Meet the Philly Couple Bringing the Fresh-Milled Grains Revolution to Pasta
Pasta Lab is taking the local grains that made the city a great place for bread one step further with noodles made from fresh-milled flour and filled with seasonal ingredients.
We’ve been following Philly’s artisan bread renaissance for a while now, and the confluence of innovative bakers, traditional fermentation techniques, and locally grown and milled grains behind it have made the city a delicious place to be a carb consumer. Now Pasta Lab, a new startup from a couple of industry veterans, is on a mission to do the same for pasta.
Chef-owners Chris Wright and Gina Rubinetti started making fresh extruded and hand-formed pastas under the name last summer, officially launching their business at the end of 2018.
“What we’re doing with pasta right now, as far as we can tell from our research, nobody’s really started exploring here,” Wright said. “People are paying attention to freshly milled grain with regards to bread, but not so much pasta. We saw opportunity there.” (Other local makers like chef Jason Chichonski’s Little Noodle Pasta Co. produce fresh pasta, but not with fresh-milled local flour.)
Between them, the couple have decades of hospitality experience at restaurants and caterers around Philly — Rubinetti still works full-time managing events for Schulson Collective’s catering arm — and both grew up in Italian-American households. But the path to Pasta Lab started with a passion for bread.
“Chris removed all the white flour from our house, so I had no choice but to make pasta from the fresh wheat,” Rubinetti said. “We got really obsessed with the flavor and just never went back.”
The couple purchased their own mill so they’d be able to make their own ultra-fresh flour from whole grains sourced from farmers and millers like Castle Valley in Doylestown and Small Valley Milling in Halifax. They use it to produce pastas extruded on a machine from Lancaster-based Arcobaleno as well as handmade varieties stuffed with seasonal fillings.
Unlike the white flour you buy at the store, from which the germ and bran has been stripped away, freshly milled flours are highly perishable and must be refrigerated so the oils in those parts of the grain don’t go rancid — like they have in just about every bag of off-the-shelf wheat flour you’ll find.
Milling grains as needed solves this problem, as whole grains are shelf-stable at room temperature for much longer. Rubinetti and Wright also sift out the coarse bran of their pasta flour; the fine bran that makes it through the sieve adds flavor and nutrition without the mealy texture whole wheat pasta can have.
All that care and effort pays off. You can taste what sets Pasta Lab’s noodles apart from other fresh or dried pastas as clearly as you can the difference between a local artisan loaf and store-bought sliced bread.
You can see it, too: each shape, from buff-colored, elbow-like lumache to eggy golden cappelletti filled with Meyer lemon-infused ricotta, has a different hue, depending on the grain from which it was made. The couple source produce for filled pastas from their fellow farmers’ market vendors, and they’re hitting up Pennsylvania cheesemakers like Caputo Brothers Creamery in York and Clover Creek Cheese Cellar near Altoona for Italian-style fresh and aged cheeses.
This slow food also saves you time in the kitchen. Even straight from the freezer, Pasta Lab noodles cook to a pleasant al dente in boiling water for two to four minutes. Rubinetti and Wright’s go-to recipe is to make simple white sauce with sausage, garlic, and broccoli rabe, then finish their spelt lumache in the sauce with a knob of butter.
View this post on Instagram
@crispmicrogreens Rambo radish on @wearethepastalab anolini filled with @dutchorganics Mist O’ Blue goat cheese in duck broth. At least one table tonight suggested it was better than the bowties. I think we have maybe 10 portions of this left if you wanna decide for yourself. Well, do you? Junior! Or just preorder your #frizwit via Venmo for this Monday. See previous posts for details
While Wright and Rubinetti popped up with their pastas at Pennsport BYO Musi for one of the restaurant’s Shared Comfort Monday night prix-fixe meals last month, they don’t have any intention of expanding into wholesale for restaurants — at least not yet.
Luckily, with the onset of farmers’ market season, you can get your hands on Pasta Lab’s products all over the region and make them at home.
The couple are selling their wares at the Clark Park farmers’ market in West Philly every Saturday and will debut their regular Sunday stand at the Headhouse Square farmers’ market starting on April 14th. They’re at the Media farmers’ market the first Sunday of every month and at Chestnut Hill’s the first Saturday of every month, at Swarthmore every third Saturday, and at the Wrightstown Farmers’ Market in Bucks County on second and fourth Saturdays. Follow Pasta Lab on Instagram for updates.