Even more so than pizza, pasta cannot be ignored on any trip to Italy. Growing up in a small town in the ’70s, there were only a few different types of pasta in the grocery store, and Ragú jarred pasta sauce dominated the shelves (and the only kind of pizza was in the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee box!). Thirty years later, the kinds of pasta, both fresh and dried, are countless, and the ready-to-serve sauces even more so in grocery stores. We’ve cooked many types at home with an equal number of sauces and are familiar with the complementary code of which pasta goes best with which sauce. Tomato sauce is better when served on short pasta tubes, and pesto balances long, thin noodles. Of course, we know that fettuccini with tomato sauce is a no-no, but we were always envious of friends who had an Italian-American grandmother or grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. They knew the secrets of Italian cooking. In Italy, this skillset is innate in the national palate—everyone knows it.
Though eating our way through Rome was easy, the types of pasta and sauces varied widely. Red sauce seems standard on almost any short pasta, like this penne rigate (meaning “ridged,” not smooth):
But it also adorned this classic spaghetti as a side dish from Rom Antica on Via Emanuele Filiberto:
And it clung tenaciously to every corner and opening of this wonderful tortiglioni:
And it gently cradled each of these ultra-tasty gnocchi from L’Insalata Ricca:
But red sauce was only the beginning. Substitute cheese, diced prosciutto and pepper and toss with tortiglioni for a hearty meal:
Better yet was this modest pasta con cacio e pepe, made with cheese, pepper, and the water in which the pasta was cooked. Its simplicity in preparation is deceiving, but the chefs at Ristorante Comparone, Piazza in Piscinula in the Trastevere district, are masters of the art:
We also sampled various stuffed pastas, like this marvelous lasagna:
And these cheese-filled cannelloni:
But the finest pasta dish came after the magnificent pizza at Osteria dell'Anima near the Piazza Navona. It was that transcendent moment when I knew that this was the best pasta I’d ever eaten, and I was so overcome that I ordered another plate for my table to sample! The chef’s special, fiocchetti di formaggio e pera su crema di carote, was handmade noodles stuffed with cheese and pears and served with a creamy carrot sauce:
And this once-in-a-lifetime dinner was prefaced with this incredible seasonal appetizer, fiori di zucca friti (fried zucchini flowers):
A trip to bell’Italia is an absolute must for any food lover, and the time we’ve spent there never seems to be enough when it’s time to depart. Special thanks to Roger for sharing each and every one of his plates with me, and to Caterina for teaching me more and more about Italian cuisine and culture!