Fresh pasta has an image problem. “A lot of people feel, at least in this country, that it’s soft, sort of gummy, and sticks together,” says Jessica Volpe. The former restaurant cook spent six months developing recipes for her take on fresh pasta before opening a production space and retail store, Pasta Puttanna, last year in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood after years spent selling her goods on the farmers’ market circuit.
Volpe believes in skipping the extruder and rolling out by hand: “There’s craft to it. You have to know what you’re doing. Otherwise you end up with a sticky mess.”
You won’t confuse her product with the fresh pasta that lives in the refrigerated section of the supermarket: “The taste is different, the texture is different, the cooking time is different,” Volpe says. “If it’s in the boiling water for one minute, you’re totally overcooking it.”
Of all the names for your company, why choose one with such a cheeky translation?
I learned how to cook from my Sicilian-American father and grandfather. They threw the word puttana [Italian for, um, "prostitute"] around a lot in the kitchen. It was never misogynistic–never like, “Puttana, bring me the salt!” Somewhere along the line, I fused puttana with cooking. And I’m kind of a pasta whore… I love pasta!
In this country, we often think of pasta as a vehicle for sauce, but you think we should be eating it almost naked. Why?
Do not buy a sauce for good, fresh pasta! All you’re gonna taste is the sauce. My pastas are all flavored. Even in the Golden Egg pasta, which is my most basic flavor, you can taste the yolk–I use beautiful local eggs–and you don’t have to do anything to it beyond a sprinkle of herbs and good olive oil.
Now that big brands are labeling foods as “artisan,” does the word still have meaning?
I think people know the difference between something that is hack artisan and something that is actually made by hand. There’s no way you can look at my farfalle and be like, “Oh, a machine cranked that out.”