Pasta perfetta

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The ultimate in fork-twirling, noodle-slurping, chin-slapping, sauce-swabbing comfort food needs no real introduction. We all love pasta—from the authentically al dente to the Italian-American alfredo—but here are a half dozen primo plates around town good enough to share with your Italian grandma.—Megan Headley

(Photos by Cramer Photo)

It’s almost a crime to eat at tavola without ordering chef/owner Michael Keaveny’s dreamy pork ragu (bottom photo), but a simple dish like bucatini all’amatriciana really shows his stuff, too. A tangle of toothsome, hollow bucatini noodles soak up the spicy tomato sauce accented by nothing more than red onion, calabrian chili, pancetta, and a flurry of parmigiano.

Sure, the Downtown Grille is known for steak, but its seafood linguine—jumbo sea scallops, sautéed shrimp, cherrystone clams, and Prince Edward Island mussels in a light tomato basil broth—is anything but a concession.

At The Local, you can choose either a half or full order of gnocchi (top photo)—pillowy potato dumplings—with braised local beef, garlicky tomato sauce, and parmigiano, but you’re gonna want the full order.

All the pasta at Barboursville’s Palladio Restaurant is handmade by Executive Chef Melissa Close-Hart and as ethereal as can be. She always has a filled pasta on the menu, like the sweetbread and fennel ravioli with a caramelized lemon and Madeira pan sauce. It’s filled with utter deliciousness.

The silky ribbons of pappardelle at Tempo join portobello mushrooms, English peas, pecorino, homemade crème fraîche, and truffle in a vegetarian entrée that’ll thrill even the most voracious carnivores.

Eppie’s surely knows that their spaghetti with turkey meatballs isn’t authentically Italian, but they do it right and at under $10, it really hits the spot. Oh, and it comes with garlic bread.

DID YOU KNOW?

You can thank Thomas Jefferson for your Kraft Macaroni and Cheese obsession. TJ introduced the United States to the curly pasta after a dish he enjoyed in Naples, Italy.

Pasta in the making

There are no secrets at Mona Lisa Pasta. That’s because the shop’s expert pasta-makers work in an airy kitchen with very few walls. Owner Jim Winecoff wants his customers to see how wholesome his fresh, handmade pasta is.

“Flour, semolina, egg, and water go in the machine,” he says, “then we can add flavors as needed.” The most popular? The basic egg, spinach, and mushroom sell the most, but even the more unusual flavors like olive and squid ink have their faithful followers.

The machine kneads the raw ingredients and then extrudes a stream of pasta dough. Human hands take over as the pasta-maker slices off and stacks large rectangular sheets of smooth and often colorful pasta.

These simple slices help build Mona Lisa’s layered lasagna, are cut into rounds for ravioli (from standard spinach to indulgent lobster and crab), and trimmed into different width strands for capellini, spaghetti, linguine, and fettuccine.

Fresh pasta cooks in salted, boiling water in about 90 seconds, and should be served within four to five days of purchase. “It tastes and feels different in your mouth,” said Winecoff, on the difference from dried pasta. He also makes homemade sauces—from marinara to bolognese—for sale by the pint and half-pint. Mona Lisa’s imported antipasti, salumi, cheese, olive oil, vinegar, biscotti, and wine turn your Italian feast into a work of art.—Eric Angevine

When pasta met sauce

Pasta and sauce go together like love and marriage, but there are shapes more compatible with certain sauces than others. Here’s a guide to making a match that’s amore.—M.H.

Short and tubular (ziti, penne, rigatoni): Thick and chunky

Spiral (fusilli, cavatappi) and cupped (shells, orecchiette): Cream, pesto, sausage

Long and thin (capellini, spaghetti, bucatini, linguine): Pomodoro, olive oil-based

Long and thick (fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle): Cream, ragù

Tiny (stelline, ditalini, orzo): Stirred into soups

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