Chefs Donato Loperfido, left, and David Caldiero, hold fresh fettuccini just pulled from the pasta machine in the kitchen of Donato's restaurant.


Pasta's many intriguing shapes
star in a festival of Italian
food and wine

SAUCE MADE with seafood is best served with thinner strands of spaghetti.

This is not just a suggestion.

"Why ask for rigatoni with seafood? I say, 'No! I don't make that for you!'" chef Donato Loperfido states firmly.

"You can write that."

And don't grate any Parmesan on top of that seafood sauce, either. Cheese interferes with the delicate taste.

Loperfido sees his role as to educate as well as to serve up a meal. It's best that you acknowledge the chef's expertise, he says, or risk going away disappointed.

"You know what I'm afraid of? They go out and say, 'I didn't like it.' Of course!" Should have listened to the chef.

"You can write that."

Loperfido carries his educational quest from his restaurant, Donato's in the Manoa Marketplace, to next weekend's Honolulu Wine Festival, a fund-raiser for the Hawaii Lupus Foundation. The theme is Italian food and wine, and the idea behind the food portion is to present intriguing pasta shapes and their proper pairings with sauce. Five other chefs will help Loperfido teach by example, serving up pasta dishes alongside the Italian wines that best show them off.

Loperfido, for example, has designed a dish of Cavatelli alle Cozze con Cannellini -- mussels and small, white cannellini beans served over handmade cavatelli pasta (small, ridged, caterpillar-like shapes made with ricotta cheese instead of water).

The venerable James Beard, American chef and culinary educator, maintained that the pasta-sauce collaboration should be open to individual experimentation. "We Americans have been intimidated for far too long by other people's opinions on what we should eat," Beard said in his 1983 cookbook, "Beard on Pasta."

But then, Beard wasn't Italian.

For Loperfido, the proper use of pasta is a matter of truth, verging on the biblical. He started making pasta in Italy at age 7, learning from his grandmother.

Orecchiette, the round, "little cap" pasta, is the specialty of the region. "Orecchiette in my hometown is like a religion," he says.

Each circle of dough is hand-formed into a little bowl shape, then set out to dry overnight in a cool room on some displaced person's bed. "Every mama dries the pasta on the bed. Fresh-made yesterday; cooked today."

The pasta machine at Donato's can make up to 100 pounds an hour. Here, fusilli is extruded and sliced off.

The ideal sauce is what Loperfido calls a "simple Sunday sauce," that grandma would cook for four or five hours, beginning before church for dishing up after. It would be robust, filled with braised meats such as pork, sausage or lamb.

Such is the legacy of pasta. Which, by the way, may have been introduced by the Chinese, Loperfido concedes -- but the Italians perfected it.

"Italy has so many pastas. There is no one-two-three-four-five-six types. There are hundreds and hundreds of different cuts and types of pasta. The beauty is every region has its own."

Naples has its long, round spaghettis and long, flat linguines -- and its classic specialty, linguine alla vongole (with clams). In the north, in Sardinia, small shell pastas. In southern Italy -- "Where I'm from" -- it's orecchiette and cavatelli, hand-shaped pastas.

"And so on, and so on," Loperfido says. "Everybody in Italy has their best specialty and the beauty of that is every pasta has its own sauce."

Much of it is based on common sense. When you properly serve tubes of rigatoni with a chunky ragu, for example, the tubes fill up, and when you poke into the dish you take to your mouth both pasta and the full essence of the sauce, together. Symmetry. Economy of motion.

Serve the same sauce with a long noodle and much is lost, literally, Loperfido says. "The fettuccini, on the other hand, you roll on the fork, you bite, and all the sauce rolls off."

Should have listened to the chef.

To truly master all of this is to understand not just all the shapes, but also sizes and embellishments. Penne, the smooth-sided tube pasta, comes in variations of penoni (large), rigate (with grooves), penette (skinny), penine (short) ...

It's not rocket science, though, and Loperfido offers a few simple guidelines:

>> With tubes and shapes such as shells, "you want a sauce that sticks itself inside the hole." Chunky sauces, then, with small bits of meat or vegetables, work well.

>> Firm, solid shapes such as spirals hold up under the larger cuts of vegetables, as in a pasta primavera.

>> Dumpling-type pastas such as the potato-based gnocchi are for heavy meat or mushroom sauces.

>> Long noodles -- what Americans think of as regular spaghetti -- as well the thinner spaghettini and the flat fettuccini or linguine -- go well with creamy sauces and classic tomato sauces that coat the strands.

Imagine pasta as an extended family, each member with its own strengths.

"It's a family, the pasta is a family," Loperfido says. "It starts from the big sheet of the lasagne and moves down to all the cuts. Linguine is the cousin of spaghettini and spaghettini is the cousin of fettuccine."



Fresh pastas and how to use them

Clockwise, from top right:

Tagliolini (like spaghetti, but flat), for simple garlic or tomato-basil sauces

Cavatelli (caterpillar-like shape), for light seafood sauces or serve it in soups

Agnolotti piemontesi (a little stuffed dumpling), served with simple brown butter to show off the filling

Gnocchi (potato dumpling), good for heavy sauces of meat or mushrooms

Fettuccini (flat and medium-wide), for creamy sauces

Pappardelle (flat and extra-wide), best with hearty sauces and game such as duck or wild boar

Fusilli (spiral shape, center), best for sauces such as primavera, with large cuts of vegetables

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