Friday, September 17, 2010

Homemade Pasta, Close to Home

As mentioned in a previous post, I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with the lovely ladies of Nella Pasta at the Crop Circle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain. Each week they make fresh pasta that is "locally handcrafted, wholesome, and simple," just as it states on every batch they sell.

Their story is a classic tale of the unexpected blessings that can come from a bad economy. Leigh and Rachel met while working desk jobs that neither of them found particularly inspiring, only to discover that they shared a passion for food and had attended culinary programs just blocks from each other in Florence a few years before. They eventually began planning a pasta business in their free time, but the ultimate jump start came with company cutbacks--when the two of them were laid off on the same day they went straight to the coffee shop across the street and started carving out their business plan in earnest.

An important part of that plan involved working with local farmers and producers to incorporate seasonal ingredients as fresh as the pasta itself. As a result, they've developed ongoing relationships with local farms like Stillman's and Allandale, and have even begun getting some of their flour from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA. (You, too, can get some great local grains there--check out their website for details!) This commitment to working with local, sustainable, organic ingredients means that Nella Pasta recipes are different each week, keeping it exciting for both its creators and its lucky consumers. Springtime means asparagus goes into the mix, while fall brings treats like ravioli with brown butter, white bean, cranberry and fresh thyme--you won't find that in any chain supermarket!

Where do you find it, you ask? Currently, the ladies are selling pastas, pestos (kale and spiced pumpkin seed, anyone?), and pasta salads at the Lexington and Hingham farmers markets. Their pasta salads can also be found at City Feed in JP and the Equal Exchange Cafe. If none of these spots are close to you, keep your eye on the Locations tab of their website for new markets, and ask your own local food market to carry them!

For me, in addition to the satisfaction that comes from choosing a product that supports a whole chain of local farmers and producers, cooking with Nella Pasta also carries the joy of being inspired by an ingredient in a new way. Leigh and Rachel were kind enough to send me home with samples of their weekly varieties, including wheat & ground flax seed and a jewel-toned roasted beet linguine. And while lately I've been much less inclined to lug my 8-months-pregnant belly around the kitchen after a long day at work, this pasta got me back on my cooking feet! Every noodle was hearty and flavorful, leading me to wonder how I ever even considered eating dried up pasta out of a cardboard box. Below are some recipes I whipped up with farm share ingredients I had on hand, and you can also check out their website for more tasty ideas. Or better yet, stop by one of their farmers market stands and see what they're recommending for seasonal "inside out ravioli." You can grab your fresh pasta and produce right there and have an inspiring night of your own in the kitchen!

And don't forget--there are still a few days left to help Nella Pasta win Daily Candy's "Start Small, Go Big" contest, so please be sure to vote!

Whole Wheat & Ground Flaxseed Linguine with Thyme Brown Butter & Delicata Squash
I kept this recipe relatively simple in order to let the flavors of the pasta really come through. The rich, hearty flavor of the linguine paired oh so deliciously with nutty, herby brown butter and sweet roasted squash!

1 lb Nella Pasta whole wheat & ground flaxseed linguine
Two medium delicata squash (or any other winter squash you have on hand)
2 T olive oil
3 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
pinch salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 stick unsalted butter
freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (you could also substitute a yummy soft cheese here--verboten to me at the moment)

Preheat the oven to 400 and put some water on to boil. Halve the squash, scrape out the seeds, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces--little half moons. Toss with olive oil, 1 T of the thyme, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for around 25-30 minutes, until fork tender.

When squash is just about done, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, whisking frequently until the foam subsides and golden brown milk solids begin to form. You will know it's ready when it has a rich, nutty aroma. Keep a close eye until it's done though, as it can burn in a heartbeat! Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining 2 T thyme. There may be a second round of foam with the fresh herb. Simply whisk until it subsides.

Set aside the brown butter, drop your pasta into boiling, lightly salted water, and do not walk away! It will truly be ready in about a minute's time and you don't want it to overcook. Give it a good swirl around the pot and test frequently for doneness--it's best when al dente, which makes for a nice hearty, toothy texture.

When pasta is ready, drain and toss with brown butter and squash. Serve topped with a sprinkling of cheese. Yummy.

Roasted Beet Linguine with Walnut Parsley Pesto
Again, I wanted to keep this recipe relatively simple so as not to mask the flavors and colors of the pasta--witness the beautiful beet linguine, pictured below.

1 lb Nella Pasta beet linguine
2 c packed flat leaf parsley leaves
3/4 c toasted walnuts
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 t lemon zest
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper

Easy: Boil water. Combine first 6 pesto ingredients in food processor and blend until combined.
Stream in olive oil until the mixture loosens up enough to toss well with hot pasta (you can add more or less oil here as needed), and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drop your pasta, drain when al dente (again, this only takes about a minute), and toss with pesto. Top with a sprinkle of freshly grated cheese. Voila! Quick, delicious, and oh so fresh.

Penne with Fresh Sage & Mascarpone Cheese
For the heartier penne noodle I went with a good, creamy sauce. This recipe, adapted from, makes for some incredible comfort food on a cool fall evening--fabulous enough for company but simple enough for a night of self-indulgence with a good movie on the couch!

1 lb Nella Pasta penne
1/2 T unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, diced
2 t homemade bread crumbs
3 t finely chopped fresh sage leaves (you can add even more here if you are a sage lover, like me!)
tiny pinch of salt
1/2 c mascarpone cheese
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

While your pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides, stirring frequently. Add garlic and sautee until soft. Add bread crumbs, sage, and just a teensy touch of salt--the cheese already has plenty. Cook the sage and bread crumb mixture, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Set aside.

Drop the pasta when your water is boiling--the penne will need a little longer to cook than spaghetti or linguine, but keep a close eye on this as well! After two minutes, try a piece to see how close you are to al dente and continue testing frequently until you have the texture you like. Again, this noodle is fabulous if you keep it on the toothy side, especially with this rich, creamy sauce--it really holds its own.

When the pasta is ready, drain and pour back into the pot. Add the mascarpone, Parmesan, and a few good turns of freshly grated black pepper. Stir gently to combine. Serve topped with a generous dusting of the bread crumb mixture and enjoy!

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