|Agnolotti at Mémé|
Priest stranglers. Guitar wires. Love letters. Imaginative pasta-makers have been giving their cuts creative names for centuries, and the Italian renaissance that's currently sweeping this city (Barbuzzo, Zavino, Amis, etc.) has carb-lovers confronted with shapes that are hard enough to pronounce, let alone visualize.
"We're definitely seeing a trend toward unique shapes and cuts," says Pete Severino, whose family's Westmont, N.J., pastaficcio has been rolling, pulling, pinching and brass-die-extruding 200 types of pastas for the past 40 years. "Because [cooking] is getting back to grassroots, the appeal of many of these pastas is how old-school they are."
Severino is always on the hunt for unusual pastas he can broker to local restaurants. On a recent trip to Bologna, he discovered gramigna ("little weed") and had his brass man in Brooklyn cast a die for the fiddlehead-shaped twists. (They're now on Adam DeLosso's menu at Garces Trading Co.) "As more and more pasta shapes go mainstream, I keep trying to search out the funkiest cuts and stay ahead of the curve." Which means more and more Italian tongue-tanglers are coming soon to a restaurant near you. Let this primi primer prepare you for the pastas we're seeing on menus right now, from postage stamps to handkerchiefs.
Eat It: Mémé (2201 Spruce St.)
According to Mémé's David Katz, the difference between agnolotti (pictured, above) and ravioli is that the former employ a single sheet of pasta folded over itself, while the latter require a second sheet. Piedmontese housewives make agnolotti, which can be triangular or crescent-shaped, one by one, but Katz and crew follow a more modern method, rolling out a long belt of pasta, piping the filling — currently butternut squash, onion, egg yolk, nutmeg and Reggiano — down half the belt and folding the naked side over the fillings. Once pinched and cut, Katz lets the filling shine by keeping the sauce straightforward: sage-brown butter and a priestly anointing of emerald-green Styrian pumpkin seed oil.
Eat It: Osteria (640 N. Broad St.)
These ravioli relatives are just slightly larger than their lick-to-stick namesake. "This pasta is always on the menu [at Osteria]," says chef/co-owner Jeff Michaud, who plumps the translucent postage stamps with a mix of sticky Robiola and nutty Parmigiano tied together with beaten egg. "We toss [the francobolli] in the sauce," a simple simmer of butter, thyme, garlic and pasta water boosted with sautéed royal trumpets, "and top it with more grated Parm."
Eat It: Le Virtu (1927 E. Passyunk Ave.)
These 3-by-3-inch diamonds are as rustic as pasta gets, essentially rolled out dough cut (or torn) into thin kites. Le Virtu's Joe Cicala works fresh parsley into his semolina-free fazzoletti dough of eggs and 00 flour, which gives the peasant pasta a pretty green speckling before they're boiled and tossed with luxe Long Island duck ragu spiced with juniper berry, rosemary, battuto, black pepper and cloves.
|Pansotti at Paradiso|
Eat It: Paradiso ( 1627 E. Passyunk Ave. )
With their corners folded over each other like a glutton cradling his overfed stomach, it's no wonder pansotti (pictured, right) means pot-bellied in Italian. This fat-filled pasta is a specialty of Genoa, as well as Paradiso, where chef/owner Lynn Rinaldi plumps pansotti with sheep's milk ricotta and dresses them in a traditional sauce made from crushed walnuts, toasted bread crumbs, garlic and grated Parm.
Scrigno de Venere
Venus' Jewel Case
Eat It: James (824 S. Eighth St.)
This jewelry box isn't so much a cut of pasta as a pasta dish, but it's too cool not to include. "I read about Venus' jewel case a long time ago in one of my favorite cookbooks," says chef Jim Burke, who added the sexy bundles to his menu after introducing it at a collabo dinner with Blackfish's Chip Roman. "There was a strictly-pasta restaurant in Bologna, and this was their specialty." Burke takes housemade spinach fettuccine in bacon-studded, bottarga-scented cauliflower béchamel and gift-wraps the just-shy-of-al-dente noodles in a wide round of thin, cooked pasta by bringing up the circle's sides and pleating the edges. Egg-washed and dusted in breadcrumbs and Parmigiano, the cases go into a buttered gratin dish and bake until golden.
Translation: Priest Stranglers
Eat It: Barbuzzo (110 S. 13th St.)
Legend says the Catholic clergy that first ate these hand-rolled, 2-inch twists consumed them so quickly they choked to death. Some strozzapreti doughs call for Parmigiano and egg whites, but at Barbuzzo, Marcie Turney uses just semolina and water to make the stranglers she tops with perky preserved lemon-and-walnut pesto, Blue Moon Acres wild arugula, Roman sheep's milk ricotta and roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. "It's one of our most popular pastas," Turney says, "especially because we can easily make it vegan by omitting the ricotta." (See our review of Barbuzzo.)
|Stradette at Modo Mio|
Eat It: Modo Mio (161 W. Girard Ave.)
Stradette (pictured, above) are long pappardelle-like noodles whose bright yellow color comes from cornmeal, an everyday ingredient in Piedmont, where this pasta comes from. "It's a traditional Piedmontese pasta," says chef Peter McAndrews, who serves the pasta at his Modo Mio. "I'd never even seen stradette stateside." The cornmeal gives the noodles a natural sweetness McAndrews cuts with sautéed leeks, meaty porcini, nutmeg and cream.
Eat It: Garces Trading Co. ( 1111 Locust St. )
The loosely coiled short-cuts Pete Severino brought back from Bologna just debuted on the menu at Garces Trading Co., where chef Adam DeLosso deals the curls a wintry goat Bolognese fortified with Sangiovese and topped with salty Sardinian goat's-milk Pantaleo cheese.