Italian restaurants and Aspen go together like spaghetti and meatballs—at least a half-dozen strong (depending on how you count), they are also some of the longest-running dining establishments in town. Part of the reason could be that most of their chefs embrace the painstaking process of rolling egg pasta by hand.
Stuffed ravioli and tortelloni may take their shape from pasta molds or artisan trade secrets, but only a few local kitchens possess a contraption that takes noodles to the next level: an extruder. Though pricey—the individual brass dies used to create each shape of pasta cost a few hundred bucks each, over and above the cost of the machine itself, which can run into the thousands—these tabletop tools turn out round strands and whimsical forms from little more than durum wheat semolina flour and water. And the differences between the output and an imported dried product are transformative: fresh-pressed bucatini, for example, sings in a simple sauce of cream and shaved white truffle, says chef Matt Zubrod, who features the dish on his tasting menu at the Little Nell.
“Even though we’re a French-based restaurant, people come here for pasta,” says Cache Cache chef de cuisine Nate King, who features at least four fresh starters on his menu. Evidence: Cache Cache swept the 2015 Aspen Mac and Cheese Fest in September with help from Aspen High School ProStart culinary students, who extruded and cut more than thirty-six pounds of lumache al verde (snail-shaped shells colored with parsley and fennel fronds). Now bathed in vegetable-studded tomato sauce, lumache makes for a favorite dinner entrée. Another staple from Cache Cache’s ten extruded shapes: trumpet-like campanelle with house-made Berkshire pork and fennel sausage, spigarella, and seasonal vegetables.
While Element 47 at the Little Nell takes a classical approach to pasta production—simple ingredients, a hands-on approach—its house-extruded strozzapreti features a more creative supporting cast. The elongated, S-shaped noodles—which translate to “priest-choker,” as Roman clergy were reported to have so little restraint for the delicacy that they ate it to death—are bathed in a glossy brown sauce of reduced chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, and charred cipollini onions and topped with crispy morsels of veal sweetbreads. Thanks to this star dish and a rotating selection of three others, the kitchen now employs two cooks who prepare pasta exclusively, all winter long.
Unabashedly Italian, Trecento Quindici Decano at the St. Regis Aspen Resort sticks to tradition when topping house-extruded pasta—spaghetti, elbows, and gnocchi included. Large, tender tubes of rigatoni are ideal vehicles for garlicky veal, beef, and pork Bolognese—Trecento’s best-selling extruded pasta dish since it opened two years ago.
Even with all of this temptingly toothsome bounty, in an increasingly gluten-free, carb-conscious world, why so many noodles in Aspen? “Because everyone’s in shape,” Zubrod explains, “and they can afford the carbs.”
So fuel up on these crowd-pleasing dishes of extruded noodles, but be warned: macaroni from a box may never taste the same again.