There is pasta and then there is pasta. I could turn away a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs anytime without even a second glance. But when we talk about the good stuff, the stuff in Italy that is made with the utmost attention to detail, trying to resist is futile. I head to the restaurant determined to order a platter of grilled vegetables and a single glass of wine. Then I see the steaming plates of pasta sailing by in a waiter’s hand and I surrender. There is a beauty to Italian pasta dishes – sublime in their simplicity, the best of the best contain no more than 4 ingredients.
At the risk of causing a riot, there are several pasta dishes I could go without. It’s really just a personal preference, but fettucine alfredo just doesn’t do it for me nor does lasagna or bucatini all’amatriciana. I will gladly head straight to the meat course and pass on the aforementioned. But then there are those that are legendary.
Here are 10 reasons why I will never be completely committed to Dr. Atkins (and a few of the best places to eat them) …
- Penne all’arrabbiata – there is almost nothing more basic than this pasta dish. Tomatoes, crushed red pepper, garlic and onion. Head to da Francesco near the Piazza Navona in Rome for the best plate of arrabbiata around (oh, and their pizza bianca with prosciutto as an appetizer is a must).
- Umbrichelli con tartufo – homemade pasta from the region of Umbria that is then tossed with an olive oil and truffle sauce. Then, when it is brought to the table an angel comes around and shaves fresh truffles over the top. I have to wear a bib when I write this because the memory of it makes me salivate. My favorite truffle pasta can be found in one of my favorite towns in the world, Orvieto. Don’t miss lunch at La Palomba (closed on Wednesday)
- Ravioli with pear and pecorino stuffing – Pears and Pecorino cheese are a magical combination. Stuff that pairing into a homemade ravioli tossed in a light butter/oil sauce and it is lifted to a whole other level. I first had this at Coquinarius in Florence and it was delicious. I am sure there is some off the beaten path trattoria in southern Tuscany that makes it even better, but I haven’t found it yet. Don’t worry, I’ll keep looking. In the name of research.
- Spaghetti alle vongole veraci – little tiny clams tossed in an oil, garlic and crushed red pepper sauce. The clams stay in the shells so you look really good, as if you are exercising incredible restraint while you really are just separating the sweet seafood from the shell.
- Trofie al pesto – trofie are spiral shaped homemade pasta from the region of Liguria. They shape allows them to pair perfectly with pesto, also from the region, as the gorgeous green sauce gets nestled in the spirals just perfectly.
- Aglio, olio e pepperoncino – any Italian trattoria can serve this dish. It is basic peasant food that is served throughout Italy.
- Tortelli di zucca – pasta pillow stuffed with a pumpkin and amaretto cookie filling. It sounds too sweet to be a meal but it is delicious, especially served with a brown butter sauce. This is a dish from the city of Mantua – if you are there, head to Ristorante Masseria
- Pasta allo scoglio – when you are on the coast of Italy, eat the seafood – you will never find anything fresher. Often times the shellfish is pulled up in nets and carried directly to the restaurant. Pasta allo scoglio means pasta “from the cliffs”. The sauce is a light tomato base with mussels, clams, scampi, calamari. Just fabulous.
- Rigatoni alla norcina – another dish from Umbria (I seem to be partial). This is the ultimate comfort food and perfect for a cold winter night. Short pasta, heavy cream, sausage, cheese and crushed red pepper. My best memory of it is from Hotel Sole in Assisi but that was years ago….
- Fettucine ai funghi porcini – When it is mushroom season in Italy, I will eat them in any way and in as many dishes as is possible. In October I managed to have them in a salad, on crostini, fried as an appetizer (OMG) and then finally with pasta. The meaty earthy flavor is the star of the dish – yep, I could be a vegetarian. Parione’s version of this is fabulous. But, like any dish in Italy, the ingredients need to be in season.
Do you have a favorite pasta dish? I would love to know what it is in the comments below. Feel free to leave the recipe as well.