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  • Matching Game with Pasta

    Learn how to best pair your noodles and sauce
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Americans (not to mention many others) like pasta. That's fine and well. Italy loves it. Pasta is life over there. Italians never gave up their carbs and probably never will. Indeed, most of the Italians I know eat pasta for lunch every. Single. Day. They know their stuff.

    To be honest, at first, I balked at the thought of eating pasta every day. As an American living in Italy, I was used to eating the good stuff for Sunday Funday and that was it, especially after everyone began avoiding pasta as a means of dieting. While I was always aware of the variety of pastas and sauces, I didn't realize the vastness of possibilities, especially if we ventured outside the cuisine of our parts of southern Italy. Really, you have lots of options.

    Discover just a few pasta varieties and the best match in sauces:

    Linguine and Shellfish
    This is a love story for the ages. Of course, you have heard of linguine con vongole (linguine with clams). It's a simple dish that highlights the flavor of the clams with olive oil and garlic and maybe a bit of heat from crushed red pepper. But when in Italy, you'll find linguine with clams, mussels, shrimp, and other shellfish. I've had linguine with zucchini, mussels, and shards of Reggiano Parmigiano, for instance. Sometimes, the chef at a restaurant (or a nonna in casa) will mix things up and choose a pasta other than linguine. It works every once in a while. But the classic pair remains linguine and shellfish sauces.

    Bow Ties and Peas and Bacon
    Italians call bow ties, farfalle, which is the Italian word for butterflies. Its fancy shape makes it seem like it would be used for special occasions. Yet, it is often paired with a basic and simple sauce of pancetta (basically Italian bacon), peas, and olive oil. I often make this one with a bit of onion to boot. It is a everyday, comfort food really. And it's a real hit with the kids usually.

    Ditalini and Beans
    Pasta e fagioli or pasta and beans is a peasant dish that has skyrocketed to gourmet echelons. This is the food that sustained my family in the hardest of times before they made the move to the United States from Italy. As a result, it holds the same place in the heart of my father as mac and cheese or chicken nuggets do for we Americans. It's the food of his childhood, the dish on which he places his love of mother and country. It's his everything. You can use a number of pasta types when making pasta and fagioli. But ditalini – being a similar size to the beans and allowing the broth to run through its ends – is the perfect companion.

    Buccatini and Rabbits or Hare
    The most popular dish on Ischia, the Neapolitan island that is the home of my ancestors and husband, is rabbit. In fact, we eat rabbit and pasta with the rabbit sauce on many Sundays. The favorite pasta for this sauce is buccatini. These long, slim tubes allow for the thinner red-from-tomato rabbit sauce stick to the outside of the pasta and enter the tube for added flavor. Its texture – and the bite from cooking the pasta al dente – also pair nicely with the meat of the rabbit. I hear they serve similar dishes in the north but instead of rabbit, they usually use hare, which is bigger than its cousin the rabbit.

    Pappardelle and Wild Boar
    North of where most Italian Americans come from in Italy, you'll find that wild boar is a popular dish. And a sauce with this meat is often served with pappardelle, the long, wide strips of pasta. Many Italians make fresh papardelle in their house. While it can be paired with a variety of sauces, it is well known for wild boar. The meat is chunky while the pappardelle are smooth. One is wild while the other is elegant. It's a classic case of opposites attracting.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.


    Article Published 10/3/16

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