Few would disagree that there’s nothing like pasta for something to get on the table quickly and easily. Pleasing to most of the finicky among us, pasta is endlessly versatile, coming in what seem like a zillion shapes, forms and textures. It is part of every good cook’s repertoire, from the traditionalist to the most creative. It belongs in every pantry.
But for a new twist on the ubiquitous dried pasta, there’s the fresh kind, made of semolina and/or flour and egg and little else. It’s fun to make at home, pleasingly tender to the tooth and quicker to cook than the classic dry. Last week I used my old pasta machine to make some tagliatelle, the dough a lively green with minced boiled nettles, and it was lovely but it took some time: in the “project” category of dinners. What if you could just buy some fresh pasta made locally with real Italian machines and be dining in five minutes?
Since 1986, La Bella Pasta of Kingston has been making fresh pasta for restaurants and food shops, according to techniques that owner Nanci Covello learned from her grandmother. It has an ever-evolving variety, from the popular, kid-friendly four-cheese ravioli (parmesan, Romano, mozzarella and ricotta) to jalapeño tortellini and more. Ravioli was its original product, and it now also creates a variety of pasta shapes, stuffed and non-, in myriad flavors and fillings, and most recently sumptuous gnocchi (more on those in a bit).
Nanci’s Mom Maria owns Maria’s Bazar in Woodstock and used to make fresh pasta for her customers, until she got too busy running the shop to do so. Luckily for her – and the rest of us – Nanci took over and opened her own enterprise, with help from family. Her father and husband traveled to Italy and brought back several machines that would deftly cut and fill many different kinds of pasta. No assembly line here; these machines, each one with its own special talent, live in an airy space beneath the Route 28 shop. They are shorter than I am and barely wider, spic-and-span and efficient at creating perfect pieces of pasta.
Fortunately, at the time the dollar was strong, and the Covellos got a great deal on buying them and having them shipped, Nanci says. And luckier still is having Nanci’s husband on hand, with his outstanding mechanical ability. He can do all repairs in-house, when otherwise finding experts for the specialized imported equipment would be challenging at best.
The day I visited, a friendly and patient young assistant was painstakingly rolling tubes of manicotti with cheese filling. Upstairs in the shop, there are a few lovely little tabletop antique pasta machines that resemble the modern kind a bit, but with a charming retro look. I loved the ancient black one.
A ravioli made with spinach dough and a spinach filling is always on hand, as is the lobster-stuffed ravioli, and of course the four-cheese, which Nanci’s daughter Bianca and her friends love to fry in oil rather than boil, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and eat in great quantity, reports Nanci. Other flavors, which are in rotation and available for restaurants, are roasted red pepper with gorgonzola, roasted garlic, asparagus and mascarpone cheese, smoked salmon and cheese, seafood (lobster, crab, shrimp and ricotta), grilled eggplant and cheese, pumpkin and ricotta, porcini mushroom, pesto, sun-dried tomato, jalapeño/cheddar, black bean with pepper jack cheese (Nanci recommends frying that one and dipping in salsa) and whole wheat with spinach. Three of the fillings sometimes available are vegan, without cheese or egg: a chickpea, a sweet potato and a vegetable.
Always on hand are three kinds of tortellini: cheese, spinach and tri-color. Other flavors can be special-ordered: black bean, jalapeño or speckled herb. Regulars are lasagna sheets (no pre-boiling needed) as well as fettuccini, linguini and tagliatelle, with other specials special-orderable: spinach lasagna and manicotti sheets, spaghetti, rigati, capellini, lumache and spirals.
What would fresh pasta be without an array of colorful flavorings to make it even more exciting? You’ll usually find the classic spinach, but also available in rotation or for restaurants are pastas flecked with black bean, tomato basil, three-pepper, speckled herbs, sun-dried tomato, lemon pepper, pumpkin, roasted red pepper, porcini mushroom or squid ink, as well as a whole wheat variety and tri-color spirals. Sometimes they make cavatellini with ricotta, perhaps adding spinach as well.
The newest machine in the arsenal downstairs is a gnocchi machine that rolls dainty puffs of dough and scores them to create perfect little ridges for collecting sauce. I boiled some of the plain potato ones and tossed them with sage butter and parm. These toothsome pillows were heavenly and addictive. Other kinds that Nanci and her helpers sometimes make are versions with spinach, herbs or ricotta added, plus sweet potato and pumpkin varieties.
In the shop you’ll also find a house-made marinara sweetened with carrots rather than sugar, plus sauces of porcini, roasted red pepper and a pesto. Cheeses and pizza dough are for sale, too.
La Bella Pasta’s pastas are made fresh daily with no preservatives, so the 12-ounce packages have expiration dates. However, they do freeze well. Nanci donates extras to Kingston’s Queens Galley and other charitable organizations.
La Bella Pasta can be found at many local specialty stores and restaurants. Its pasta-making shop is at 906 Route 28W, four miles past the traffic circle on the right, or at https://lbpasta.com or (845) 331-9130. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s dinehudsonvalley.com or hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com.