Spaghetti, linguini, ziti—yawn. Never ones to pass up an opportunity to go all out, Las Vegas chefs are cranking out rare and exotic pasta shapes that will make you sit up and take notice.
According to Mimmo Ferraro, executive chef at Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant, there are hundreds of types of pastas in Italian cooking alone. “You can take one cut like a piccolini and cut it a little longer and call it something else, make it a little longer and call it something else, until you get all the way up to a bucatini,” he says.
The good news is that the unfamiliar names you see on a menu almost always refer simply to the shape of the pasta. (Exotic ingredients such as squid ink may occasionally be added, but those are almost always spelled out right next to the shape.) The reason there are so many shapes is because some work better with different sauces and preparations than others.
“We like to use a longer noodle with a heartier dish, something that [the sauce] clings to,” says Fatimah Madyun, chef de cuisine at Rao’s in Caesars Palace. “We’d use a shell for a Bolognese, the smaller pastas for soups, and the thicker flat pastas for a medium-to-thick pasta sauce—something you can throw into it and really showcase the pasta itself.”
So the next time you see unfamiliar pasta on a menu, don’t be intimidated. If you like a restaurant’s other pasta, and the preparation sounds good, chances are good you’ll like it. For those who want to start exploring the many shapes of pastas, here are some places to start.
There are numerous stories about how this pasta got its name, but the most popular involves priests devouring it so quickly that they choked. It’s a hand-rolled, twisted pasta reminiscent of a larger cavatelli. At the Blind Pig it comes in a tomato sugo (sauce) with roasted peppers, olives and sweet sausage. 4515 Dean Martin Dr., 702-430-4444.
These stuffed pastas are called beggar’s purses because they resemble little purses or sacks tied off at the top. At Rao’s, Madyun stuffs them with Parmesan, ricotta and pears, and serves with a brown-butter and sage sauce. Their subtle sweetness will make you forget all about their distant cousins, the humble ravioli. In Caesars Palace, 702-731-7267.
(thick and hand-rolled)
Pici may look sort of like a fat spaghetti. But Scott Conant clearly understands the difference. The celebrity chef who is known for his simple spaghetti preparation at his Las Vegas restaurant, Scarpetta, gives this noodle the royal treatment, preparing it with lobster, tarragon, almond and chili pesto. In the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7960.
At Portofino, executive chef Michael LaPlaca rolls out his house-made dough into a flat sheet as if he was laying it out for a lasagna. He then tears it by hand into strips of different shapes and sizes, no two of which are the same. He prepares the pasta with sausage and peppers, broccoli rabe and pesto. In The Mirage, 866-339-4566.
(hollow and short)
Bucatini is a thicker, hollow take on spaghetti that you’ll find in numerous restaurants across the Valley. At Ferraro’s, Mimmo cuts them down to about an inch or two, so he adds the word “corti,” which means “short.” He offers it Amatriciana style, with pancetta, red onions, tomatoes and cheese. 4480 Paradise Rd., 702-364-5300.