If there’s one basic food that satisfies the pickiest of palates, it’s got to be pasta. Long, toothsome strands of spaghetti topped with thick red bolognaise sauce and fat, juicy meatballs? We all know that’s a tried-and-true. And we’ve probably all got a box of mac ‘n’ cheese in the pantry for dinner in a pinch. Then there are the pretty pastas whose names we can’t pronounce. We exaggerate the words “fusilli,” “mostaccioli” and “orecchiette,” with much bravado and Minnesota-minced Italian accents. With all those fun, spiraled words that roll off the tongue and those playful elastic noodles that twist around the fork, there’s plenty to learn and love about pasta.
With that in mind, Maple Grove Magazine set out to explore the vast, delicious landscape of pasta in its own neighborhood. This month, we’ll give you a taste of what’s available at your favorite local eateries, and we’ll give you a nugget or two of knowledge to stir into the mix. That way, the next time you’re out for a plate of your favorite comfort food, you’ll have some interesting trivia with which to regale the others at your table.
Buca di Beppo
Italian pastas come in every shape under the Tuscan sun. And for as many funky loops, textures and twists that they have, pastas boast three times that number in names that they go by. All this is just to say that pasta basically comes equipped with its own language. Buca di Beppo happens to speak fluent “pasta,” and the Italian restaurant offers a slew of super-tasty tongue twisters. We love the macaroni rosa ($19.99 for a small; $29.99 for a large), a Buca staff favorite. It’s a traditional classic—a tangle of cavatappi pasta, tender chicken breast, broccoli, mushrooms and peas, all tossed with rosa sauce, a luscious house concoction made with a blend of marinara and Alfredo. The name “cavatappi” is thought to be derived from the Italian phrase "Cava Tappi" which means corkscrew. 12650 Elm Creek Blvd.; 763.494.3466.
We’ve all seen the commercials for Olive Garden; the ones with a livewire Italian grandpa at the head of the table, conceivably telling crazy stories involving Venice, a gondola and too much red wine. He sounds like a hoot, but let’s be honest—most of us don’t have a spry grandfather named Luigi who can spin yarns as we dine at “the Garden.” Here’s the next best thing: Order the lasagna classico ($14.49), jam-packed with fat tongues of pasta, rich meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheese, and savor some trivia. Lasagna is a wide, flat-shaped pasta associated with a mouthwatering strata of sauce, cheese and pasta, baked to hot and gooey perfection. The etymology of the word “lasagna” starts with the Greek “lasanon” which means “chamber pot.” The Romans borrowed it as “lasanum” to humorously refer to a “cooking pot.” Later, the Italian word “lasagne” (plural of lasagna) came to refer to a dish cooked in such a pot, with flat sheets of pasta layered amid meat and tomatoes, topped with grated cheese. Tell that to your fellow diners next time you’re seated at the head of the table at Olive Garden. 12520 Elm Creek Blvd.N.; 763.420.9699.
Think pasta, and you might think boot-shaped Italy. But the concept of flour plus water to make an elastic tumult of deliciousness is not just an Italian thing. Let’s jump over to Thailand—or, for our purposes, Sawatdee in Maple Grove. Here you can find a steaming bowl of Pad Thai, the national dish of Thailand, waiting for you. The dish’s base consists of thin, delectable rice noodles, stir-fried in a searing-hot wok with egg, green onions, bean sprouts and a sprinkle of ground roasted peanuts. Now pick your protein: chicken, pork or tofu ($11), beef ($12) or shrimp ($13). The rich flavors of fish sauce, tamarind juice, pepper and spices kick this platter of noodles up twenty notches in the delicious department. It’s a wake-up call from the typical aromatics you’re used to in the Midwest. Rice noodles, the likes of which you’ll find in many entrees at Sawatdee, are delightfully chewy in texture, and they’re naturally gluten-free. 7885 Main St. N.; 763.494.5708.
When you think “bow tie,” what comes to mind? Pee-Wee Herman? Well, we think of farfalle—commonly referred to as “bow-tie” pasta. Its Italian moniker is actually derived from the word “farfalla,” which means “butterfly.” Champps serves a pile of this tender pasta that’ll have you forgetting this etymology lesson pretty fast. The restaurant calls this scrumptious entrée vodka farfalle ($14.99), and it includes a bevy of the “bow-ties” amid diced chicken, tender mushrooms, peas and sun-dried tomatoes. That whole mass of deliciousness is then doused with a spicy vodka cream sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. 13521 80th Circle N.; 763.494.4515.
Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Linguini
To your kids, “linguini” is the name of the klutzy chef in Pixar’s Ratatouille. The Italians translate the word as “little tongues.” And the rest of us know “linguini” as that long, flattish pasta tossed with mouthwatering ingredients. To that last definition, allow Granite City to elaborate. This eatery offers a number of linguini dishes, but the one that stole our heart was the grilled chicken and asparagus linguini ($15.59). The myriad flavors meld harmoniously on the plate; you’ve got a tousle of linguini, tender chicken, prosciutto, garlic, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, fennel, fresh basil, pine nuts and oregano. As long as we’re lovin’ on the linguini, we’ve got to mention another dish that Granite does well: Cajun pasta ($14.95). This is a deliciously piquant entrée, featuring linguini laden with shrimp, Italian sausage, tomatoes, peppers, onions, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a silky Alfredo sauce spiked with a touch of bourbon. 11909 Main St.; 763.416.0010.
Capellini di Mare
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
Dining at Biaggi’s, the food tastes so authentic, you’ll wonder if the Trevi Fountain isn’t just around the corner. Sadly, it’s not; but your dinner is. Try the capellini di mare ($17.99). It’s a generous helping of super-thin strands of pasta (sometimes called “angel hair pasta”) blended with a barrage of meaty seafood: large, tender shrimp, velvety scallops and calamari. Those über-fresh coastal ingredients are sautéed in a spicy tomato-vegetable sauce with the capellini, then served topped with mussels and Little Neck clams. Not bad for a restaurant landlocked in the Midwest. Another seafood-centric pasta dish is the fettucini with lobster ($16.99). You’ll see that the long ribbons of black fettucini (the color comes from squid ink) are combined with rich chunks of lobster, wild mushrooms and a homemade lobster cream sauce. 763.416.2225; 12051 Elm Creek Blvd.