The Pasta Chronicles

Some people count sheep when they can't sleep. I count pasta dishes. There's something about a plate of pasta that's incredibly soothing and satisfying at the same time, and soothing and satisfying thoughts are surefire paths to sleep. The other night I couldn't sleep, and I tried to come up with a list of my most satisfying pastas of the last year. I had a good time putting my little list together, so I thought other people would, too. I asked Adam Platt, restaurant critic at New York magazine, Serious Eats community member Sandro, and Johanne Killeen, co-owner of Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, and the coauthor (along with her husband and business partner, George Gerrmon) of the new book, On Top of Spaghetti. Johanne was kind enough to let us post one of the pasta recipes from the book.

ADAM PLATT | New York magazine Andrew Carmellini's grandma ravioli at A Voce (41 Madison Avenue, New York NY 10010; 212-545-8555) is the best Chef Boyardee–style ravioli you can get. They are plump ravioli with vacuum-sealed meatballs inside, there's nothing tricked out about them. They're the kind of ravioli you had when you were a kid that you couldn't stop eating. Carmellini's ravioli taste like they were made by a home cook.

The pasta with crab with jalapeño and bread crumbs at Del Posto (85 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10011; 212-497-8090) is really good. The jalapeño adds just the right touch of heat, and the bread crumbs lend some needed crunch.

For perfect eggy pasta simplicity and elegance, you can't beat the homemade fettuccine with white truffles and butter at Falai (68 Clinton Street, New York NY 10012; 212-253-1960). It's one of those rare pasta dishes that actually brings out the flavor of the fresh pasta. Of course, the white truffles don't exactly hurt the dish.

SANDRO | Serious Eats community member My favorite pasta dish of the past year was tagliatelle with shrimp, cabbage, and pecorino cheese at Celeste (502 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY 10024; 212-874-4559). Two honorable mentions are Lupa's bavette with Cacio cheese and ground black pepper, and the Spotted Pig's sheep's ricotta gnudi with brown butter and sage.

The Celeste dish features superbly executed fresh pasta, which, as served, manages to achieve both the requisite "give" of a fresh (as opposed to dried) noodle, and the toothsomeness of properly cooked pasta (both fresh and dried) generally. The pasta shape, tagliatelle in this case, also perfectly suits this dish, in that a fork twist of noodles will sweep up pieces of the julienned white cabbage and the grated pecorino. The pecorino adds a pleasantly gamey sharpness to this dish, since the shrimp are subtle in flavor and add an excellent protein backbone to the dish. Not to be ignored, this dish makes a fine "secondo" after a salad, and it pulls in at $9—quite a value.

My honorable mentions reflect my general preference for accent pasta accompaniments, rather than overly flavored sauces that drown out the pasta's own flavor. Lupa's bavette are sublime, and, knowing this, the kitchen prepares a simple, bare coating of sharp, grated cheese (added during the cooking process for better noodle cling, rather than after) and ground black pepper for still more bite. I think of it as an empty-larder carbonara. Last, Spotted Pig's gnudi are certainly tasty, and almost certainly over the top.

The gnudi are a softer, creamier take on gnocchi, likely based on the former's cheesier origins. This is a heavy, decadent dish, and as an alternative, I'd love to try the gnudi with, perhaps, a spartan in-season tomato sauce with a few basil leaves thrown in. Nevertheless, as served, this is a flagship "primo" (and in this country, undoubtedly a "secondo" for many diners) that manages to extract every bit of flavor out of the sage leaves that grace the dish, although I'd say "When!" a bit earlier on the kitchen's heavy-handed brown butter pour.

JOHANNE KILLEEN | restaurateur, chef, cookbook author The best pasta I've had this year was on the island of Salina in Italy at a restaurant called Portobello. George and I ordered it a few years ago, and I just had to taste it again in September to see if it was as good as I had originally thought. It was better: linguine tossed with virgin olive oil, hot peppers, mint, bits of chopped raw garlic, and halved cherry tomatoes showered with ricotta infornata. It is heaven! Our version of the recipe is called Salina-style Spaghettini with Cherry Tomatoes. It is in our book On Top of Spaghetti.

Close seconds were in Liguria—spaghetti with gossamer slices of the best bottarga I've ever tasted in a simple garlic and oil sauce. The bottarga looked like paper-thin slices of rare roast beef—really the finest I've ever encountered. Or, linguine aglio olio with ricchetti (the tiniest fish I've ever seen—no longer than 1 inch and no thicker than 1/16 inch.These teensy-tiny fish are eaten whole—head, eyes, and everything.

ED LEVINE | Serious Eats Everyone needs a neighborhood pasta dish, and I am lucky enough to have two. Like Sandro, the tagliatelle with shrimp, cabbage, and pecorino at Celeste is the best $12 plate of pasta I know. I know you're not supposed to mix cheese with fish or shellfish, but believe me, this pasta rocks. The sheep cheese's tang doesn't overwhelm the nutty, more subtle flavor of the shrimp.

The other go-to pasta dish in my neighborhood is the goat cheese ravioli with tomato, pancetta, and basil at Ouest (2315 Broadway, New York NY 10024; 212-580-5700). Tom Valenti just knows how to cook food I'm happy to eat every day, and this dish is a perfect example. The ravioli are light, the goat cheese and pancetta are made for each other, and so, obviously, are the tomato and basil.

Pasta doesn't get any better than the tagliatelle with crab meat and sea urchin at Esca (402 West 43rd Street, New York NY 10036; 212-564-7272). The sea urchin is so creamy, you'll swear chef-owner Dave Pasternack dumped a pint of heavy cream in the dish. But he didn't. This is pasta for the Gods.

serves 6 to 8 as a first course or 4 to 6 as a main course
Ingredients 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 6 dozen small (8 to 10 ounces) ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half Pinch or up to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1 pound dried spaghettini 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced 1/2 cup heaping and loosely packed fresh mint leaves 1 1/4 cups (about 2 1/4 ounces) freshly grated ricotta infornata or ricotta salata

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Put the olive oil and cherry tomatoes in a large straight-sided sauté pan. Sprinkle with cayenne. Warm over medium heat until the tomatoes begin to give off some of their juice, shaking the pan every so often.

3. Meanwhile, generously salt the boiling water in the pot and add the spaghettini. Cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan, add the garlic, and toss with the tomatoes. Add 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss over medium heat until the water and oil emulsify. Add more water as necessary, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a nice creamy consistency and all the strands of spaghettini are well coated with sauce. Rip the mint leaves into small pieces and toss with the spaghettini. Transfer to heated bowls and top with the cheese. Serve right away.