Sua Buona: Andrea’s Pasta di Casa
By Don Rosendale
It will be four years next week since Andrea Salvador dished up her first fettuccine meal. In Milan, they would call a store like hers an alimentari, an upscale deli where you can buy the highest quality pasta, marinara sauce, and dolce. In Amenia, it’s called Andrea’s Pasta di Casa.
Andrea has the map of Italy on her face, a round visage that still has the echo of a picture taken with her father on Easter in 1946 that now graces the cover of her menu. She says she’s visited every corner of Italy in search of recipes except Bari, and has a map in her store with pins showing each destination, except that on this particular day, all the pins have been moved to the middle of the Adriatic by a customer’s children.
Her basic education in Italian cooking came from her grandmother, she says, a “4’ 8” sparkplug” who was born in the village of Santa Appollina near Rome, and who came to America to find her husband. Andrea learned the finer touches from three aunts, Gilda, Viola and Flora, all named after flowers. Then, at the age of 66, Andrea decided she’d be most fulfilled by cooking the kind of Italian food she’d learned at home.
At that point, her friend in Amenia, Peggy McEnroe, told her she was restoring an old townhouse in order to open an elegant patisserie, and there was room upstairs for another food place. And so Pasta di Casa was born, with the goal of selling a select line of pasta, sauces and some Italian dessert specialties, all made from scratch using fresh, local ingredients. (Read our review of McEnroe’s downstairs café, Back in the Kitchen.)
So, why do people drive from Massachusetts and New Jersey and trudge up a steep flight of stairs to pay Andrea $6.50 a pound for linguine when the local supermarket offers fettucini, fusilli, two kinds of penne, orecchiette, bucatini, four ziti sizes plus zitioni agnoletti, for as little as 99 cents a box? And why do they pay $10.50 for a 32-ounce jar of Andrea’s marinara sauce when the supermarket version is $2.50? Fabio Fassone, a “Facebook friend” from Rome who is considered Italy’s leading authority on cuisine, solves the pasta part of the equation by explaining that, while the pasta which comes in a box and what Andrea kneads and extrudes by hand may look alike, they are two very different products. Dry pasta, he reveals, is made with semola di grano duro; fresh pasta with farina di grano tenero. “The fresh pasta,” he writes, “is made from superior wheat, with eggs, it tastes different, better.”
The answer to the second question of why Andrea’s sauces are worth much more than their supermarket cousins, is found on the labels and on your taste buds. The label on a container of Andrea’s sauce puttanesca—she prepared a batch for me to sample that takes four hours to make, but was well worth the wait—says it’s made from fresh tomatoes and onions, taggiasca olives, anchovies, capers, rosemary, basil and red pepper flakes. The store-bought kind, one with a famous chef in his toque blanche on the label, includes, among other ingredients, tomato puree diluted with water, dehydrated garlic and celery puree, a couple of chemical things I don’t even recognize, and anonymous “spices.” Other bottled sauces aren’t much different, and one brand even admits that it substitutes soybean oil for olive oil.
The proof is in the tasting of course, and my four-hour-simmered puttanesca—the name supposedly comes from Italian ladies of the night and what they savored after their amorous evenings ended—contained tomatoes you could lift with a fork, slivers of onions, and while subtle, the taste of garlic and anchovies. (Andrea says that because so many of her customers don’t need to exude garlic to repel mosquitoes or zombies, she roasts the garlic beforehand). The supreme test: It was better than what I can make at home, and as good as I’ve had in an expensive New York City restaurant. At $10.50 for a 12-ounce sample, it’s well worth the investment.
Everything she makes is unfrozen, except for her gorgonzola or goat cheese raviolis. “They get mushy after a while if they aren’t frozen,” she says, but so many customers insist on the fresh kind, that “I always have a pot of ravioli on the stove.”
Andrea says many of her customers are “weekend people” from New York City who take her pasta and sauces home because they can’t find the same quality back in Manhattan. Plus, she says, “A lot of people with Italian heritage have popped out of the woodwork because they appreciate good, old-fashioned Italian cooking. Aside from pasta and sauces, other popular items at Pasta di Casa are Sicilian meatballs ($8), pizza ($23), and kale and butternut squash soup ($9.75). She also offers four kinds of lasagna and will do osso buco and whole roast chickens but needs three to five days notice.
One other difference between Andrea’s labels and the supermarket kind—hers don’t have calorie calculations. But during the time I lived in Italy, I observed that pasta is a twice-a-day staple, and I never met a fat Italian.
Andrea’s Pasta di Casa
3312 Rte. 343
Amenia, New York
Monday - Thursday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.