The bucatini guanciale carbonara served at Boulder’s Emmerson restaurant only includes the essentials. The long, tubular, house-made noodles are cooked al dente and tossed with cubes of guanciale — cured, unsmoked pork cheek. The noodles are barely coated with egg yolks and finely grated pecorino Romano. It wasn’t a gigantic portion but the amazingly rich, classy, bacon-and-eggs taste lingers in memory.
If the chef had used linguine, farfalle or vermicelli instead, it would not have been the same experience.
Whenever I visit the Boulder County Farmers Market (opening April 7), it’s easy to get caught up in the fresh greens, dumplings and mushrooms, but I’m always mesmerized by the Pappardelle Pasta booth.
The Denver-based company makes dozens of shapes, sizes and flavors ranging from basil tangerine fettuccine and dark chocolate linguine to green chile pappardelle, habanero radiatore and sweet potato orzo. I imagine the pastas mingling with various sauces, market veggies and meats.
The Italians (not to mention the Chinese) did not invent hundreds of macaroni variations because they were bored. Well, maybe some of them, but different shapes hold and show-off some sauces better than others. They elevate pasta from a bland canvas into an essential flavor component.
Traditionally, round pasta strands like spaghetti work best with clingy tomato sauce. More delicate, thin, long noodles like angel hair need a lighter sauce like garlic and olive oil without a ton of additions. Linguine seems to love lobster.
These are “rules” I ignore all the time, including with my recent Asian fusion fusilli tossed with toasted sesame oil, vegetables, pickled ginger, siracha and toasted coconut.
Pasta is cheap. Try experimenting with some of the following:
Shaped pastas: Farfalle (bow ties) to radiatore (radiators)
These “structural” pasta shapes (including fusilli, orecchiette and rotelle) are made for catching thicker, heavier sauces with lots of veggies, seafood or meats.
Tubes: Rigatoni to cavatappi (corkscrew)
Tubular pastas including penne and ziti function well as chewy conveyors of flavors. Use these in baked pasta dishes (including mac-and-cheese), tomato meat sauces and pasta salads. Noodles designated “rigate” have ridges, which catch more pesto or puttanesca than smooth noodles.
Long, flat pasta: Pappardelle
The wide surface area of flat ribbon pastas like pappardelle hold their own with big meaty or mushroom sauces. They are also perfect for Thai “drunken noodles” and with peanut- and coconut-based curries.
Cooking pasta at altitude
When newcomers make pasta they confront the reality of our more-than-mile-high altitude. The water just doesn’t get as hot. Water boils in Boulder at about 201 degrees versus 212 degrees at sea level. The spaghetti that cooks in seven minutes in Florida can take 10 or more minutes here. In Rollinsville, it can take forever.
A watched pot: Use your largest pot with lots of water. Wait until the water is at a rolling boil on “high” before adding pasta. Be patient. Putting a lid on it speeds up the process, but stir the pasta often so it doesn’t stick or boil over.
No oil, no rinse: Don’t add oil to the boiling water or rinse cooked pasta. Both make it harder for sauces to grab onto pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce after draining versus pouring sauce over the noodles.
Salt right: It’s fake news that adding salt makes water boil faster. It does the opposite. However, do salt the water to make pasta taste better.
Al dente or not?: Don’t go by timing. Taste the pasta as it finishes cooking. Al dente means firm to the bite (not crunchy) and soft (not squishy). Undercook any pasta you will cook again on the stove or in the oven.
Save the pasta water: Don’t drain all of the water. A little not-too-salty pasta water is a good addition to tomato and other sauces.
And called it macaroni
Be the first one in your Facebook group to adopt the Aldentica typeface composed of penne rigate, stelline, ruote, macaroni and other pasta shapes. Download: saveur.com/pasta-font-aldentica.
(“Macaroni” or “maccheroni” is actually a pasta shape. The small bent tubes are mostly found in blue boxes of Kraft Dinner.)
Jarring local sauce
If you miss Louisville’s Blue Parrot Restaurant (or ate its red sauce in Boulder schools), Blue Parrot spaghetti sauce is available at local supermarkets. So are bottles of Pasta Jay’s familiar, garlic-infused marinara. Aiello’s sauces (from the late Patsy’s Inn) are an affordable option. My favorite is the pricier roasted garlic fra diavolo, a lively, red chile-infused sauce from Denver’s Spinelli’s Market. For a good time, poach eggs in simmering sauce and ladle over spinach fettucine.
Local food news
Tangerine Restaurant has opened a new location at 300 S. Public Road, Lafayette. … Pho Kitchen is open at 2900 Baseline Road, Boulder. … Stem Ciders’ 12-acre facility in Lafayette is open, including Acreage restaurant. Menu items catching my attention: cider-glazed donuts and cast-iron cornbread with pimiento cheese … Congratulations to Colorado’s winners of the 2018 Good Food Awards honoring food producers nationally. Boulder’s Ozo Coffee Roasters won for its Ethiopia Hambela Kirite beans. Stem Ciders was honored for its Colorado-heritage blend cider. Other local honorees are Elevation Charcuterie (Calabrese); Big B’s Hard Cider (Grand Cru Ciaison); DRAM (Pine Syrup); and Deerhammer Distillery (American Single Malt). … Gardeners will spring forward early March 10 at the main Boulder Public Library, where they will trade saved vegetable and flower seeds and local gardening wisdom.
Taste of the week
I boiled some spaghetti and sautéed it in a pan with olive oil, garlic, mushrooms, dry basil, salt and black pepper. I finished it with whipped whole eggs, shredded extra sharp cheddar and toasted sliced almonds. That was brunch.
Words to chew on
“I always have Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil and pasta at home. When people get sick, they want chicken soup; I want spaghetti with Parmesan cheese, olive oil and lemon zest. It makes me feel better every time.” — Isabella Rossellini
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org).