What exactly is Colorado cuisine? It's a tough question to answer -- but one that 5280 Food Editor Amanda Faison was willing to take on in front of a live audience at the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax in Denver. As well she should: Faison, who has been the Denver magazine's food editor for more than a decade, developed "5280: The Cookbook -- Recipes for your kitchen from Denver and Boulder’s most celebrated chefs.”

It features recipes from the likes of Dana Rodriguez, who founded Latin American eatery Work & Class in the RiNo (River North Art District) neighborhood, and Kelly Whitaker, head chef of a new pizza and oyster bar called Cart-Driver, located next door. Whitaker also owns Basta, an Italian comfort food restaurant in Boulder. The two chefs joined Faison for "Colorado Matters at the Tattered." Of course there was some sampling. Whitaker brought along lasagna (buckwheat noodles star in the dish) and Rodriguez tempted all with New Jersey Ernie's Meatballs, whose tomato sauce bursts with the surprise of chipotle.

While the recipes are for restaurants, they're simplified for home kitchens. No sous chefs are required. They include appetizers from the new Stoic & Genuine in Union Station, Jennifer Jasinski's award-winning Rioja in Denver, and Blackbelly Market in Boulder. Entrees range from Colorado Fish and Chips from Denver's Root Down to Grilled Quail from Mizuna. With an assistant, food editor Faison cooked every recipe in her home kitchen. She insists they're all manageable -- even a paella recipe, a dish that has left many a home cook pulling out their hair.

"This is such an easy recipe that my family makes it on a weeknight," Faison says.  

There are recipes below -- and for tips on how to make your holiday meals unforgettable -- listen to audio (above) of Faison stirring up a delicious cocktail. Oh, and to answer the question of what defines Colorado cuisine: first, it typically involves game, like venison or buffalo, Faison says. Second, everything, because dining in Colorado -- especially metro Denver -- is booming.

“We had more than 40 restaurants open in July alone," she says.

Recipes

New Jersey Ernie's Meatballs with Chipotle Tomato Sauce

Delores Tronco and Dana Rodriguez, Work & Class

Yield: 8-10 servings; about 40 two-ounce meatballs

For the meatballs:

  • 1 ½ pounds ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons black pepper
  • ¼ cup, plus 3 tablespoons 
  • grated pecorino
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

For the chipotle-tomato sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1–2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 5 leaves fresh basil 
  • 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • two 26-ounce boxes or cans chopped 
  • tomatoes in their liquid

For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large mixing bowl, combine 
the ground pork, veal, salt, black pepper, and grated pecorino cheese with 
your hands, kneading until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Add 
the heavy cream slowly until the mixture is slightly sticky. Do not overwork 
the mixture, as it will make the meatballs tough. Roll the mixture into round, golf ball–size rounds, about 2 ounces each, making sure to pack them together firmly. Place the meatballs on a flat sheet tray coated in cooking spray, being careful to line them up evenly and snugly so they form a grid. Bake for 7 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the oven and transfer to a 9-by-13 oven-safe baking dish. Lightly cover the meatballs with the tomato sauce. Reduce the oven  temperature to 300° and bake for another 60 minutes. 

For the sauce: Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the vinegar to deglaze and reduce all the way. Add all remaining ingredients and cook on medium-high heat for 40 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, then remove from heat and cool slightly. Carefully place in blender or food processor and blend until smooth, then transfer back to saucepan and reheat before serving. If you prefer softer meatballs, add them to the sauce and cook on low heat for up to 4 hours prior to serving. The longer you leave them on the stove, the softer they will become. 

Six-Layer Vegetarian Lasagna

Chef/Owner Kelly Whitaker, Basta

​Yield: 8-10 servings

For the buckwheat and semolina pasta:

  • 10 ounces OO flour*
  • 3 ounces semolina flour*
  • 2 ounces buckwheat flour*
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1⁄2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • For the béchamel sauce:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 ounces Grana Padano cheese
  • 14 egg yolks 
  • 1 whole egg
  • salt
  • white pepper

For the tomato sauce:

  • two 16-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
  • salt to taste

For the filling:

  • 10 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 10 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 4 ounces Burrata cheese 
  • 3 ounces Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces fresh basil
  • salt

*00, buckwheat, and semolina flours can be found (and weighed) in Whole Foods’ bulk section

For the pasta: Place all the dry ingredients (flours and salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a dough hook. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients and lightly whisk with a fork. Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and slowly add wet ingredients for about 5 minutes, or until pasta comes together. Pasta should be dry and not stick to your hands. 

Using a pasta machine, roll dough out to a 6. Run the dough through the machine, fold it in half, and run it through again. Repeat this about 30 times. Your pasta should be 5 inches wide. Cut to the following lengths: 4 sheets at 14 inches; 8 sheets at 10 inches. Blanch your pasta 2 sheets at a time in heavily salted, boiling water for about 10 seconds. Remove pasta sheets from water, drain well, and drizzle with olive oil to keep from sticking as you stack the sheets. Do not run the pasta under cold water.

For the béchamel sauce: Melt butter with the flour while whisking in a pan over medium heat. Once combined, slowly whisk in milk and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Add nutmeg and Grana Padano and season to taste.

For the tomato sauce: Drain the tomatoes and place in a bowl. Crush them with your hands or a fork, and salt to taste.

For the filling: Mix cheeses together and divide into 3 parts. Reserve basil. Assemble the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously brush the sides of a 12 by 12 by 4 pan with extra-virgin olive oil. Sauce the bottom of pan with 2 cups of tomato sauce. 

For the first layer, place 2 long sheets of pasta (these should hang over the edge of the pan by 2 inches). If your pasta is longer, use scissors to trim excess. Add a thin, even layer of béchamel and cheese filling. Hand-tear 13 of the fresh basil and sprinkle over the top. For the second layer, use the other 2 long sheets of pasta and lay them the opposite direction of the first layer. Let the ends hang over the edge of the pan. Add an even layer of tomatoes and béchamel. For the third layer, use 2 short pasta sheets and layer with bécha-
mel, cheese filling, and another 13 of the torn basil. For the fourth layer, use 2 short pasta sheets, and layer with tomatoes and béchamel. For the fifth layer, use 2 short pasta sheets and layer with béchamel, cheese filling, and the last of the basil. For the sixth layer, use 2 short sheets and fold the overhanging edges of the first and second layers of pasta over the top (almost forming a package). Cover evenly with béchamel. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove foil for the last 5 minutes of baking time.

Let lasagna rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Then, take a spatula around the edges of the lasagna to free it from the pan. Cover the pan with a flat serving platter. With hot pads, firmly hold both sides of the pan and flip the lasagna over. Lift the pan off. Add grated cheese and serve.

Paella

Chef/Owner Goose Sorenson, Solera Restaurant, Denver

Yield: 8 Servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup chorizo, cut into 16 equal-size pieces 
  • (Palacios brand recommended)
  • ¼ cup onions, small dice
  • ¼ cup garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chile flakes
  • 16 P.E.I. mussels
  • 16 manila clams
  • 2 quarts saffron-tomato  fish stock 
  • (recipe below)
  • 1 cup halibut, chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup salmon, chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 4 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 cups saffron rice 
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the saffron rice:

  • water to cover the rice by ¾ inch
  • 1 ½ cups Calasparra rice
  •  ¾ teaspoon saffron
  • For the saffron-tomato fish stock:
  • 3 quarts fish stock
  •  ¾ teaspoon saffron
  • 1 cup roasted, diced canned tomatoes

In a large paella pan or sauté pan with high sides, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook for 2 minute before adding the onions. Sweat the onions with the chorizo for a couple more minutes. Add the garlic, smoked paprika, and chile flakes. Sauté until garlic begins to brown. Add the mussels, clams, saffron-tomato fish stock, and all of the fish to the pan. Cook on medium-high until mussels and clams open, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add your saffron rice and cook for 1 additional minute. 

For the saffron rice: Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice and saffron, and turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes or until rice is cooked. 

For the saffron-tomato fish stock: Add all ingredients to a large pot, bring to a simmer, and reduce by 1/3. Allow to cool, then blend for consistency. 

One Nightstand

  • 2 ounces gin (CapRock is delicious; Leopold Bros. Navy Strength is dangerous)
  • ½ ounce Campari
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon raspberry preserves
  • 6–8 mint leaves
  • mint sprig (for garnish)

Combine ingredients in a mixing tin without ice, and 
shake firmly to distribute and dissolve the raspberry 
preserves. Then add ice cubes, and shake firmly to 
chill and dilute. Finely strain into a Collins glass full of 
crushed ice, and garnish with mint sprig and a straw.

Amanda's tip: If you don't have raspberry preserves on hand, use what's available. I've used apricot and rhubarb jams to great success.

*Suggested glass: Collins