You know how a group of enthusiasts can geek out about a fancy piece of equipment? Like cyclists marveling at a bike frame, or car mechanics going nuts over an engine. For some chefs, the toy that really excites them these days is the Arcobaleno AEX18, the so-called Rolls Royce of pasta extruders.
What’s a pasta extruder? Touch a button, and a pasta extruder turns flour and water into fresh pasta, extruding it through metal dies into any of a variety of shapes. Its virtues are many. The quality of the pasta, consistency, and ease of experimentation, just to name a few. But, perhaps the biggest thing that extruders like Arcobaleno’s give chefs is the same thing we all want: time.
For many restaurants, the great obstacle in making fresh pasta is the time it requires. “Agonizingly slow and cumbersome,” one chef described the process. Indeed, the many culinary tasks that a restaurant menu requires often do not leave time to prepare pasta by hand. Even if a restaurant can afford to make fresh pasta for one or two dishes, a whole menu of handmade pasta can be next to impossible.
Enter Arcobaleno, a Pennsylvania-based company founded by a mechanical engineer who, in the late 1980s, left his native Italy for Canada, to build pasta factories. Initially, his company built industrial machines for pasta manufacturers. But, its breakthrough, as far as chefs are concerned, came when it took the same technology behind the industrial machines and created smaller units that fit easily on a countertop. Now, for $5,000 and up, a chef can have a unit that, in an hour, can create twenty pounds of world class, fresh pasta.
Chefs swooned. A fresh pasta revolution was born.
Fresh Pasta, Pronto
Here in Charlottesville, a trio of restaurant industry veterans aims to leverage the virtues of an Arcobaleno machine into a fast-casual, pasta restaurant. Public Fish & Oyster owner Daniel Kaufman and chef Gregg Dionne have teamed with former Parallel 38 chef Johnny Garver to launch Pronto, which opens today on The Corner. Fresh pasta for the masses.
“Fresh pasta is far superior to dried,” says Kaufman. “We want to offer that experience to our guests, using quality, fresh ingredients, and do so fast with great value.”
One of the virtues of the fresh pastas that Arcobaleno’s machines create is that they are a pleasure to eat even with very little sauce. The pasta has a soft, springy texture, and actually tastes of wheat, particularly when you use high-quality semolina flour, like Pronto does.
But, this does not mean Pronto is taking any short-cuts with its sauces. Together, chefs Garver and Dionne have created a menu of sauces that, as in Italy, showcase the quality of their ingredients. Cacio e pepe. Bolognese. Fra Diavolo. Pesto. And more.
Choose your fresh pasta shape. Choose a sauce. Add toppings if you must. And, you’re good to go.
We sampled a few, and all were excellent. Here’s Kaufman’s favorite, spaghetti with cacio e pepe.
And, fusilli with pesto.
Pronto opens today, January 21, in the former Revolutionary Soup location on the UVa Corner. 104 14th St. NW Suite 4. Follow along on their Facebook page.