Pasta point of no return: In downtown alone, we have a quartet of family-style Italian restaurants: Maggiano's, reviewed above, chain link Il Fornaio (1631 Wazee Street), locally owned Santino's (1939 Blake Street) and Bella Ristorante (1920 Market Street), which is part of a local group of restaurants. That's 40,000 square feet of big-portion Italian, and now here comes Buca di Beppo, which will sit in the old college bookstore at 1400 Market Street by the end of this fall.
The Minneapolis-based Buca--whose name means "Joe's Basement"--seems to take itself less seriously than the other guys, but it's not kidding about its portions: One signature dish is the spaghetti with meatballs, which features two pounds of pasta, three 1/2-pound meatballs and a pound of sauce, all for $15. While Buca managers don't play Frank Sinatra incessantly, they have been known to overdo Dean Martin's "That's Amore." Still, as an eternally recovering Catholic, I can appreciate their "Pope's Table," which features a nearly life-sized, glass-encased replica of the pontiff's head popping up through the center of a table that seats fourteen.
But that's a lotta macaroni in one fifty-square-block area. Not to mention two others not too far out of the core city: the ever-popular and first-to-bring-family-style-here Carmine's on Penn, at 92 Pennsylvania, and Modena, at 2780 East Second Avenue in Cherry Creek North.
I see the future, and it gives me heartburn.
But this recipe from Canino's Trattoria (see review, previous page)--what's seeming like one of the last of a dying breed of made-from-scratch mom-and-pop Italians--will fill your tummy with warm, cheesy feelings. Use good lasagne noodles (imported if you can find them), and go with a whole-milk ricotta, which is key to the dish's ultra-richness.
Lasagne di Spinaci Tre Formaggi
12 ounces lasagne noodles
2 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed and well-drained
3 pounds ricotta cheese
1/2 pound Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
8 eggs, beaten well
16 ounces shredded mozzarella
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish with olive oil. Cook the noodles according to package directions (do not overcook). With a slotted spoon, place pasta in a large bowl of cold water; remove immediately and pat dry. Thaw and drain spinach; pat dry. Make filling by combining ricotta, Pecorino-Romano, parsley, salt and eggs until smooth. Line bottom of baking dish with pasta, top with filling mixture, spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella, repeating for three more layers and ending with mozzarella; dot lasagne with butter and cover dish. Lower oven heat to 350 degrees and bake lasagne for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake 20 minutes more, until cheese on top is a golden-brown color. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6-9.
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That's not Italian: Sostanza is still a beautiful space at 1699 17th Street, but all too often that space has been almost empty. In an effort to differentiate itself from other Italian eateries in the area, the kitchen's added French specialties. Meanwhile, at the other end of the block, at 1701 Wazee Street, Common Grounds is about to open its second coffeeshop (the original is at 3484 West 32nd Avenue). That's great news to those of us who work in LoDo and have lamented the passing of java huts The Art of Coffee and Jitters in that same area. Mary and Lisa Rogers, the mother-daughter team that run Common Grounds, promise that the coffee will be on by the first of April.
Food and wine: My all-time favorite "taste of" party, the Taste of Vail, is set for April 8, 9 and 10 in Vail. This year they've wisely moved the mountaintop picnic to Friday instead of having that foodfest and the "grand tasting" both on Saturday, which means participants will have time to digest in between. Prices vary according to which seminars and tastings you attend, so call 1-888-311-5665 for more info, or log on at www.tasteofvail.com.
And since summer will be here before you know it, it's not too early to reserve a space at the Women, Food and Wine dinner at the Flagstaff House on June 15, which will be a fundraiser for Boulder Community Hospital's Breast Cancer unit. The cost is $275 per person and includes a meal made by four nationally known female chefs, the dishes for which will be paired with wines made by four female winemakers. Call 1-800-341-1494, or log on at www.colorado.net/epsm/wfw.