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Alright, they’re not actually secrets — but they are lesser-known outside of the world's pasta capital. While you can find spaghetti and meatballs (which isn’t even an Italian dish!) in Italian restaurants around the globe, some of the more unique specialties are rarely found outside of Italy. Here are nine of our favorite regional pasta and sauce combinations to try on your next visit. So let go — just this once — of the lasagna, and discover your new favorite. Mangia!
Pansoti is a popular pasta from Liguria, a region in northern Italy. Ligurian cuisine is known for being simple yet satisfying due to such flavorful ingredients. The name “pansoti” is derived from the word “pansa,” which means belly, to describe the potbelly look that the pasta gets when stuffed. Unlike your standard spinach ravioli, pansoti is usually stuffed with a variety of greens and herbs to give it a unique flavor. Popular ingredients include chard, endives, dandelions, and purslanes. The pasta is traditionally served with a walnut-based pesto sauce.
Pici Alle Briciole
Popularized by peasants living in rural farming communities in central Italy, pici was once considered a practical type of pasta since it didn’t require expensive, hard-to-get eggs. To make pici, all you have to do is mix flour, water, salt, and olive oil; roll it all together; and there you have it! For an even tastier twist on the traditional pasta dish, pici is usually served with a fried breadcrumb topping called briciole, which adds a crunchy texture to the pasta. Traditional pici alle briciole dishes were served without sauce, but now that many ingredients are cheaper and much easier to find, many people like to add a garlic-laden tomato sauce.
Pasta Alla Gricia
A staple of traditional Roman cuisine, pasta alla gricia has become largely overshadowed by other Roman dishes like carbonara and amatriciana. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less delicious! Unlike other more-popular pasta dishes, pasta alla gricia is all about the light, simple sauce that uses only three ingredients: pork, cheese, and black pepper. Spaghetti and rigatoni are the two most popular pasta choices for this lesser-known — and extremely underrated — entrée.
Tortellini en Brodo
You don’t need to wait for the main course to indulge in this pasta. Tortellini en brodo is another simple pasta that’s largely overlooked outside of Italy. It’s a favorite during the holidays in northern Italy. Most tortellini dishes are accompanied with tomato and meat sauce (ragù) and are served as an entrée. Tortellini en brodo, however, is typically enjoyed as an appetizer!
Tortellini en brodo means “tortellini in broth” in English, which is exactly what it is — similar to Chinese wonton and Jewish kreplach soup. Just boil some tortellini in the broth of your choice, add veggies and herbs, and enjoy. It’s the perfect treat to warm you up on a cold winter day.
Busiate Alla Trapanese
This type of pasta shaped like a telephone cord is calling for you to give this Italian dish a try. Say ciao to busiate, a popular, eggless noodle from western Sicily, which looks like a long, skinny corkscrew. The pasta is traditionally accompanied by trapanese, a pesto that’s also specific to the region. Unlike its better-known counterpart, trapanese is made with tomato sauce, almonds, basil, and lots and lots of garlic. Mix the two together and you have one classic Italian pasta dish. If that’s still not enough, many like to top it with breadcrumbs and freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Denti di Cavallo
Hold your horses: Denti di cavallo (which means “horse’s teeth” in Italian) only refers to the appearance of this thick and chewy pasta. The pasta also goes by the less-exciting name of rigatoni. Rich and meaty ragù bolognese is one of the most popular Italian dishes in the world, and is typically served with spaghetti or tagliatelle noodles. In Italy, however, the sauce is traditionally ladled over — you guessed it — horse’s teeth. Order the dish in Bologna and the waiter might even take you for a local!
These long, wide, ribbon-shaped noodles with frilly, ruffled edges were once known as manfredine, but their name was changed in 1902 to mark the birth of Princess Mafalda of Savoy. Invented in Naples, the pasta was called mafalda, mafaldine, or reginette (little queens) by local chefs. Neapolitans prefer the scalloped noodles with a simple sauce of ricotta (popularly made with sheep’s milk) and pecorino cheese, or with chickpeas. In Sicily, you might find your mafaldine baked into an elaborate timballo (a lasagna-like baked pasta dish).
Pasta isn’t typically a finger food, but these large, shell-shaped noodles are a popular snack in the southern Italian region of Campania, where they were first produced in the village of Gragnano. Known as lumaconi or lumache, the shells are most traditionally served stuffed with a savory mixture of seasoned spinach and fresh-from-the-farm ricotta cheese, baked in a light plum tomato sauce.
Cresta di Gallo
If the origin story of this rooster’s comb-shaped pasta is true, the Medici family was saved from assassins when roosters in their courtyard raised a ruckus as the would-be murderers attempted to intrude. They ordered this fanciful shape of pasta in honor of the birds. Ironically, the Florentine noodles are now most popularly served with a chicken ragù sauce!