Brian and I love great food and are always on the lookout for special products for the Mercantile. With so many restaurants closed–and the advice to eat at home whenever possible–more people are exploring opportunities in their kitchens. Instead of turning cooking into a grind, make it fun. Try new things. Learn new techniques. We recently picked up a few types of cool pasta to play around with!


Plain pasta is cheap and abundant in the grocery store, but is it any good? We set out to find more unique varieties, like Valente’s pasta made by hand in the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Valente family. We have eight of their creative flavors, like Black Olive, and Roasted Garlic, and even Jalapeno.

The Valente Family has been handcrafting  pasta in Charlottesville since 1982.  Our pasta is rolled, cut, air-dried and hand packed.   We are plant based. Our facility is a one allergen facility.  We only use vegetable powders, herbs and seasonings.  In our shop there is NO soy, eggs, dairy, nuts or fish.  And all of our ingredients are non GMO.

The Valente family

Click to Shop Valente Pasta!

Gluten-Free Pasta!

Sadly I cannot eat wheat and most gluten-free pasta is terrible and full of gums–so I went on the hunt for the perfect Gluten-Free pasta and found the most beautiful imported Italian pasta. It cooks up like a dream and tastes like… PASTA.

La Fabbrica is made in Gragnano Italy, the city known for making the best pasta in the world—both because of the growing environment and the water. It’s the process of forming the dough, though, that truly makes it special. The pasta makers use bronze extruders which create a rougher texture that helps pasta hold onto the sauce better than industrially made pastas. They also dry it in the mountain air, a more time-consuming process that adds to the perfect texture. This pasta is so special, the EU declared it a protected product!

Leave it to the best pasta region in the world to NAIL gluten-free pasta. We started with the shells and made delicious shells stuffed with homemade ricotta, mozzarella, parm, and a homemade meat sauce (recipe below). It was FANTASTIC.

We have three varieties available, the above shells, some twists, and some tagliolini.

We were so impressed, we are going to order the traditional wheat varieties for the store as well.

And there it is! Some of our cool new goods. Remember, Monday is our order day for Danzeisen and other good stuff. You’ll find the order form and links to online store: HERE!

THE RECIPE (sort of…)


There were no cooking instructions on the pasta bag, but I found six minutes to be the perfect amount of time to pre-cook the shells in water, olive oil, and salt. You don’t want them cooked all the way through since they will bake for 45 minutes.

  • Pasta shells… I laid them out in the pan first to see how many would fit. This pan fit 15
  • Marinara or meat sauce – you can use jarred or make your own. We made this one using a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, squished between your fingers (the true Italian way), 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil (we carry Mariella), oregano, Four Pepper Flatiron Chile flakes (which we carry), 2 cloves of garlic (or more if you like it garlicky). I cooked this in the slow cooker all day to marry the flavors, then sauteed some ground beef and added to the mix for the last hour.
  • Homemade Ricotta using Danzeisen whole milk, salt, and lemon. That’s it. It is SO easy.

Homemade Ricotta from the Kitchn Food Blog:


  • 1/2 gallon whole milk, not UHT pasteurized (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (from 1 1/2 to 2 lemons), 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar, or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (available from cheese-making suppliers)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, optional



  1. Warm the milk to 200°F: Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
  2. Add the lemon juice and salt: Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the lemon juice or vinegar (or citric acid) and the salt. Stir gently to combine.
  3. Let the milk sit for 10 minutes: Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey — dip your slotted spoon into the mix to check. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and wait a few more minutes.
  4. Strain the curds: Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. (Removing the big curds first helps keep them from splashing and making a mess as you pour.)
  5. Drain the curds for 10 to 60 minutes: Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.
  6. Use or store the ricotta: Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.


Whole vs. 2% vs. Non-Fat Milk: While whole milk is our favorite for making ricotta, 2% milk can also be used, though the ricotta is slightly less rich and creamy. Avoid using skim and nonfat milks; these don’t separate as easily into curds and whey.

Pasteurized Milk: Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making ricotta, but avoid UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized milk as this process changes the protein structure of the milk, preventing it from separating.

Making Fresh Ricotta Salata: If you’d like to make a fresh farmer’s cheese (ricotta salata) from this ricotta, wrap it in cheese cloth and press it beneath a weighted plate in the refrigerator overnight.

Using the Leftover Whey: The leftover whey can be used in place of water in any baking recipe, whizzed into smoothies, or drunk on its own over ice.

I mixed half batch of homemade ricotta with grated mozzarella and parmesan (I rarely measure, just add until it looks right, like a handful of each), mixed in some oregano, parsley, salt and pepper. Filled the pre-cooked shells, topped with the meat sauce and more cheese, and baked for 45 minutes. Then I ate myself silly, because it was delicious.

Until next time…

Stay Swellegant!

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