Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward.
Our previous Takeout Draft: Best frozen foods made it a three-peat for Allison Robicelli, who summoned the power of Hot Pockets to blaze her trail to glory. Well done, Allison—the rest of us are only seething a little!
This week’s topic continues our theme of reliable kitchen staples, sort of: Best pasta shapes. We’re not talking about which pasta is best when it’s all dressed up—this is about each noodle on its own merits, not the dishes they’re usually featured in. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Allison Robicelli, Marnie Shure, and Aimee Levitt. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Let’s start arguing.
Marnie Shure: I can’t believe I lost again last time. I’m determined to win this week!!!!!!
Aimee Levitt: That’s what you get for choosing vegetables.
Marnie: I’ll never choose a vegetable again. Allison, kick us off!
Allison Robicelli: Wow! This makes three wins in a row for me now. And it means that this draft I’m going to make picks not with my brain, but with my heart.
And that means my first pick is tagliatelle
Marnie: Okay, not what I was expecting at all. Why on earth
Allison: I love the physical sensation of slurping up thick, paper thin strands of pasta
The way it feels between my lips. It’s like a Slip ’n Slide, but instead of being covered in water, it’s sauce.
Marnie: Ah, going with the sensation of actually eating it—I like this reasoning
Allison: Any pasta can be functional. But tagliatelle makes me happy. It’s fun to eat!
It’s usually served in restaurants with a meat ragu, but I like it prepared simply with a buttery sauce.
Marnie: If it’s a good pasta, you need so little on top
Allison: The best is when you slurp it up, and right at the end of the noodle is violently slips up and smacks your upper lip. It’s the same physics as a roller coaster. Why sitting in the last car is so much fun. Everything about tagliatelle is a ride
Marnie: Aimee, you got anything that can follow up a literal roller coaster?!
Aimee: No, but how about the tilt-a-whirl? In pasta terms, that’s rotini.
I like the way it gives you something to bite down on and the way the sauce gets trapped in the little ridges instead of falling off.
Marnie: Isn’t most cold pasta salad usually made with rotini for this reason? Or is that just my grandma’s recipe?
Aimee: I’ve seen it with mostaccioli, but that just leaves me cold.
Marnie: Not nearly as exciting
Aimee: Or maybe I just associate it with glop. What’s your pick?
Marnie: Well, I guess I’ll start by very nearly cheating. We established that the pasta shapes should be taken on their own terms, not by the meals they come incorporated into. But I can plant one foot in both worlds with ravioli
They’re as hefty as they look, and they look like they were made with a pair of pinking shears.
They’re like Magic Middles cereal. You don’t know what you’re going to get
Allison: Ravioli is perfect and I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it. Though I have never tried Chef Boyardee in my entire life, so I’m sure that opinion can be changed.
Aimee: I kind of liked Chef Boyardee ravioli. It was second only to the lasagna.
Allison: Ravioli is the hot pocket of pastas
Marnie: I was too busy eating Spaghettios as a kid to try Boyardee
Allison: I’ve never had those either!
Marnie: With the meatballs—molto bene
OH! I have another pick!
Okay, I’ll cheat less with this one. Jumbo shells. No, I’m not putting my thumb on the scale by specifying what they’re filled with—in and of themselves, they’re a structural marvel and I choose them based on both their satisfying bite and their vast potential.
I guess the official name for these is conchiglie
Aimee: They are the epitome of pasta architecture.
Marnie: You get it
They exist only to be made more decadent
No one has EVER eaten them undressed before, or at least I hope they haven’t
Aimee: That would be extremely sad.
My next pick is a pasta that also needs adornment: manicotti. I just love how there’s always cheese inside and more cheese on top. It’s perfect!
Marnie: Somehow even the name sounds hearty
Allison: Manicotti is less a pasta and more a crepe, but I have no plans to quibble because it’s one of my favorites.
Aimee: I also really have a thing for baked pasta.
Marnie: Very fair. Do you make it at home?
Aimee: No. Its mysteries are too deep for me to fathom. Also, I only have a pasta cutter, not an extruder.
Allison: You don’t need an extruder! That’s only for commercial production.
Real manicotti is cooked in a pan, then wrapped around a rich filling and baked. It was one of my mother’s go-to dinners on nights she didn’t want to cook.
Aimee: How do you make ravioli at home, then?
Allison: In Brooklyn we had pasta shops—Pastosa’s is still around, and they used to sell boxes of fresh manicotti at the butcher shop on my corner.
Aimee: I was a sad and underprivileged suburban girl, so I only got manicotti at restaurants.
Allison: Butchers are a thing of the past now, as are most pasta shops, but Pastosa’s is still chugging along and shipping all over the place. They’re the greatest and I miss them terribly now that I live in Baltimore.
Ravioli I never make at home because I have a tiny kitchen. I will occasionally make something “ravioli-esque” using wonton wrappers.
Don’t think I’ve made real fresh ravioli at home since I was a kid, and ever then it was more of a special project than a regular thing.
Marnie: I’ve had a pasta maker for 8 years and it hasn’t left the box yet. Someday.
Allison: Why would I need to make fresh pasta when we had fresh pasta shops?
Pastosa’s always had me covered. Now I’d have reason to do it, but my kids wouldn’t appreciate me so I’m not souring the experience for myself.
Now, my workhorse pick: linguine. In case I didn’t bring it up 60 times this week, I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, and no one ever ate spaghetti. That was for Americans. Everyone eats linguine.
Marnie: Is the flatness of the linguine noodle noticeably better at retaining sauce or something?
Allison: Yup. Spaghetti is too round and slippery, which can be fun to eat, but it’s bad for absorbing sauce.
With linguine, you get better adhesion. If you’ve got a light sauce with some solids it’s ideal, like in linguine with white clam sauce.
You’ve got lots of surface to hold onto all that garlicky butter and white wine, and as you twirl it, the clams get scooped up like a tornado.
Marnie: This is blasphemy, but I could abandon all noodles longer than four inches and never miss them. I like the big hefty boys
The twirling is too much work! The flinging sauce is too hazardous!
Allison: Okay next: GIGLI!
Aimee: Was that a movie?
Marnie: A terrific one
Allison: Not just because it makes me reflect on the fleeting magic that was Bennifer
But because it’s so fun to look at and eat. They’re little fluted cones, so it’s like your mouth receiving a tiny bouquet of flowers.
But instead of the flowers being made out of flowers, they’re made out of sausage or tomatoes.
Marnie: Campanelle might be the prettiest pasta of all. And that counts Spider-Man-shaped macaroni.
Aimee: Is there a difference between campanelle and gigli?
Allison: Campanelle is wound a bit tighter. They’re similar.
Marnie: Definitely the sexiest pasta choice
I’ve never had it in my house
Might be time to change that
Aimee: That sounds like a Cosmo cover tag.
Marnie: Hahaha, with a big sticker that says The PASTA Issue
Allison: Gigli: the pasta for people who love vaginas
Aimee: My next pick is spaghetti. Mostly because it was the first pasta I made when I got a pasta maker and I was proud.
Allison: Spaghetti is fun to slurp!
Marnie: Spaghetti is the cartoon ideal
Aimee: It goes with everything. In a pinch, you could put Asian sauces on it, too.
It also makes me think of the Play-Doh shape-maker, and I always thought that was neat. You got blue plastic spaghetti.
Marnie: Those things were a bitch to clean, but up until the moment you had to clean it, making Play-Doh spaghetti ruled
Allison: If you’re into playing with your food, it makes great hair.
You can make meatball eyes and use bits of tomato for teeth.
No defined mouth. Just floating teeth.
Okay, I’ve got another squat, doughy selection: orecchiette
Aimee: Those are so nice and compact. And fun to make because you squeeze them.
Marnie: It’s absolutely insane that we eat a pasta that evokes a bowl of ears
Aimee: It’s like a bowl of pasta made by pirates.
Marnie: Plus they are each a little sauce saucer, perfect for when you want heaps of anchovy-rich salty flavors, then sweeten it up with peas
Oh, and exactly one pea gets stuck in the bowl of each piece of pasta and it’s adorable.
Allison: Okay, this one I don’t like. I do agree with you on the pea thing, which is great. But I have been served under/overcooked orecchiette so many times I’m traumatized by them.
Marnie: With something that shape, I don’t care as much if it’s overcooked or undercooked. It won’t go limp like a longer noodle
Allison: If you know what you’re doing, it’s an A+ pasta. If you don’t, or you’re just braindead after work and being lazy, it’s in the C-range. It’s a pasta that demands your full attention and respect.
Marnie: Hmm I respect your decision to be wrong
Allison: Says the woman who has lost to me three straight times
Marnie: OUCH. Okay my next pick will hopefully change that: elbow macaroni
Aimee: A classic.
Allison: If it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s good enough for me.
Marnie: Whom among us does not feel nostalgic? Whom among us would disagree with a team that has drafted macaroni?!
WHOMST WOULD NOT VOTE FOR ME
Also, think of the crafting possibilities. Picture frames, ornaments...
Aimee: Yeah, think of all those necklaces worn by mothers of preschoolers.
Marnie: Trump card. What’s your round 4, Aimee?
Aimee: Cavatappi! It’s like macaroni, but it goes on and on and on. I don’t know why it pleases me so much, but it does.
Marnie: I never thought of it as “runaway macaroni” before, but you’re absolutely right
I assume it gets that shape by winding around a stick or something?
Aimee: Oh, think of the poor nonnas, twisting noodles around sticks over and over.
Marnie: They do so love us
Aimee: The imaginary nonnas who made all the dried noodles in all the boxes at the grocery store.
Marnie: Bless them
Allison: I admire the commitment of the OG cavatappi makers. They knew it would take forever and hurt their fingers, and yet it didn’t stop them.
For my fourth pick, I’m taking another unpredictable choice: rotelle, better known in America as wagon wheels
I mean, c’mon. They’re little tiny wheels. How much fun is that?
Marnie: BUT, they’re annoying because so many of the spokes rip.
Usually you get it on kiddie menus, where they aren’t being prepared with a whole lot of care.
Aimee: Rotelle makes me think of rotel. Which reminds me of Texas. Which is where pioneers went in covered wagons with big wheels. It all makes sense.
Allison: And they bob around in soup like little life preservers trying to save all the vegetables!
Marnie: A little annoying to fork, since the thinnest parts of the pasta are facing up.
Allison: I like to think of it as a challenge. So much of pasta eating is playing with your food, as long as you have your priorities straight
I like trying to get a few on different tines of my fork, like it’s a carnival game.
Marnie: Again, hazardous sauce-flinging potential. But to each their own.
Allison: And for my last pick, one that might seem out of left field, but if you know this pasta, you know this pasta: pastina
This is the first pasta that babies eat. This is the pasta your grandma made you when you came over. This is the pasta you eat when you are sick.
Aimee: Or Chicken and Stars, if you are not Italian.
Marnie: It just feels a bit like eating.......pasta remnant
You can’t bite it, you can’t twist it, fork it, slurp it....
Aimee: Maybe you could if you had little baby teeth.
Marnie: Good point
Aimee: Or if you were a fish.
Allison: Pastina might be the most comforting pasta shape in the world. You cover with with butter, and they slip around in your mouth like tiny jewels
Marnie: If I want that sensation, I’ll drink bubble tea
Allison: It’s definitely one of those pastas that’s tied deeply to cultural identity. Pastina people are my people.
Marnie: It’s an odd choice to end on, I’ll say that
Aimee’s got one more pick, and while I have no idea what she’ll choose, I guess we know she can’t go tinier than pastina
Aimee: I will go with... alphabet noodles. I have no idea how authentic they are, but they made it really fun to play with your food, except you could say that you were practicing your spelling and it would be hard to argue.
Marnie: Damn, that is one endearing selection, and even better reasoning
Allison: I look for those all the time and can never find them!
Aimee: It’s sad that they only come in soup.
Marnie: We got a big bag of dry alphabet pasta for our pantry! But I think it was sent on accident?
Allison: I’d get boxes when I was a kid. I think they probably don’t sell well anymore because everyone got so serious about pasta.
Aimee: It’s a shame.
Marnie: Taking us home, just because I feel like someone HAS to have it on their list........farfalle
Aimee: A controversial choice.
Marnie: Bow ties are not my favorite pasta, but eating them is SUCH a unique experience. The center and the edges have totally different consistency and hold onto sauce differently. But man, they are easy to pierce with your fork.
The satisfaction of getting a stack of two or three in one forkful is like nothing else.
Aimee: I hate them so.
Marnie: Tell me why!
Aimee: I associate them with gloppy pasta salads. And also what you said about holding onto the sauce. Something about them just makes me cringe inside.
Marnie: Oh man, I think of pasta salad too, but the kind with the biggest hunks of mozzarella and salami and black olives. (This is all a good thing, by the way.)
Aimee: I think you had way better pasta salads than I did.
Marnie: Farfalle is perhaps even better cold than hot? Can any other pasta say that?
Well, I think we came up with a good spread here. Anyone have any guesses about the most obvious pasta we forgot?
Aimee: The gnocchi fans will probably be mad.
Who won this week’s Takeout Draft? Vote in the comments, or head to our poll on Twitter.