This may be a little too personal but seriously: How’s your pasta life?
If you’re like most Americans, pasta night is fairly bland and predictable. You probably have fewer than six shapes of pasta on your shelf, led by the usual suspects: spaghetti, elbows (or macaroni), fettuccine and penne with maybe some ravioli and rigatoni. Cue the weekly spaghetti with marinara and mac-n-cheese.
Yet, if you look on Boulder supermarket shelves, you’ll find an arsenal of other great dried pasta shapes and sizes. You can upgrade your pasta meals simply by switching up the shapes of pasta you use without changing anything else. It’s worth experimenting because pasta is an affordable pleasure — even imported pastas aren’t that pricey.
“Pasta is our common language,” says Claudia Bouvier, who grew up in Brazil in a thoroughly Italian family devoted to traditional cuisine. Bouvier trained under a pasta maker in Bologna, Italy, and opened Pastaficio, a Boulder company producing fresh and dried pastas from freshly ground, locally grown ancient and heritage wheat. She hand-makes and cooks pasta virtually every day ranging from malfaldine (frilly fettucine) to gnocchetti sardi (shells) to ruffled casarecce.
“The goal is to match the geometry of the pasta with the right sauce,” Bouvier says. It’s not an arbitrary Italian thing. “Different pasta shapes really are better with certain kinds of sauces. Flats including long, thin pastas like fettucine and spaghetti go with thin, light and oil-based sauce. Chewier shapes are for thick and hearty sauces,” she says.
It’s not a question of fresh versus dried. “People perceive fresh pasta as being higher end, but each type is used for different preparations. You can’t get al dente pasta unless it’s dried first,” Bouvier says.
Here are some easy pasta substitutions:
Instead of spaghetti, use linguine for a little more chew with tomato sauce. Substitute wider pappardelle noodles that will grab chunky preparations. Papardelle also works perfectly for Thai “drunken noodles.”
Instead of rigatoni, try radiatore — yes, they look like little radiators! — with lots of nooks and crannies to grab thick Bolognese meat ragu.
Instead of penne or shells, try small shapes like “trompetti” (shaped like a horn) or orrechiette (little ears) in baked pasta dishes.
For mac and cheese, skip the same old macaroni elbows and try chewier small shapes like gemelli, fusilli or farfalle. “With mac and cheese you have to cook the pasta very al dente, use better cheeses and have lots of sauce because the pasta will absorb it,” Bouvier says.
Instead of sauce, try cooking tiny orzo, cheese tortellini or ditalini pastas in hot chicken or veggie broth. For extra zest, add roasted green chilies.
For a simple preparation, sauté al dente farfalle noodles with olive oil, chopped fresh garlic, chile flakes and finely chopped broccoli rabe or kale.
To cook dried pasta, use a much bigger pot than you think you need “so the pasta has room to cook properly and evenly,” Bouvier says. Also, use plenty of salt in the water but no olive oil ever. When the water boils hard, put the pasta in and stir gently. After it comes back to a hard boil, turn it down to medium. Check cooking times on the package and add a few minutes because of the altitude, but remove when al dente. You want a little crunch because the pasta needs to finish cooking in the hot sauce, she says.
“The main thing cooks get wrong is in draining the pasta. Don’t use a colander,” Bouvier says. Use tongs or a slotted spoon. You get the pasta directly from the pot and put it into the hot sauce, toss and serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil.
“There’s a magic that happens when you get that technique right,” she says.
Pastificio pastas are available online, at Isabelle Farm Stand, the Boulder County Farmers Market and as part of farm CSAs.
Local Food News
Top Chef finalist Carrie Baird has departed Denver’s acclaimed Bar Dough and will open Rose’s Classic Americana this spring at Boulder’s Rosetta Hall. She will team with Natascha Hess of the food hall’s Ginger Pig to form the That’s What She Said restaurant group. The eatery replaces Justin Brunson’s Folsom Foods with an all-day menu featuring her famous huevos rancheros that Beat Bobby Flay. … National Margarita Day is Saturday, Feb. 22. To celebrate, Big Red F’s Centro Mexican Kitchen and Zolo Grill are offering specials. Zolo’s got their house marg available for $5 all day long and prickly pear versions for $7. Also feel free to dive into their selection of 250-plus tequilas and mezcals. Centro’s got a weekend-long event with $5 margs before sunset, $8 frozen margs and a variety of other specials.
Taste of the Week
The pure flavor of raspberry comes through in the Raspberry Vodka made at Lafayette’s On Point Distillery. Corn-distilled vodka is thoroughly infused with tons of ripe raspberry flavor and lets off a great aroma. It’s not a liqueur but it’s sweet enough to mellow the alcohol and fine for sipping, mixing or using like an extract in baked goods and fruit-based dishes.
Words to Chew On
“Are we going to measure or are we going to cook?” — Mimi Sheraton
John Lehndorff talks about the history of pie in Colorado Feb. 26 at the Niwot’s Left Hand Grange.