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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2005

A fresh take on pasta

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Susan Yacovella, left, manager of the Ohio City Pasta booth at the West Side Market in Cleveland, gives Corbin Wandling, 13, of Akron, a sample of pasta salad. Susan Yacovella, left, manager of the Ohio City Pasta booth at the West Side Market in Cleveland, gives Corbin Wandling, 13, of Akron, a sample of pasta salad.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

CLEVELAND - Billowy pillows of fresh pasta sit in tidy color-coordinated rows inside the food cases at the Ohio City Pasta stall at Cleveland's West Side Market.

The upscale product which is sold in quarter pound bundles - angel hair, spaghetti, linguini, fettuccini, and pappardelle - is called "the real deal" by owner Gary Thomas, who is a trained chef. That means this is fresh pasta. Don't confuse this with dry pasta.

You'll find a dozen varieties of the slender strands of pastas on any given day - saffron, squid, spicy lime and cilantro, roasted red pepper, black pepper garlic, fine herb, whole wheat, and tomato. Nestled nearby are fresh pasta salads made by company chef Andy Reichert, and at least a dozen varieties of ravioli - sun-dried tomato, asparagus mascarpone, and black bean, to name a few. Then there's the lovely little gnocchi such as pumpkin and sage, garlic parsley, and sweet potato gnocchi.

Buy fresh pasta, take it home, and make a delicious basil cream sauce like that served at the West Side Market Cafe, and add grilled chicken for a complete meal. Or use a mild marinara with a pasta of choice for a lovely little weeknight dinner. Fresh pasta cooks in less than five minutes.

"My favorites are four cheese ravioli with ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan because its cheesy and creamy and the asparagus mascarpone ravioli," says Susan Yacovella, market manager of the Ohio City Pasta stall. Once cooked, "I just sprinkle salt and pepper on top. The ravioli is frozen otherwise the filling can seep through these tender little pockets of pasta.

Toledoans may have tasted Ohio City Pasta at any number of events catered by Gladieux Catering -- the most recent was Toledo After Hours -- or at area restaurants and clubs such as the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Mich., and in specials at Mancy s Italian, or at Inverness Club and Toledo Country Club.

If you have eaten fresh pasta, you know there is a difference.

One of my biggest hurdles is getting people to understand what really fresh pasta is, says Mr. Thomas, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America. Mine involves human interaction - people weigh it out. We re automated but it s still similar to making it by hand at home.

Besides dry pasta sold in boxes and bags in the supermarket aisle, there is in-store pasteurized pasta that s been heated, steamed, and chilled and is stored in a gas-flushed package which extends the shelf life. We don t have that process and we don t have the shelf life they do, says Mr. Thomas, a Cleveland native.

The shelf life of fresh pasta is about seven days refrigerated, or it can be frozen for six weeks. If it is frozen, remove from freezer and put in the refrigerator to thaw until it is able to be separated.

In the 1980s, Mr. Thomas was making fresh pasta at a Cleveland restaurant. Other chefs began buying it from him. In 1989, he started the business for the restaurant trade. Later, I saw the opportunity for retail. It was something I wanted to shy away from but I couldn t ignore it. I was next to a small baker in Ohio City (Cleveland neighborhood) and (the baker s) customers started to come in to buy pasta.

In 1995, he opened the booth at the West Side Market. Today, Mr. Thomas distributes Ohio City Pasta all over the state of Ohio and into Pittsburgh. My biggest sellers are traditional egg pasta, spinach and cheese ravioli, butternut squash ravioli, and mushroom and fontina cheese ravioli.

Our client base at the market are pretty good cooks, he says of the West Side Market at 1979 West 25th St. (The only other retail source is selected Heinan s markets in Cleveland.) [Our customers] know how to be creative with sauces and what to do with flavored pasta. Flavored pasta is a vehicle to carry the sauce. You don t want it to compete with the sauce. Keep sauces simple.

For saffron pasta, he recommends garlic and olive oil tossed with fresh tomato, flat leaf parsley, salt, pepper, and a splash of white wine.

About a mile away from the market, the 2,500-swuare-foot shop turns out fresh pasta daily with specialized equipment that can make 60-pound batches. We re small but mighty, says the owner. The reason we can operate in an environment this small is because we don t have any storage. We don t need 30 percent of space for warehouse. We make the pasta; we ship it.

He has a staff of 10 and operates two shifts.

Nearby in a kitchen off of the main production area, Chef Reichert has a brand new ravioli of roasted eggplant and garlic that he s eager for guests to sample.

For quality control and consistency, the company chef cooks the first raviolis out of every batch to make sure they don t come open and that the seasoning is right. If the filling is too wet or there is too much fat, this can happen, he says noting that every batch of filling is different. It s a science.

Nearby employees Francisco Vazquez and Tomas Santiago are making filled raviolis. For all the pasta, rice flour is used on the countertop to help prevent sticking. It s common to use corn meal, but that absorbs into the ravioli when frozen, says Mr. Thomas.

One of the pasta machines makes rolls of dough which are then taken to the ravioli machine where filling is put in a hopper and the pasta is laminated as opposed to extruded. Once the roll is made, the pasta can be automatically cut and pre-portioned.

The rollers in the machines are calibrated to just shy of 1 millimeter to get the right consistency, says Mr. Thomas. I think metric here because all the equipment is metric. The ravioli machine stretches the dough, fills, it presses and seals it, perforates the ravioli for a border and then the workers cut the sheets of ravioli into four raviolis for sale and freezing.

It takes a worker six months to develop the technique, says the owner. Our recipe can change because of the weather. When it s humid pasta takes on a different texture. It can get too wet too easy.

A new machine to make meat ravioli has been ordered. It will be used in a USDA-inspected room in near future.

As for those new flavor combinations that Chef Reichert and Mr. Thomas create, translating the small batch to a large amount may not be feasible if the item is too labor-intensive.

We want that consistent nice look. You can tell it s fresh pasta, says the owner. Retail is a bright spot for our company to showcase our product. I m proud of the sauces and pestos that Andy makes.

Whatever variety selected, fresh pasta is a truly a delicacy as those little puffs of pasta can be hard to come by. Mr. Thomas said that at one time he considered a stall at the Toledo Farmers Market. Imagine that.

For more information, call Ohio City Pasta at 216-696-3388.

Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor. Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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