Thanks to a couple of guys toiling away at pasta machines in Williamsburg, the pasta noodle is finally coming out from behind the red sauce.
Sfoglini Pasta is selling hand-made, dried pasta in unique shapes and ingredients that are pleasing the taste buds of customers across the U.S. “When we started we saw an opportunity for dried pasta made with New York state ingredients,” said Scott Ketchum, co-owner of Sfoglini with Steve Gonzalez. “We have been growing really quickly.” Sfoglini (pronounced Sfo-LEE-nee) will be one of nearly 100 companies offering samples at Brooklyn Eats, the annual trade show of Brooklyn-made food and drink that will take place at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge on Friday, June 23.
You may have seen the bags of unique shapes and ingredients in grocery stores across the city. Their 1 lb. bags, typically priced around $6.99 or more, are not the cheap pasta most Americans grew up on. That was the point for Gonzalez and Ketchum. When they saw how few American-made dried pastas were on the market, they believed it was time for something new and that consumers would be willing to pay more for a local product in their pasta bowls.
The pair started the business with their own money in 2012, moving into what was then a cavernous Pfizer Building on Flushing Avenue, now a bustling food-making hub. “It was pretty quiet then,” Ketchum said. The pair decided on dried pasta after studying the crowded market for fresh and frozen pasta, which require refrigeration space in retail locations. Unlike in the U.S., where dried pasta is a commodity without much regard, in Italy dried pasta is as well thought of as fresh pasta. So Ketchum and Gonzalez decided to bring the Italian techniques and sensibility to its product.
Gonzalez had a solid food background for the venture. He has a degree in culinary arts and had worked as a chef for 14 years at such iconic Italian restaurants as Insieme, Hearth, Roberta’s and Frankies Spuntino. Ketchum had 18 years of experience as a graphic designer, but he too had gotten the food bug, studying brewing and management at the Siebel Institute in Chicago.
The duo decided to make their pasta with traditional bronze dies, which create a textured, porous surface that makes it easier for sauce to adhere to. The pasta is air dried at low temperatures and then packaged for sale through retail locations in 30 states and on the company’s website, which also offers gift boxes and a Pasta of the Month Club.
Ketchum believes another key to Sfoglini’s success is fresh, locally produced ingredients, tapping into New York State farms for grains and such ingredients as beets and porcini mushrooms. Sfoglini has worked with the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project to support farms across the Northeast and help build a market for local grains.
The Sfoglini operation has grown to 11 employees and occupies 4,000 sq. ft. of space in the Pfizer Building, where it will produce about 240,000 lbs. of pasta this year, Ketchum said. With glowing reviews in the food press and fast-growing output, the partners are considering whether they may have to expand their production floor outside the city.
At Brooklyn Eats, the company will be debuting pasta made with hemp grown by JD Farms in Eaton, NY. The farm was the first to legally grow industrial hemp in 80 years. Hemp, of course, gets caught up in the legal thicket of its sister plant, marijuana, but it is considered a “superfood” for its nutrients and antioxidants. Getting federal approval for the crop requires the farm to hire armed security when it plants its seeds.
Besides bringing hemp to the table, the company lists 32 different varieties of its organic pastas, including some that are available fresh. Sfoglini has resurrected shapes of pasta that had fallen out of use by pasta makers. Ketchum pointed to zucca pasta (Italian for zucchini or pumpkin) and reginetti (exotically named for the Princess Mafalda of Savoy) as types of pasta Sofoglini brought back from obscurity.
“Zucca is a great pasta that can hold a nice pocket of sauce in it,” Ketchum said. His favorite is rye pasta, which he likes to eat with squash and zucchini. Said he: “It’s important that people get to know you can do more with pasta than just red sauce.”