Leigh Foster and Rachel Marshall of Nella Pasta aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Literally. You’ll usually find them elbow deep in ravioli, penne, fettuccine and spaghetti at Jamaica Plain’s Crop Circle Kitchen, a large commercial kitchen shared by local food producers. But it’s just another day’s work for the duo, who’ve come a long way since their days behind a desk.
Foster and Marshall met when they were hired on the same day in 2008 as account coordinators. In no time, they got to chatting about a mutual passion: food. Amazingly, Foster and Marshall realized they had studied abroad mere blocks from each other in Florence, Italy (fate!), a defining food experience in both their lives.
All this talk of food grew into a very legitimate and well thought-out business plan. So well thought-out, in fact, that when they were fired on the same day in December ’08, Leigh and Rachel had the beginnings of Nella Pasta to fall back on. They had even begun making pasta recipes at home, which they would share on their lunch breaks. So, it was only a few short months before Leigh and Rachel debuted their product at the Hingham Farmers Market in the spring of 2009.
The praise they’ve gotten in that short time says it all: these two know how to make good pasta. Featured in numerous local blogs, and recently in the Globe, Nella Pasta has also gotten some national attention: it was the top food pick in DailyCandy’s “Start Small Go Big” Contest, an inaugural competition honoring young entrepreneurs.
PRK caught up with Foster and Marshall to learn more about the business, the challenges of seasonal cooking, and that new ravioli machine.
PRK: Why did you choose pasta? Did you feel there was a gap in the locally-sourced fresh pasta market that you wanted to fill?
NP: We each spent semesters in Florence, Italy, during college. Ironically, a semester apart and at schools practically adjacent to one another. While we were there, we learned the importance of local food and appreciation for produce at the peak of its season. We decided to take this concept and incorporate it into our product to create a fresh pasta using locally-sourced ingredients and selling it at nearby farmers markets. We now partner with local farms based on their growing practices to obtain these ingredients. They include wheat from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA, vegetables from a variety of farms including Allendale Farm, Spring Brook Farm, Stillman Farm and several more in the area. This has become the driving force behind our business: source local ingredients to make a healthy, yet delicious, end-product.
PRK: Do you make and sell your pasta in one location?
NP: We produce our pasta at the Crop Circle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain. We bring in our own pasta equipment, have our own storage and share basic appliances such as the stoves, sinks, etc. We started by selling our pasta at farmers markets. Up until now, we have only been able to handle two markets per season with just the two of us. However, this coming season we plan to attend at least five markets and hope to hire some help (hint, hint, to all you business & culinary students!).
PRK: Do you find it limiting working with seasonal ingredients?
NP: It depends on how you look at it. Of course it does limit our options and we do regularly receive requests for out-of-season varieties. But we find that, in general, it creates more excitement than anything. When you use seasonal ingredients, you know that those items are at the peak of their freshness, not flown in from thousands of miles away to reach your plate. Not only do you save on resources, but you also limit the time between when the item is picked and when you get to enjoy it. As for variety, certain things are worth waiting for. That said, it can be frustrating when nature doesn’t cooperate like we’d like, and entire crops can be destroyed due to too much water, not enough water, insects, etc.
PRK: Where did you learn to make pasta?
NP: Rachel learned in Italy while taking a cooking class and Leigh learned while staging at a restaurant in Naples, FL.
PRK: Which are your personal favorite flavors?
NP: That’s a tough one because it’s constantly changing with anticipation of the seasons. If we had to pick a few, I think we’d both agree on the Fresh Corn & Thyme Ravioli, Brown Butter White Bean, Cranberry & Thyme Ravioli and Swiss Chard & Currant Ravioli.
PRK: Tell me more about your “re-launch” this month. Any other big changes in store for Nella Pasta?
NP: Yes! We have spent the last couple months preparing to re-enter the market with a set menu list for both the warm and cold months, new packaging that we created with the help of a branding and packaging company, a new comprehensive website and a re-vamped logo. We’ve been meticulously planning so that when our new ravioli machine arrives (scheduled for Monday [Jan. 17th]), we’ll be ready to enter both local specialty stores and have a much bigger farmers market presence than we’ve had for the last two seasons.
PRK: Where can we get Nella Pasta?
NP: Well, right now, the options are a bit limited. We are in the Plymouth and Milton Winter Farmers Markets. Starting in February, look for us in local specialty stores and stay tuned to our website for Farmers Market locations.