Comeback Carb: Pasta finally wins over Atlanta chefs

It’s been a long time coming, but these six picks prove noodles are finally having their moment
Agnolotti with autumn squash and mascrapone from No. 246

Photograph by Patrick Heagney

It’s been a long road to glory for pasta in Atlanta. Without the large Italian population that blessed other American cities, we never had a community to teach us how to revere fragrant bowls of noodles. Spaghetti was a generic meal we boiled, tossed with jarred tomato sauce, and likely spiked with a cheese-like substance we shook from a green can. Or it equaled a gourmet endeavor involving mounds of flour, egg yolks, and an intimidating metal machine with a crank handle—too much bother for most of us.

Last decade’s low-carb fad diets, Atkins and South Beach and their ilk, nearly killed our appetite for pasta altogether. It took the recent recession—driving us back to comfort foods—to remind us how satisfying, almost healing, a twirl of al dente tagliatelle can be.
Our few long-running Italian restaurants—La Grotta and Sotto Sotto among them—did teach us some basics: Anoint pasta with sauce rather than drown it. Pair fresh pastas with delicate flavors and dried versions with heartier ingredients. Use thicker strands for cream sauces and ragus, and spiral shapes like fusilli to ensnare pesto. Floataway Cafe introduced us to the Cal-Ital approach to pasta, with minimal saucing but lively combinations like Georgia white shrimp tossed among ropy bucatini with chiles and parsley. In 2008 La Pietra Cucina imported the bombastic flavors of Mario Batali’s New York empire: Its opening chef, Bruce Logue, briefly worked at Batali’s flagship, Babbo, and cooked pungent numbers like chitarra (a thick noodle) with mussels and capers in a tomato broth.

Two years ago, Michael Patrick started Storico Fresco, a company specializing in obscure, regional Italian pasta recipes like turtej cu la cua, shaped to resemble a leaf and filled with ricotta, mascarpone, and greens like stinging nettle and Swiss chard. He eventually began experimenting with authentic recipes made of flours derived from grains (kamut, an ancient kin to wheat), pulses (fava beans), and nuts (hazelnuts).
Though Patrick comes at his craft from a purist’s standpoint, his unusual products sparked the imaginations of local chefs. In the last year, housemade pasta has become de rigueur on the menus of our best restaurants. We’ve finally left carbophobia behind; our cooks are recognizing that pastas make sublime foundations for seasonal vegetables and a gamut of meats. These six creations, a delectable mix of the traditional and the unorthodox, warm the stomach and engage the mind.

NO. 246
Agnolotti with autumn squash and mascarpone

Drew Belline fills little pillows
of dough with squash puree
and rich Italian cream cheese, then scatters them with diced acorn squash, crispy sage leaves, chives, and a judicious amount of brown butter accented with black pumpkin seed oil.

Pyramids of smoked tongue and Taleggio

Michael Patrick sells his delicacies out of a Buckhead shop on Roswell Road, but he also holds pop-up dinners that pay homage to generations of Italian cooks. One standout he offers guests is this Ligurian specialty that he strews with buttery hazelnuts for extra richness.

Spaghetti with White Oak Pastures chicken livers

Either you like chicken livers or you don’t, but chef Todd Immel rewards intrepid gastronomes by tossing his fresh noodles with a powerful sauce of finely chopped livers, capers, anchovies, and chiles.

Garganelli with pancetta, radicchio, and jalapeño

Extra-garlicky pesto, spicy hot peppers, and coarsely chopped hazelnuts enrobe toothy twists of fresh pasta, which are then showered with crisp cured pork and minced, slightly bitter radicchio.

Cannelloni stuffed with braised oxtail and Swiss chard

Drew Van Leuvan, a veteran pasta maker, rolls fresh dough extra thin and wraps it around a mixture of tender beef and seasonal greens. He bakes these cylinders and presents them over a stew of turnips and dried fruit plumped in cider.

Black spaghetti with Calabrese sausage and red shrimp

Bruce Logue, who left La Pietra Cucina to open his own place in Inman Park, creates wondrous strands of springy, squid ink–dyed pasta. They trap just enough spicy crumbled sausage, chopped shrimp, and fresh scallions for ideal ratios in every bite.

This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue under the headline “The Comeback Carb.”