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Handmade Pasta

Shopping at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, I glanced up from reading bread labels to find a woman staring at me.

“It’s really hard to decide, isn’t it?” she said, shaking her head and smiling.
Apparently, I looked as indecisive as I felt.
It’s not easy choosing what to buy and eat these days. Never have we been so aware of the many options and consequences associated with nearly every food choice we make.
I sometimes wish I lived in the uncomplicated food world of my grandparents who bought whatever they felt like. We find our choice-making minds crowded with information about the many ways our purchases impact the world and our bodies.
We think about the environmental consequences of a food’s production, processing, and transportation; about supporting good animal husbandry – for the animals’ well being and our own. We think about sustainable agricultural practices, local farming and food manufacturing, and organic growers. We think about packaging and how to get rid of all that stuff.
Item, by item, we weigh price and budget against personal and planetary health enhanced or health degraded.
Oh, my.
And, yet we have to eat, we love to eat, and we want to preserve that enjoyment!
So, we make the best choices we can with what we have, what presents itself, and what we need -– body and mind — day by day and food by food.
Which is just what pasta-makers Rachel Marshall (cq) and Leigh Foster (cq) are doing.
“Since we’ve been educated on the politics of food, we buy the best ingredients we can,” said Foster, who co-founded Nella Pasta (cq) with Marshall in May.
The fledgling company uses a high percentage of whole wheat in their various pastas. The also use extra virgin olive oil and as many locally grown and organic ingredients in their flavored fettucini and ravioli as they can.
“We’ve started getting all our vegetables locally and most of the cheeses – Parmesan, goat, and fresh mozzarella,” said Marshall at the company’s rented kitchen in Pembroke on a recent Monday evening. She and Foster were chopping pounds of Swiss chard from the morning’s farmer’s market for the ravioli that will be on sale at the Hingham Farmer’s Market Saturday, the 18th.
So far, the business has been selling about 60 pounds of handmade pasta a week. Although the partners know they can’t make a living selling only at Farmer’s Markets, their products have been so well received (they were sold out when I saw them in Hingham last Saturday) they’re hoping to begin selling to specialty stores and restaurants in the fall.
The women met at a corporate job in Boston last year where they discovered their shared interest in pasta making: both had taken cooking classes in Florence, Italy, in college exchange programs a few years back.
Within weeks, they were spending every lunch hour planning to start a homemade pasta company. When they were both laid off in December, they began testing pasta recipes.
The first word of the company’s name – nella — is Italian for “in the.” Nella Pasta therefore translates as “in the pasta” – which the women chose to convey their belief that it’s the wholesome ingredients in their pasta that make it so good. Their (very delicious) whole-wheat flax fettuccini is their best seller.
Currently, Foster and Marshall are searching for a few local egg farmers who can supply them with the 30 dozen it takes to make every 60 pounds of pasta.
As we talk about the complexity of choosing ingredients, the partners wonder about people who aren’t aware of the difference between pasta made with high quality, nutrient rich ingredients and those made with bleached white flour, for instance. Nella Pasta’s carefully measured, beautifully folded pounds of fettuccini cost $7 and $8 and their ravioli are $12 a pound (20 pieces). Will people pay?
That’s something each shopper will have to decide.