Photographs by Michael Piazza
One of the great alliterative phrases in my orbit as I grew up was “pasta primavera.” Then, as now, I didn’t really know what this “spring pasta” referred to—just some sort of amalgamation of pasta, vegetables, and maybe a sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever had it. And I don’t know that I could tell someone where to get it in Boston, except a general wave of the hand towards the North End. If you are reading this publication, you probably already know that springtime is as good a season as any to enjoy pasta “primavera” or otherwise. Making your own fresh pasta is a fine way to spend an afternoon, but we’re lucky to have individuals in the area who have dedicated their lives to making it for us—and our city is better for it.
Though more and more people are interested in artisanal food products, handmade fresh pasta is nothing new in Boston. Albert Capone opened Capone Foods in Somerville in 1984 and has been manning the shop ever since, opening a second location in Cambridge six years ago. His family ran a food shop at Haymarket in the 1960s and 70s, where Capone learned the basics of pasta making from his mother and the business from his father. His parents were from Avellino, in the Campania region of southern Italy, about 35 miles inland from Naples. They immigrated to Argentina, and Capone grew up in Buenos Aires, eventually relocating to Watertown when he was 13. This is why one can find empanadas and chimichurri sauce lurking among Capone’s Italian products; one version of the popular fried pastry pockets is even stuffed with prosciutto!
Despite the forays into Argentine food, the focus here is on pasta, and Capone’s produces a panoply of shapes and flavors. One might wonder how some of these shapes could be produced by hand, and indeed Capone’s uses a machine called an extruder to form the more three-dimensional shapes like penne, rigatoni, and creste di gallo (cockscombs). In an extruder, flour and water are forced through a brass mold called a die, and flow out of the machine, waiting to be cut to the appropriate length by somebody patiently waiting at the other end with a knife (full disclosure: three to four days a week, I am that somebody at a restaurant in Cambridge). It is more common to see extruded shapes available dry; it is a treat to see them available fresh. Capone’s also offers the more common sheet pasta shapes, which are cut to order. Customers can choose from linguine, pappardelle, vermicelli, and fettucine, and flavors ranging from squid ink to saffron, which can even be mixed and matched. Finally, filled pastas are available in abundance, namely ravioli and tortellini. In spring, you might go for the spinach ravioli or the tri-color tortellini.
The store also offers an array of sauces, and Capone’s is happy to help people pair pasta shapes and flavors with the most complementary sauces. “[The] white clam sauce goes really well with the lemon linguine,” says Ashley Capone, one of Albert’s five daughters (all of whom have put in time at the shop), and “[the] Newburg sauce goes really well with the squid ink pasta.” Finding the right sauce for the rooster’s crests might be more of a challenge.
While Boston has a strong Italian identity, and certainly so does Al Capone, there is another name that has become almost synonymous with local pasta, and it’s not particularly Italian. We cannot discuss fresh pasta in this neck of the woods without discussing “Dave” and his popular eponymous Somerville storefront.
Dave Jick, the friendly, down-to-earth proprietor of Dave’s Fresh Pasta, says of his entrance to the pasta world, “I had the idea that I could maybe do this and I taught myself, I took a class, bought a machine, and did it out of my house,” admitting that he, “even sold some pasta to restaurants, sort of, quietly…” Years later, the fabulous reputation of his Davis Square shop is anything but quiet.
It’s not as if Dave was just starting from scratch. He worked in restaurants “all the way through college and after college,” experiencing everything from washing dishes to waiting tables to cooking. But pasta did not become part of the equation until later, when, he explains, “I just decided I was gonna do this.” “Making pasta is not actually rocket science,” Dave says in a way that is at once authoritative and calming; he perfected his dough recipes through trial and error. He started up a small, mostly wholesale pasta shop in Arlington in the early 1980s, and later a pasta café in Somerville; these two business preceded the current incarnation of Dave’s Fresh Pasta.
When Dave’s first opened in Davis Square, it was just a small store front selling fresh sheet pasta, cut into a variety of shapes to order, and few other retail items. This is still the pasta area of the now-expanded shop, where you can get different flavors of pasta (whole wheat, spinach, sun-dried tomato, for example) cut into shapes like pappardelle, spaghetti, and angel hair. The shop also makes fresh ravioli by hand, the flavors of which change seasonally. In the spring you encounter asparagus, sweet pea, or leek accented with mint and scallions and paired with sultry mascarpone cheese. The only adornments these need are a little brown butter or oil and some grated cheese. Dave uses half semolina and half durum wheat for most of his sheet pastas, but just durum for the ravioli dough, preferring a slightly softer texture. The shop doesn’t make extruded pastas, partially because they don’t have room for an extruding operation, but also because in Dave’s opinion, “you’re almost better off getting dried pasta, which is extruded pasta too, 98% of it.” To that end, Dave’s stocks dried shapes that have been tested and selected by Dave and his team.
Since opening, Dave has expanded the business significantly. He and his kitchen staff now make sauces to accompany their pasta, they cater and offer pasta making and other cooking classes, which are immensely popular and often sell out quite far in advance. Though Dave used to run them himself, he’s shifted the responsibilities to chef Jason Martin, who used to make pasta at the shop. The classes cover everything from the basics of egg pastas to risotto and gnocchi, sauces, and nights devoted to the cuisines of specific regions of Italy. A typical pasta-making class invariably ends with the consumption of the evening’s lesson, as well as a doggy bag to bring home.
Once you’ve got the fresh pasta, there are infinite directions to go in to dress it. Particular shapes are better suited to particular sauces, or traditionally eaten in Italy with certain vegetables in certain seasons. But Italian or not, the end result will always be satisfying—the guy making your pasta could be named Al Capone, he could just be named Dave, or you could tackle the job yourself and make some fresh pasta at home.
Pasta all’ Uova (yellow egg pasta dough)
Dave’s Fresh Pasta
About 1½ cups flour (mix of durum and semolina)
Pinch of salt
Preparing the Pasta:
Pour flour and a pinch of salt into your bowl, shape it into a mound, and scoop out the center to form a deep hollow.
Break the eggs into the center and beat gently with a fork for 1-2 minutes, as if you were going to make scrambled eggs. Begin to draw some of the flour from the edges, over the eggs, until the flour is incorporated. The dough will be very sticky, but you will soon be able to put the fork aside and continue to blend the dough with your hands (if you find the dough too sticky to work with your hands, add more flour and continue).
Knead the dough with your hands for about 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth, yet stiff. To properly knead the dough, use the heel of your hand and push against the dough, away from you. Fold the dough over and repeat.
(Proper kneading is very important to the outcome of the pasta, so don’t skimp on time! You should be able to see a real difference in the look of the dough when it is done. It should still be a bit sticky to the touch.)
It is now time to let the dough rest. Return it to your bowl and cover with a clean, damp towel or wrap in plastic. Because you have developed the gluten in the flour, it now needs to rest for at least 15 minutes (or up to two hours) to relax the gluten. This will make the dough easier to work with when you begin rolling it out.
Unwrap the dough. It might feel a bit sticky, but do not add more flour. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough for a minute or two.
Set the cylinders of your pasta roller at the largest opening. Roll out the dough on your work surface so that it is flat enough and the width will fit into the rollers of the pasta machine. Run it through the machine two or three times.
Close the opening on the rollers by one notch so that the opening is thinner. Repeat, continuing to roll a thinner dough as you close the cylinders of the pasta roller. Continue until you have the desired thickness. You now need to leave your pasta to dry for about 10 minutes. If your pasta begins to look dry at the edges, and have cracks, you have dried the dough for too long! (Consider the weather: humid day, dry day.)
Feed dough through the cutters to your desired shape. Fettuccine is a wide noodle, then linguine, then spaghetti; angel hair is the finest.
If you are going to eat the pasta right now, drop it into a big pot of boiling, salted water, give it a stir and boil for just a minute or two. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly! Really a minute or two at the most.
Drain (do not rinse) and serve with sauce.
If you are not going to cook your homemade pasta right away, be sure that you dust it with flour and “fluff” it up so that the noodles don’t stick to each other.
Fresh pasta is best eaten just after it’s been made, but will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator.
Recipe by Albert Capone, Capone Foods
Makes 8 servings.
1 pound Caputo "00" pasta flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
Water, if needed
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt, then mix in the butter and ricotta cheese. Blend on low speed for 4-5 minutes or until a dough begins to form. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed to make a moist dough.
Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into logs, 1/2-inch thick. Cut the logs into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces, then roll each piece on the tines of the back of a fork with your thumb to create ridges on the gnocchi.
Place the finished gnocchi on trays, dust with flour and either cook right away or refrigerate or freeze.
When ready to cook, drop gnocchi into boiling salted water and cook 2-3 minutes, or until they all float to the surface. Drain, shaking to remove all residual water, and toss with butter or sauce.
Spring Leek Ravioli
Jason Martin and Dave Jick, Dave’s Fresh Pasta
2 leeks, trimmed, rinsed well, and finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
¼ cup scallion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fresh ricotta, as firm as possible (drain in cheesecloth if necessary)
1 pound mascarpone cheese
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 recipe pasta dough, not yet rolled out (see above for pasta dough recipe)
1 egg, beaten with a little water
Sauté the leeks in 2 tablespoons olive oil until slightly caramelized. Mix with the remaining ingredients and allow to cool completely.
Roll the dough to the second-thinnest setting on the pasta machine. Cut the pasta sheet into 2”x2” squares.
Add 1 tablespoon of cooled filling to the middle of each square. Lightly brush half of the perimeter of each square with egg wash.
One square at a time, fold in half and begin to pinch the sides closed, making sure to avoid air bubbles and leaving one end open in order to extract air.
When all the air is pushed out of the middle, seal each final side. At this point you can trim any excess pasta from the sides of the ravioli using a ravioli cutting tool or a pizza wheel.
Bring lots of salted water to a boil, shake off excess flour, drop ravioli into boiling water, stir so there is no sticking, and when the water returns to a boil, cook 5-7 minutes. Using a spider or slotted spoon, gently remove the ravioli and serve dressed with melted butter or sauce.