Some long distance relationships are better left 200 miles away; others are worth talking about, especially when good pasta is involved!
Perfectly made fresh pasta is sublime, but sometimes it just isn’t practical, and for that reason, dried pasta is considered a pantry staple for most of us. A small pasta maker in Roscoe, Ill. has taken a glimpse into our pantries and wants to improve them with his new line of dried, artisan pasta.
(Full disclosure: It turns out I know his wife. The summer before I moved away to college, I met another gal named Marie. We spent a summer being invincible, and then I moved away. We grew apart. We grew up. Fifteen years later, writing about local and regional food, I stumbled across a new pasta business in Illinois, and discovered that my friend, Marie Valentino, was the wife of the man making that pasta.)
Jeff Valentino grew up with pasta as the centerpiece of every celebration, and made fresh pasta for his family as an adult. Pasta-making was a meaningful hobby, so when he got laid off from his corporate job, he looked to his hobby for a new career, and started Valentino Pasta with a basic mission: “Make true small batch artisan pasta in America, from American wheat.”
Valentino found a commercial kitchen incubator, Dream Kitchen, in Elgin, Ill. where he could make his pastas. He secured a few sources for American, organic, high protein semolina duram flour from locations in Montana, Utah, and the Rockies (Valentino says that most of the flour he uses is organic, but he doesn’t advertise it on the package, since some of his sources haven’t completed the organic certification process). He experimented with dozens of recipes and hundreds of batches as he worked to balance flavor, consistency, and aroma. Now, he’s cranking out batches of pastas like high protein semolina lumache and whole wheat fusilli. Along the way, he personalized the craft by incorporating his personal preferences, like pure bronze pasta dyes.
“Semolina is really hard, and it’s tough on dyes, so many people use Teflon-coated bronze dyes,” explained Valentino. “But when you extrude through pure bronze, you get a texture that can’t be matched. The product texture is better, and it holds the sauce better.”
Photos by Marie Flanagan
I whipped up a batch of Valentino’s duram creste de gallo pasta to see for myself, following the exact instructions on the package; the pasta was al dente, and the porous surface of the pasta held the sauce beautifully. I was pleased, and our dinner guests were impressed.
Throughout my conversation with Valentino, he talked about social commitment and responsibility. In addition to sourcing organic ingredients from other like-minded business owners, Valentino is donating one meal to a hungry child in America for every pound of pasta they sell. They’re working with Feeding America, food banks, and churches in Rockford.
“I knew I wanted to use awesome flour, organic products as much as possible, and work with other socially responsible businesses,” said Valentino. “Regarding the social mission, however big or small this company is or will be, in my own weird way, I hope to inspire a future entrepreneur about how a business should be run.”
Valentino pasta is for sale on their website for about $7 per pound, so you can serve it in Minnesota—or of course, pick some up at a few farmers’ markets if you’re ever in Chicagoland. One of the greatest rewards of Valentino’s new career takes place at those markets, he says.
“The best part is when somebody comes up to you, and they were skeptical when they bought it, and then they tell you how awesome it was. You can see the sincerity in their face, and they’re coming back week after week. We’ve raised expectations about pasta for some people, and experiencing that has been awesome.”