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Master the pasta-bilities and build a more exciting—and profitable—menu.

Pasta comes in more shapes and varieties than you can shake a wet noodle at. Here’s how to use them more creatively to boost your sales.



Pasta offers a perfect blank slate that’s ready to be dressed up with creative ingredients and artful presentation.

 

In one form or another, noodles have been satisfying hungry humans for thousands of years, but fast forward to 2015, and the pasta varieties gracing menus around the world can be downright mind-boggling. From the humble spaghetti to newer innovations like the stuffed-pouch Sacchettini, there’s a pasta to fit your needs, no matter what ingredients you’re seeking to highlight.

Like pizza, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes—and it can prove a major profitability driver for your business. Pasta boasts a low food cost and infinite versatility for operators, while providing diners with a customizable, belly-filling meal option that can easily be prepared to accommodate special dietary needs. Here, we break down some common pasta types—used in uncommon ways by savvy operators around the country.

 

“With [rigatoni’s] deep ridges and the large cavity running down the center of the pasta, we catch more sauce and ingredients for that perfect bite.”
—Jax Sperling, Go Roma

 

Taking Shape

While it’s recommended to sample a variety of pasta types to find the right fit for your specialty dish, even the most common pastas can play a part in unique culinary creations. Carol Freysinger, national director of the National Pasta Association, shares nine common types of pasta (and their suggested uses), while we also examine how pizzerias are incorporating them in outside-the-box ways:

Acini di Pepe is ideal for soup recipes due to its small shape. Try combining Acini di Pepe with plenty of vegetables in recipes like Italian Wedding Soup for a wholesome and filling meal. Stanziato’s Wood Fired Pizza (stanziatos.com) in Danbury, Connecticut, adds this diminutive pasta to a salad with baby spinach, mint, fresh peas, smoked bacon, ricotta salata and lemon vinaigrette.

Bucatini, a straw-like pasta that’s shaped like thick spaghetti but is hollow in the center, pairs perfectly with chunkier sauces, such as Bolognese or ragu. Bucatini Trattoria (bucatini.biz) in La Quinta, California, pays homage to its namesake with a new take on the classic broccoli rabe pasta: the Bucatini Broccoli, with garlic, olive oil, broccoli rapini florets, ricotta, sun-dried tomato and creamy Pecorino Romano sauce.

 

“For a modern Italian restaurant that’s vibrant and diverse in its menu offerings, pasta is a must.”
—Paul Daneshrad, Vivo 53

 

Conchiglie shells pair best with heavy cream or meat sauces, while large shells can be stuffed with a cream, vegetable or meat filling. (Tip: For lighter stuffed shells, reduce the amount of cheese used in the recipe and add more veggies.) Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream (happyjoes.com), with more than 40 locations in seven states, offers the Supreme Pizza-inspired Combo Pasta: sausage, pepperoni, salami, beef, green peppers, mushrooms and onions, smothered in cheese atop shell macaroni. 

Farfalle, or bowtie pasta, adapts to a variety of sauces but pairs best with simple oil-based sauces and is perfect for pasta salads. “Their unique shape and ability to lock in flavor make them a favorite pasta shape among Americans,” notes Freysinger. Angelo’s Italian Restaurant (angelosrestaurants.com), with two locations in Wisconsin, serves farfalle underneath a wild Alaskan salmon filet, tossed with fire-roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, garlic and Alfredo sauce.

Linguine, with its long, flat, narrow shape, pairs best with clam sauces and cream-based sauces. The Gorgonzola Linguini at Fuego Bistro and Pizzeria (fuegopizzeria.com) in Park City, Utah, tops the thin pasta with Gorgonzola cheese simmered with portobello mushrooms, red onions and garlic, finished with pears. Meat-craving diners can add chicken or shrimp.

Inventive takes on the classic lasagna draw customer interest and allow operators to incorporate seasonal ingredients.

Lasagna, a wide, flat noodle, is arguably one of the oldest—and most popular—types of pasta. These sheets are often served with meat and cheese sauces, but a unique spin can garner national attention: The New York Post lauded the Lasagna Osso Bucco at Florian (floriannyc.com) in New York, calling attention to its braised veal “layered with homemade semolina pasta and creamy Parmesan béchamel,” then topped with “a veal shank packed with bone marrow” for a memorable presentation.

Penne complements virtually every sauce, but it shines when teamed with chunky meat, chunky vegetable, cream or oil-based sauces, or when used in baked pasta dishes. Cajun Chicken Pasta is the most popular pasta at Carbone’s Pizza Bar & Grill (carboneslakeville.com) in Lakeville, Minnesota, featuring penne topped with flame-grilled breast meat and andouille sausage tossed in housemade Cajun Alfredo sauce with red peppers, red onions and tomatoes.

Spaghetti, which Freysinger calls “America’s favorite shape,” is the perfect choice for nearly any sauce, but it can also be used to make casseroles or stir-fry dishes. This classic gets the exotic treatment at Sotto (sottorestaurant.com) in Los Angeles, where it’s served with a spicy octopus ragu, black kale, burrata and breadcrumbs. 

Tortellini, a ring-shaped pasta, is typically stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and commonly served in a broth or cream sauce. But Pronto’s Restaurant & Pizzeria (prontospizzeria.com) in Hackettstown, New Jersey, uses this pasta for a best-of-both-worlds creation, the Tortellini Pizza—a crust topped with cheese tortellini in Alfredo sauce and mozzarella.

 

Using Your Noodle

Many pizzeria and restaurant operators love pasta for its adaptability and profitable price points, and many ingredients you already stock can be cross-utilized for inventive pasta dishes, diversifying your menu with little added investment. “We wanted Vivo 53 to be more than just a pizzeria,” notes Paul Daneshrad, CEO and founder of Vivo 53 (vivo53.com) in Fort Worth, Texas.  “Adding other options, like pasta and salads, gives our guests more reasons to visit the restaurant. For a modern Italian restaurant that’s vibrant and diverse in its menu offerings, pasta is a must.” 

Vivo53 creates balance within its pasta menu, serving classic preparations that are familiar to patrons, plus new and innovative recipes. For example, alongside a traditional spaghetti Bolognese, the Vivo Truffle Fettuccine incorporates a truffle Bolognese and white truffle oil, while another dish finds classic spaghetti jazzed up with Calabrian peppers, poached clams and mussels, and botarga pangrattato (cured fish roe finely grated over the pasta). Some dishes are available with gluten-free pasta to cater to special diets.

Jax Sperling, director of Culinary R&D for Go Roma (goroma.com), with three locations in Illinois, also appreciates classics with a twist. One of his most popular recipes is the Rustic Rigatoni, which blends Northern and Southern Italian traditions. “Rigatoni pasta is typically used in the Southern regions of Italy; we add roasted red bell peppers, roasted tomatoes and mushrooms, paired with a hearty garlic-infused cream sauce and Italian sausage (common in the Northern part of Italy), to form our signature dish,” he explains. “The reason for the fusion really lies in the pasta itself: With its deep ridges and the large cavity running down the center of the pasta, we catch more sauce and ingredients for that perfect bite.”

Daneshrad agrees that meat sauces typically pair best with tube-shaped pastas, but he breaks tradition by using spaghetti and fettuccine for his meat-based pasta dishes. However, he adds that the shape of rigatoni pasta is perfect for holding and capturing more sauce, allowing the flavors of the dish to come forward.

As you would with your pizzas, it’s important to experiment; sometimes, you’ll find a fine line between what works and what doesn’t. “In our Garlic Shrimp pasta, we choose linguine, as it pairs with lighter flavor profiles while still creating textural differences in the dish,” notes Sperling. “A thinner pasta, like angel hair, would get lost in the sauce and ingredients, while a fettuccine, with its wider noodles, would be too heavy and disrupt the balance that the dish creates.”

However, keep in mind that beyond the traditional go-tos that will remain perennially popular, a world of pasta shapes await. Explore the benefits of corkscrew cavatappi, fusilli and gemelli; tubular mostaccioli, ziti and campanelle; or flat fettucine, tagliatelle and pappardelle. You’ll discover endless pasta-bilities! 

 

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.

 

 

 

 

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