By Analiese Paik
My earliest memory of eating fresh pasta takes me back to my youth when we’d visit my aunt’s house in Queens, NY and have fresh ravioli from a local Italian shop topped with grandma’s homemade tomato sauce. That was a very long time ago, but I still remember the pillowy cheese ravioli and how much we enjoyed the feast.
When I moved to Manhattan to work, I lived on the Upper West Side and then the West Village, and had fresh pasta from local gourmet shops conveniently available. It was great fun to shop the Union Square Green Market and prepare fresh pasta dishes to share with friends. Perhaps you share a similar memory?
Thanks to a strong Italian immigrant population, fresh pasta shops are ubiquitous in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived and worked just before getting married and moving to CT. The entire nation looked forward to the 29th of each month in particular, because that was gnocci day. Noquis (gnocchi) is Argentine slang for crony government workers who only show up to get paid on or around the 29th of the month I was told. Each 29th of the month, I couldn’t wait to see what variety had been made that day at the local restaurant or pasta shop, hoping it was the red pepper gnocchi that I found particularly delicious and satisfying. I’ll never forget falling asleep at my desk after consuming a large bowl for lunch and hearing an associate murmur “Se le agarró la modorra”, Spanish for the sudden fit of drowsiness that overcame me.
Until now, I haven’t found fresh pasta at retail in Connecticut that I can get excited about. I really miss making dishes where the beauty, flavor, and texture of fresh pasta are central to the dish, just as I was able to do living in cities. I occasionally make fresh pasta and ravioli, but it’s labor intensive and is strictly for special events and holidays.
Fortunately, we now have a top quality source of fresh pasta at SoNo Marketplace in South Norwalk. Pasta Presta is located in the first vendor booth as you enter the building and if you’re lucky, you can see the pasta being made before your eyes.
Glass cases neatly display the pastas of the week . The day I visited for a special press event, casarecce made with Certified Naturally Grown heirloom tomato puree from the Hudson Valley caught my eye along with the squid ink linguini still flowing from the pasta machine. Certified Naturally Grown is a certification program chosen by small-scale organic farmers who sell to local markets and therefore have no need to go through the additional expense of organic certification through the USDA’s National Organic Program.
The founders of Pasta Presta, husband and wife team Meri and Bill Erickson of New Canaan, recognize that fresh, quality ingredients are critical to achieving excellent results. Fresh is one thing, but using local and sustainable ingredients takes it to a completely different level. “Our pastas will be very seasonal. We lived in Paris for four years and are used to seeing strawberries for only three weeks a year.” says Meri.
More than just a foodie, Meri studied culinary arts while living with the family in Paris and upon returning to the US, attended the International Culinary Center in Manhattan (formerly the French Culinary Institute). And that’s on top of her day job as Outreach Director for the Fairfield Museum & History Center.
Bill is a practicing attorney and entrepreneur, but when you talk to him about pasta, and food in general, you know you’re in good hands. He made it a point to tell me how excited he was about starting their Hubbard Heights CSA (see our guide to organic farm stands and CSAs for more information).
“We are certainly committed to using locally-sourced organic vegetables and other ingredients” says Bill. “Our slogan is also our goal: ‘HandMade and Farm Fresh’. We have only been in business a short time and are always working to find good and reliable sources of these products.” Farmers, that your cue!
Semolina flour is currently coming from Italy, but they are working on sourcing organic flour from King Arthur. In response to market demand, PastaPresta is developing and testing gluten-free versions of its pastas. Their whole wheat pastas contain no eggs and are suitable for vegans.
It’s important not to overcook fresh pasta because it will become limp and gluey or break apart. Pasta should be cooked al dente and the staff at PastaPresta be happy to give you cooking advice as you shop. To make your life easier, they have printed recipe cards for each type of pasta.
Equally important is to go lightly on the sauces as per Bill’s advice. These delicate pastas deserve your best heirloom tomato sauce (raw is perfect), olive oils , and pestos. PastaPresta sells a private label line of vegetable-based pesto sauces made in Maine that are perfect for their products. If you want to make your own sauce, stop by Olivette at the next booth and select an extra virgin olive oil (organic choices available), and pair it with some fresh garlic, herbs and vegetables. When the farmer’s markets are overflowing with basil, or kale for that matter, make your own pesto for a truly fresh and local meal.