Flavored pastas fuse convenience and taste

There are days when nothing sounds better than a heaping bowl of pasta.

Perhaps you return home late from class, starving and in need of a quick meal. Or maybe you’re experiencing pangs of nostalgia for that old Italian restaurant you used to frequent with your family — you know, the place with the red-checkered tablecloths.

And then there are days when anything but pasta is your desired dinner option. Perhaps because it’s cheap and easy to cook, it’s the only thing you’ve eaten in weeks.

In either case, flavored pasta presents an exciting twist on the most familiar of pantry items. And fortunately for us, it’s suddenly everywhere.

One can typically find flavored pasta at farmers markets. That is where I have purchased ziti in an assortment of pea, carrot and beet flavors. The colors — green, yellow and rust red — are gorgeous, and the flavor is just as vibrant. Orange Szechuan spaghetti, or one made entirely from greens like spinach and basil, are other examples of what you might find.

The Original Farmers Market — insofar as you can call that a “farmers market” — is another place where flavored pasta can be purchased. Located in the center of the bustling bazaar is Pappardelle’s Pasta.

Pappardelle’s makes some of its pasta using Indian curry, others with sweet potato and lavender. They have roughly 50 flavors of linguine, fettucine and tagliatelle.

Maybe most intriguingly, Pappardelle’s makes a linguine with dark chocolate. If you’re hesitant about the taste, ask for a sample. You’ll be instructed to place a dry piece on your tongue, and in a few seconds an intense cocoa flavor will invade your mouth. “For dessert?” you might find yourself asking, only to be surprisingly instructed that chocolate pasta works well as an entrée.

It is an entrée, in fact, at Valentino restaurant. On some nights the Santa Monica institution features a pappardelle ai ciocolotto, a chocolate pasta that’s served with tomato sauce and lobster. I can’t vouch for the taste of this dish, but the fact that it exists is indicative of today’s demand for inventiveness in the simplest of foods.

Making pasta requires a mere two ingredients: flour and water. Home pasta machines start at as low as $50, and some are smaller than a toaster. And adding your own flavors to the dough, practicing kitchen improvisation as you go, is a fun activity. Cutting up and throwing in your favorite herbs is a smart, uncomplicated way to start.

But considering that pasta has been a humble dietary staple for centuries, this rise of flavored pasta begs the question: Why now? As gluten and carbs become an ever-evil force, the bane of every other health guru in the food world, pasta needs a new angle to seem appealing.

That’s exactly what flavored pasta provides: It’s hard not to appreciate a dish that’s not only simple to make, but comes with generous amounts of complex flavor. Additionally, the resurgence of locally made goods has welcomed a crop of pasta makers who are personalizing their creations with unique flavors and recipes.

This, then, might just be a pasta revolution.

Admittedly, the term “pasta revolution” comes from the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It turns out Pasta Revolution is the name of the publication’s latest cookbook, but it also seems to be an apt name for this new advance of flavored pastas.

The timing also fits well in Los Angeles as the city waits for another outpost of Mario Batali’s New York hotspot Eataly. An Italian market and dining concept that feeds nearly 5,000 diners daily, Eataly is rumored to be coming to Los Angeles with a late 2012 debut.

However long it takes, the pasta revolution shouldn’t end until Eataly’s arrival.

OK, so the term is a bit dramatic. But as far as national movements go, a pasta-fueled one sounds too deliciously fun to resist.


Bernard Leed is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column “Amuse-Bouche” runs Wednesdays.