Frigid winter temps make for a perfect excuse to carb-load, and Denver's Italian food scene has plenty to offer in the pasta department. Here are eight pasta dishes that you should eat right now.
Ricotta cavatelli from Luca
All of Frank Bonanno's homemade pastas are uniformly terrific, but the ricotta cavatelli, with shavings of Pecorino Romano and shards of braised rabbit in a robust ragù, is a must-try.
Cost: $14 (entree portions are also available)
Drink This: Sommelier and general manager Jim Herbst praises the Marchesi di Gresi Langhe Nebbiolo if you're looking for a by-the-glass pour, or the Terre Nere "Calderara Sotana" Etna Rosso if you want to splurge on a bottle.
711 Grant St.; 303-832-6600
Artichoke and white truffle tortelloni from Rioja
When chef Jennifer Jasinski first opened Rioja with business partner Beth Gruitch, her lusty artichoke and white truffle tortelloni, filled with creamy goat cheese mousse, quickly became her signature dish. Ten years later at the newly revamped incarnation, the delicate housemade pasta pouches are still a front runner.
Cost: $12 as a starter, $19.50 as a main course
Drink This: Pair it with a glass of the Spanish Torres Viña Esmeralda, a blend of Moscatel and Gewürztraminer.
1431 Larimer St.; 303-820-2282
Pasta carbonara from Fruition
While chef-owner Alex Seidel's menu changes often, his pasta carbonara, a tangle of handmade cavatelli with house-cured pork belly topped with a jiggling egg and pooled in a Cacio Pecora broth, steals the show.
Drink This: By the glass, order the Vigne Surrau Vermentino from Italy, a medium-bodied white with bright acidity in the finish. If you want to pair the pasta with a bottle, sommelier Aaron Foster recommends the French Marcel Deiss Pino Gris. It has a "richer style with fruit up front, but there's an underlying petrol/saline quality that works great with the carbonara," he says.
1313 E. Sixth St.; 303-831-1962
Pappardelle with meat ragù from Sarto's
Brian Laird harbors a deep passion for everything Italian, and his handcrafted pastas are especially lovely, most notably his superb ragù with sheets of pappardelle, the egg-fortified pasta native to Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.
Cost: $8 for a half portion, $15 for a full portion
Drink This: A bottle of the Palladino Barbera d'Alba, a dry and balanced red from Piedmont.
2900 W. 25th Ave.; 303-455-1400
Gnocchi from DiFranco's
Fresh-made pastas are the siren song of this Capitol Hill Italian that features seasonal creations, including a warming cold-weather gnocchi with fresh oregano, pecorino and shreds of braised beef shoulder immersed in a beef jus.
Drink This: A bottle of Castello di Ama Chianti Classico 2010, an elegant, earthy and slightly spicy red from Tuscany.
955 Lincoln St.; 720-253-1244
Fettuccini with housemade sausage from Cafe Mercato
This new Italian restaurant in Lowry, a sibling to Locanda del Borgo, prepares skillful handcrafted pasta dishes, including a hearty fettuccine matched with housemade sausage and porcini mushrooms in a light white wine sauce.
Drink This: The Ernst & Neue 2013 Veneto Pino Grigio, offered by the glass and bottle.
7561 E. Academy Blvd.; 303-366-1315
Pastiche from Panzano
Chef Elise Wiggins's soulful and satisfying skillet-baked pastiche, an intersection of layered sheets of cheese tortellini, spicy meatballs, ragù and cinnamon custard, is topped with a savory thyme-scented puffed crust that's the crowning touch on the updated casserole.
Drink This: General manager Matt Snyder suggests matching the pastiche with the La Spinetta ‘Il Nero di Casanova, Sangiovese, 2011 Tuscany, available by the glass or bottle. "It's a full-bodied, densely rich and intense ruby red wine and with scents of ripe berries, vanilla and coffee, and it pairs well with the heartiness and richness of the pastiche," he says.
909 17th St.; 303-296-3525
Veal ravioli from The Wooden Table
For proof that chef Brett Shaheen is among the most talented of the new-school chefs in the city cooking Italian cuisine, look no further than his handmade ravioli. The plump pillows are stuffed with shredded veal and Parmesan fonduta cloaked in a deeply rich marsala sauce punctuated with meaty hedgehog mushrooms.
Cost: $14 for a half portion, $28 for a full portion
Drink This: You can't go wrong with a bottle of the Carlin de Paolo Terre Alfieri Nebbiolo.
2500 E. Orchard Rd.; 303-730-2152