I told you October was all about the carbs! We’ve already had National Noodle Day to get some tasty starches of the East…now we’re onto Western carby goodness with National Pasta Day! Made of unleavened dough that’s formed into various shapes and cooked, pasta is considered an Italian invention that dates back to the 12th century, although many culinary cultures before it made similar foods out of dough. There’s the old legend of Marco Polo bringing noodles over from his journey to China, bringing life to the Italian history of pasta, but considering how many other civilizations were using noodles and bringing them into Italy through trade–like the Arabs and North Africans coming into worldly Sicily–the real origin of Italian pasta could come from anywhere. (But it’s still a nice anecdote to tell the kids ;-)) There are all different shapes of pasta, from the long and super-thin spaghetti to tubular ziti, spirally fusilli, tiny orecchiette, stuffed pastas like shells and manicotti, and everything in between. Pasta can come in two ways: raw, where the dough is made and shaped and cooked immediately; or where the shaped pasta is first dried for easy storage, and can be dropped in boiling water for a few minutes to liven it up to soft, pliable pasta once again. These two techniques have been around since the 14th century, but nowadays, dried pasta is the most prevalent for its long shelf life, so everyone can keep a box in the pantry for a quick and easy dinner–either with some tomato sauce or maybe some cheese 😉
Apart from National Noodle Day–which, any Asian foodie will love to tell you, is very different from Western pasta!–we’ve highlighted quite a few individual pastas with their own national food holidays. So if you’ve got a hankering for the popular pastas spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli, macaroni, lasagna, or linguine, check out all the great restaurants in New York City serving up some great dishes featuring those foods today! However, I wanted to take the general National Pasta Day and celebrate some lesser-known pasta shapes that you don’t normally see in the pasta aisle of the grocery store…or even on a restaurant menu. Pasta is more than spaghetti and macaroni, people!
The only reason I know that fusilli is a pasta and not some kind of underwater mollusk is because of that episode of Seinfeld, where Kramer makes the sculpture of Jerry out of fusilli pasta (to go with his “Macaroni Midler”) and he used fusilli pasta because Jerry’s a comedian and calls it “FuSILLY Jerry”! And that concludes my initial knowledge of fusilli 😛 After researching this pasta, however, I discovered a lot about it! Fusilli is a thick, corkscrew-shaped pasta which are typically 1-2 inches in length. They’re similar to the popular rotini shape, but have a tighter twist to the corkscrew. Like many other pastas, when made fresh, fusilli can be made using a lot of flavors and additives to the dough, like beet juice, spinach, or even seafood and cuttlefish ink! And if you’ve got an adventurous foodie streak and want to get a little fuSILLY with your food, you have go to try chef Michael White’s Fusilli with octopus and bone marrow at his restaurant Marea. Don’t shy away from such spooky sounding ingredients! The bone marrow works like a gooey thickening agent to the sauce, which includes red wine, tomatoes, garlic, and baby octopuses. (Octopi?) What you get is a rich, flavorful sauce that doesn’t taste like one or the other, but a brilliant marriage of both. Chef White considers it his homage to “surf and turf,” but with a much more inventive and tastier result. And never to fear, the fusilli here is made fresh every day by hand. I almost wish they showed that in an open kitchen environment; it might get messy with other dishes, but watching a chef hand-roll out fresh pasta and curl it into the tight curls of fusilli is so enthralling. All of these rich ingredients add up to a whopping price tag, but for a special occasion dinner full of ingredients you wouldn’t normally try separately, let alone together, this is the perfect place and the perfect dish.
240 Central Park S
“In Marea’s fusilli with red-wine braised octopus and bone marrow, the marrow emulsifies and acts as butter does in a sauce — if butter were 10 times richer than it already is.”–The New York Times
“The finished dish is a brilliant combination of textures and flavors, and it’s not just one simple note: It changes bite to bite. You might get a forkful of perfectly tender octopus, or a streak of bone marrow in a sweet tomato sauce. The bread crumbs are crunchy, and the basil is bright. It’s also a nice introduction to bone marrow for those who are intimidated by it. The gelatin from the octopus emulsifies with the marrow, so it doesn’t dominate the whole dish.”–New York 1
“The first bite is unexpectedly complex for such a simple-looking dish. The marrow, completely emulsified in the sauce, adds a velvety smoothness balanced by the sweetness of the octopus and the tartness of the wine and tomatoes, brightened by the fresh basil. The dish is equally compelling from a textural standpoint: the fusilli are tender yet retain some firmness, mirrored by the octopus itself, while the silky marrow is complemented by the crunch from the bread crumbs.”–Serious Eats
“Michael White keeps cranking out awesome new pasta dishes, but this will always be his most famous and beloved creation. There’s some nice textural interplay here between the firm fusilli, gooey bone marrow, and tender octopus, and the tomato sauce has a bit of a briny kick. The first time you eat this pasta, you may be surprised by the complexity of flavor here, but you’ll be hooked after that.”–NY Eater
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The fusilli pasta w/ red wine braised octopus and bone marrow is one of Marea’s signature dishes. My bf thought the pasta was a little underdone, and preferred the texture of the spaghetti. He also thought the dish was too “saucy”. I tend to like my pasta with more firm and thought that the texture went well with the tightly wound shape of the pasta. The octopus was as good as the one we had to start and there was a generous amount in the pasta. In addition to the bone marrow that is in the sauce, there are also cubes of marrow that melt when you bite into it. The marrow in the sauce adds a richness and complexity to the traditional tomato-based sauce.”–Sharon L.
“I then went with a half portion of the fusilli with braised octopus and bone marrow. Simply put, this is the greatest pasta dish I have ever had in the US. Yes. Big words, but it’s the truth. Pefectly al dente. Some delicious pieces of octopus. The bone marrow on the bottom. Oh, and it had the right kind of spice. One week later and I’m still thinking about this pasta.”–Victor S.
Or, you might want to try something completely out of the pasta ballpark, something you’re not going to find just anywhere: pasta made with cheese. Now, I’m not talking about the popular pastas that are filled with cheese, like manicotti or stuffed shells–though those are pretty darn awesome. I mean pasta that’s formed with cheese inside the dough, making it rich and cheesy all throughout–and not just in a filling or a sauce. Now that is a dedication to cheese! And you can find that at the hot West Village restaurant Spasso, which offers a strascinari dish made with ricotta cooked inside the pasta. How decadent is that? Spasso’s kitchen is run by Chef Craig Wallen, who has worked with celebrity chef Mario Batali and the creator of the other pasta dish mentioned in this post, Michael White. Wallen’s dish, Italian for “little ear” pasta, doesn’t just stop there: on top of the super-rich strascinari, you get a braised duck leg and ragu, which tastes exactly like it’s been slow-roasted for hours–which is probably has! Layer all of that with a good helping of smoked scamorza cheese on top and it’s almost too much to bear. You will definitely feel like you’ve ordered the mother load when you start tucking in to your plate, but with the rich, fatty taste of the duck mixed with a pasta literally covered inside and out with cheese…you’ll lick that whole plate clean!
551 Hudson St (between Perry St & 11th St)
“Chef Craig Wallen, a veteran of both the Mario Batali and Michael White empires, brings his pasta-making bona fides to this rustic West Village osteria. The casual 65-seat eatery (from Choptank restaurateur Bobby Werhane) features a bright, open kitchen, where Wallen whips up hearty Italian plates, spotlighting noodles, cheeses and cured meats, all made in house. Choose from lusty offerings like ricotta strascinari (little ear pasta) with braised duck leg, maccheroni with lamb ragù, and house-made lamb sausage with tomato marmalade. To drink, there are are classic Italian cocktails and a wine list featuring 150 bottles, all sourced from the motherland.”–NYC GO
“This popular dish at Bobby Werhane’s new Hudson St. restaurant has two levels of cheesiness: the pasta, which is made with ricotta, and the smoked scamorza, a gooey cow’s milk cheese similar to mozzarella, which is laid on top. The noodles are also tossed with a thick duck leg ragu, which gives the dish some nice heft.”–NY Eater
“The homemade strascinari was amazing. Pasta infused with cheese is pretty much the most wonderful food I can think of, and the taste matched the concept. The braised duck was tender and succulent and practically fell apart on my fork.”–The Fabulous Foodie
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The menu is broken down like some traditional Italian menus are.. A section for cured meats, cheeses, primi or pasta and secondi or entrees.. The pastas are large enough for two to share.. We ordered several and did not finish them.. My favorite being the little ricotta gnocchi with braised duck leg sauce.. The duck was phenomenal, the gnocchi of perfect texture and ridges to hold the sauce.. Wonderful dish.”–D.n.l. M.
“this is one of the go-to places of my friend who lives in the neighborhood and she suggested i try it. it’s a little pricey for the portion sizes, but the spring pea and prawn ravioli i ordered was really good. i wasn’t too hungry so it was just enough. the prawn was not minced so i was able to enjoy good plump pieces of shrimp. her ricotta strascinari with braised duck leg was good as well. it’s shaped like gnocchi, which i do not care for, but it it’s not gnocchi and not doughy at all (in case you see someone else order it and think it’s gnocchi).”–Katie L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!