically served with shrimp, crab, mussels, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and garlic. 

Cianci is also a fan of agnolotti del plin right now, which features tiny, pinched ravioli typically stuffed with veal and cabbage. Indeed, Cianci is seeing a rise in the use of vegetables within pasta, especially bitter ones like cabbage, cauliflower, and escarole. With meat, she’s seeing a tendency toward intense, lengthy preparations, like braised lamb. 



interesting article with lots of good information about pasta dishes...

Treasure Trove of Innovation


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