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A Passion for Pasta

Photo by Kate Benz A Passion for Pasta
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The handmade, white fettuccini pasta comes in 14 flavors like basil, hot red pepper, black pepper, chive, spinach, sun dried tomato, garlic basil, parsley and squid ink, which everyone always thinks is weird.

Because it’s black. Black as ink fettuccini needles. “It’s a learning curve,” says Yvonne Hennigan. “But squid ink is very common in the Mediterranean.”

We make black and gold fettuccini, you know, for the Steelers,” says her husband, Jim, who is wearing a baseball cap that says “Made in 1939.” “During football season, people go crazy over it.”

It’s 10:30 in the morning on a Thursday. “We’ve been here for hours,” Yvonne says over the growling hum of a gray, KitchenAid pro mixer outfitted with a pasta press, through which she is feeding the pasta while also sprinkling it with flour. Sprinkle, pull, fold. Sprinkle, pull, fold.

That’s an 18-​foot long strand,” Jim says, separating each freshly cut noodle on a wooden drying rack.

This one is 30 feet,” Yvonne says. “I’m making it longer today.”

All of the pasta Yvonne and Jim are making has been kneaded by hand; fresh eggs, durum semolina, all-​purpose flour, olive oil. No preservatives. No additives. No coloring. “Just like Nonna makes,” she says.

Nonna, you know, that’s your grandma.”

Yvonne has always liked making pasta. “I hate to bake,” she says, using a pizza cutter to slice the long ribbon of pasta into sections that are each 16 inches long. “But I’ve always loved to make pasta. I used to gift it to friends before we started doing this.”

This” is Handmade Pasta by Yvonne, a brick and mortar shop on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills with a potted fig tree outside. Inside are bags of noodles, noodles being made, noodles drying on racks; a love letter to the 20 years that Yvonne and Jim traveled to and lived in Italy.

They’ll make about 30 bags of pasta today. “I can tell you this much,” says Jim. “We’ve been doing this for five years, and we’re approaching 30,000 bags. Is this the last one, hon?” he asks, moving the noodles he just separated to another drying rack in front of a fan.

No,” she replies. “He asks me that a lot.”

I’m just trying to figure out how many racks we need,” he says, spacing out another set of noodles.

Jim and Yvonne have been married for 54 years. They’ve been working together for five. “He says he’s never worked so hard in his life.”

From May to November, Jim and Yvonne also set up a booth at the Ross Township Farm Market every Wednesday, one at the Sewickley Farm Market every Saturday, and they sell out of pasta every week.

We offer pasta making classes, too,” she says. “We get couples, singles, men, women. We’ve even had a priest and a nun come to class. The greatest compliment I can get is when these little old Italian women come in, buy pasta, and then come in again to buy some more. That’s when it’s like, ‘Yeah, alright.’”

Kate Benz

Kate Benz has been a professional writer for the past fifteen years with bylines appearing in The Tribune-​Review, Pittsburgh Magazine, Table Magazine, Pittsburgh Quarterly, and LOCAL Pittsburgh Magazine. She is also the author of an “Images of America” book on the history of Cranberry Township. When she is not writing, you can find her thoroughly enjoying a co-​dependent relationship with her dog or taking long, romantic walks down the makeup aisle.

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