La Pasta Famiglia: Peperonata Pasta
"Beet pasta?” I think aloud, fingering through the assortment of varying shapes and flavors of dough lining the table at the Peperonata Pasta booth at Saturday’s Downtown Farmers’ Market. Wait, hold on, I wrote that wrong. It should read: “BEET PASTA!!!!” as I am pleased as punch to see such a flavorful new addition to their already incredible lineup of goods.
Pastas in every shape and color, flatbreads, pizza doughs, raviolis with a vast assortment of fillings, red sauce, green sauce, mushroom sauce, and, of course, the empanadas—which are developing something of a cult following among market goers—have become a staple in most Sarasota kitchens.
This family affair has taken on a life of its own, starting with husband-and-wife duo Adrian and Marina Fochi making a few simple pastas for the market and now turning into a multi-generational dough-stravaganza of holy-moly-that’s-freaking-fantastic fresh foods. Be warned: One bite and Peperonata Pasta will become an addiction, where you need this semolina supplier to give you the good stuff, spending half your paycheck on pound after glorious pound of squid ink cappelini, basil pappardelle, lemon parsley campanelle, roasted red pepper creste, and garlic ziti. Seriously, these people have left no stone unturned when it comes to combining fresh flavors with outstandingly delicious and perfectly textured pastas.
And don’t even get me started on Marina’s homemade porcini mushroom sauce. Out. Of. This. World. So, how do they do it?
The Fochis, Italian immigrants from Argentina, say they have been “doing pasta our whole life. It’s a longtime family tradition.” Every single day, Marina and Adrian create dough from scratch in their Ashton Road kitchen facility. They use semolina flour, which is naturally unmodified, as the base of their dough, mixing and kneading it before separating it into smaller rounds suitable for the next steps of creating a wide selection of shapes. Adrian explains that they have to freeze their pastas immediately after making them since, like meats and other proteins, they will start to break down if not properly cared for because their pastas aren’t baked and, of course, contain zero preservatives. There is a big, HUGE, focus on “from scratch.” Marina makes a point to emphasize that if she wouldn’t eat it, she wouldn’t sell it, thus inspiring her to make a product that customers know was made with zeal.
Enter in mom and daughter. Stefania, the daughter, has made an art form of her empanadas.
She started with eight tasty fillings and now touts almost 30 flavors from blue cheese to caramelized onion to ground beef. They are ludicrously delicious. Like scorch the ever-loving bejesus out of your mouth because you can’t wait even 45 seconds for it to cool before you shovel the entire thing in your face delicious.
And Marina’s mother is retiring from her current job to take on a role in the new retail space opening up in early December on U.S. 41, in the Chili’s plaza by Trader Joe’s. Which is great news for their legion of loyal fans, who have started developing nervous tics waiting for Saturdays to arrive. Now you can stock up on sauces and empanadas until your car is too weighted down to drive out of the parking lot.
“Do you ever get sick of pasta?” I ask the Fochis. Adrian looks at me as though I’ve offered to stab him in the neck a few times with a rusty butter knife.
“Noooooooooo,” Marina exclaims, extending the O until her voice trails off with a similar expression of “Have you lost your mind?” painted across her face. And, to tell you the truth, had there been a mirror nearby, I probably would have caught myself making the same expression.
When pasta is this good, one doesn’t tire of it; one gets a second helping.