Noodles & Company cooks up summer seasonals, including a gluten-free pastalad

J. Wohletz
The new, gluten-free Garden Pesto Saute at Noodles & Company.
The spring asparagus is off the menu at Noodles & Company, but as a consolation prize, I was invited to watch chefs Tessa Stamper and Tina Massey cook up some of the homegrown chain's new summer offerings, while marketing veep Dan Fogarty served up a side of stats. In the process, I ate a bellyful of Noodles' new summer dishes, tried a seriously good soup that I didn't even know was on the menu, and even got a taste of something that is about as close to fork-free, mushroom stroganoff to-go as it gets.

See also:
- New summer salads at Noodles & Company: Two outta three ain't bad
- Noodles & Company opening two more locations in Colorado
- Denver's five best homegrown, fast-casual chains -- from Noodles to Chipotle

J. Wohletz
The new summertime flatbread -- with charred corn.
Aaron Kennedy, founder of Noodles & Company, is a smart guy who made some smart decisions when he started the pasta-forward restaurant in Cherry Creek back in 1995. And though he's moved on, this privately-held, steadily-growing chain has successfully tapped into something that Americans won't give up easily, no matter the latest fad-diet trend: noodles. Noodles with international-fusion-flavored sauces and toppings, including seasonal fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Noodles served in a fast-casual environment with fast-casual prices. So it's not surprising that Noodles & Co. continues to grow even, in a slow economy.

The company prides itself on menu items cooked to order in the stores with fresh ingredients -- no emptying cans, no zapping bowls of pasta in a microwave. And watching chefs Stamper and Massey work together to carefully prepare two new summer dishes -- Summertime Flatbread and the Garden Pesto Sauté -- was almost as much of a treat as eating them. Almost.

J. Wohletz
Chefs Tessa Stamper and Tina Massey.
The Garden Pesto Sauté is a healthful combination of a pasta dish and a salad -- sort of a "pastalad" -- made with the best gluten-free pasta I've ever eaten, which is not small praise. I have tried making gluten-free pasta at home at least a half-dozen times, and every result is the same: bad. Either the stuff turns to inedible mush, or is so firm it just sits in a bowl, absorbing no sauce and too crunchy to eat.

When I asked the two chefs how long it took them to find the perfect pasta, they looked at each other with a weary amusement and agreed that it took a solid year. Their labor paid off big: The pasta is a fusilli imported from Italy, 70 percent rice and 30 percent corn-based. It definitely requires TLC, and they prepared the dish carefully. The result was a generous bowl of sweet corn, spinach, feta, red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and chopped pecans, with everything tossed in a nice, lemony fresh pesto. I give this dish two forks up.

The new flatbread appetizer -- topped with pulled pork, feta cheese, fresh spinach leaves, grated Parmesan, fresh tomato slices and some particularly good charred corn -- rated just as high.

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