I hereby give a huge apology to all the boxes of pasta in my pantry – “I’m so sorry for taking you for granted all my life and will never do it again.” I promise to never look at a box of pasta in the same uncaring way, nor toss it in my grocery cart like a sack of sugar after my very interesting visit to Pasta Rigo with Monica and Marisa. Who knew how much effort actually went into making all those boxes of pasta tucked away in the cabinet?
Since 1929, the Rigo family has made pasta…only dried pasta, in the hills of the Veneto in the middle of Grappa country. And they only make three types of pasta – lasagna, cannelloni (they are the biggest producer in Italy), and large shells (conchiglie) – that’s it…24 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Pasta Rigo is a copacker, which means they produce pasta for other brands as well as private labels for grocery and specialty stores. It’s not a very large factory, measuring about 27,000 square feet, but pasta is produced for over 40 customers around the world. In Italy, commercially made dried pasta is called “pasta industriale”, translation – industrial pasta, a rather harsh name. But there’s so much more to this basic product of semolina flour, water and eggs.
A very important part of the production is the laboratory, where samples are taken of every delivery of semolina to measure the chemical makeup to make sure the flour has exactly the right percentage of protein. And every batch of pasta is tested to verify that the nutritional specifications are correct. Very strict oversight is in place and every hour, a control box of pasta is tested to make sure it’s perfect. One of Pasta Rigo’s larger customers requires hourly control boxes to be sent to them at the end of each production day.
Completely automated, Pasta Rigo operates with just a handful of employees on each shift. The oldest machine in service is from 1964 and the newest one was purchased in 2012. The temperature on the factory floor averages about 90°, which helps in the 5-6 hour drying process even before the pasta hits the special drying compartments.
I was in pasta heaven and kept thinking of all the wonderful types of hearty lasagna I’d make and all the different vegetable and meat fillings for the shells and cannelloni I’d prepare. Stuffed shells are more of an Italian American dish, but it’s comfort food to me and was one of the first things I made when I got home. This ooey, gooey wonderful recipe is adapted from Lidia’s Italy in America.
- 4 - 5 cups of tomato sauce (preferably homemade), warm
- 1 lb. large shells
- 1 lb. fresh ricotta
- 10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- dash of nutmeg
- 1 lb. low-moisture mozzarella (12 oz. cut into ¼" cubes, 4 oz shredded)
- 2 c. grated Grana Padano (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
- 3 T. chopped Italian parsley
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Put the shells in salted, boiling water and cook ⅔ of the recommended cooking time. Drain and put on sheet trays making sure they don't stick together.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, nutmeg, cubed mozzarella, 1 c. of the grated cheese, parsley and beaten egg.
- Mix the shredded mozzarella and remaining grated Grana Padano together and set aside.
- Spread 2 c. of the tomato sauce in a 9 x 13 or 10 x 15 ceramic baking dish. (fyi-they're a tight fit in the smaller size dish but still works great)
- Stuff each shell with 1 T. of the ricotta filling and arrange in the baking dish.
- Top with 2 more cups of the sauce and sprinkle the reserved mozzarella/Grana Padano cheese mixture.
- Add remaining sauce over the top if desired.
- Tent the baking dish with foil and bake about 25 minutes until bubbly.
- Remove foil and bake until golden and slightly crusty, about 5-10 minutes more.