Pasta Lab has become a fixture at many farmers markets in the Philadelphia area.
Co-owners Chris Wright and Gina Rubinetti have always been passionate about food, but didn’t initially set out to create an artisanal pasta company — he started as a custom bicycle maker, and she in the catering field.
Wright explained: “I sort of fell out of love with the custom bike business. Every component of the bikes was handmade by me, but the price point to justify that level of craftsmanship meant that I couldn’t really share my work with many people.”
He shifted his focus to food, which seemed equally artisanal and more accessible to a wide customer base. He continued: “We bought all sorts of cooking equipment and experimented with it. We really dug into bread, using our own sourdough starter and fresh milled flour. The flour kind of stuck with us; we had buckets of different types, dozens of them, all over our apartment. We loved the flavor and the variety, but we were running out of room.”
They began focusing on pasta, which was sort of a natural segue from the world of grains, and continued to strive for a way to connect meaningfully with their customers; access is key.
“We really wanted to deliver restaurant-quality pasta, things you wouldn’t get outside of places like Vetri, to people for home use,” Wright said. “We strove for a price point that, while not cheap, is far less than a meal at a five-star restaurant.”
They describe their ideal customer: “People who want a strong connection to the producers of their food and seek high-quality, local products.”
Rubinetti described the filled pasta as “our favorite, because it really is a handmade, hands-on creation. We really value the artisanship of this process and the filled pastas enable us to be deeply connected and literally hand fill and hand fold every single one. They also give us the opportunity to use other artisanal products like ricotta cheese and locally grown herbs.”
Wright shared a traditional Italian sausage and broccoli rabe pasta dish adapted for the Exponent’s audience. This one-dish meal is a quicker version of the traditional long-simmered ragu, uses turkey sausage, eliminates the cheese and swaps olive oil for butter as the finisher.
Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for sautéing
- 1 link of turkey sausage, casing removed
- ½ pound fresh pasta, something short and small like conchiglie (shells)
- Sprinkle of dried chili flakes
- Sprinkle of fennel seed
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 ounces white wine vinegar
- 8-10 ounces water, additional as needed
- 4 cups broccoli rabe
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, for finishing
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Demerara (unrefined) sugar to taste
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil (it should taste salty — use more than you think you need). Keep covered until you are ready to drop the pasta.
In a shallow sauté pan, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and brown the sausage over medium heat until well caramelized (5 minutes). Periodically chop the sausage into small pieces as it browns.
Add the garlic, whole fennel seed and chili flakes, and sauté for a minute or so. Deglaze the pan with vinegar and scrape up all the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook this until most of the vinegar evaporates (2-3 minutes).
When the pan is almost dry, add the water, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for 10 or so minutes. (You are essentially making a quick stock.)
Drop your pasta into the boiling water. At the same time as you drop the pasta, place the broccoli rabe into the sausage mixture and stir. When the pasta is 80-90% done (usually 2-3 minutes for Pasta Lab fresh pasta), remove it from the boiling water and combine it with your sausage and greens. Over high heat, cook this mixture until most of the water evaporates (2-3 minutes). Keep the ingredients moving in the pan to prevent sticking and be sure everything continues to cook evenly.
At this point, start seasoning to taste with salt and sugar. When you are happy with the thickness of your sauce, finish it with a little bit of olive oil. This helps bind the ingredients together. Divide between two plates and enjoy.