Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Pasta Heaven

Wednesday May 23, 2013

Pasta Heaven

In the heart of the neighborhood of Pocitos, on Avenida Libertad off the corner of Espana sits La Spezia, a pasta house that has been around for 75 years and has been run by three generations of the Speranza family, immigrants from Italy. Even before you walk in the door you realize this place is special. In a town that is more likely to have graffiti on the walls, they have an unmarred mural by their entrance with a painting worthy of Michelangelo.

Prepped and ready for work
Prepped and ready for work

Inside, the store is spotless, with a pleasant smell of fresh pasta being made. What is of particular interest to me today is the run of kosher pasta La Spezia is preparing. Our trusty mashgiach (supervisor), Moshe Silberberg arrived early to clean all the equipment, utensils and surfaces that were to be used for the kosher run. Not that these things were dirty, for La Spezia runs a very clean operation – however, they are not necessarily as thorough, diligent and exacting as Moshe is, nor are they particularly troubled by mixing meat with milk or others rigors of kosher requirements – nor should they be.

Team folding the dough
Team folding the dough

Moshe makes sure that all of the ingredients that are being used are kosher and also that all products are fresh and from new packages or bottles. Then, like a hawk, he watches the continuous process of pasta-making, insuring that from beginning to end everything is kosher. The ingredients, the utensils, the equipment, the surfaces must remain exclusively kosher.

Cutting the folded dough
Cutting the folded dough

One might take such a situation for granted, or assume that once the process has been set in motion there should be little to worry about. One would be wrong. Less than a foot from the kosher line is a container of treif (non-kosher) sausages waiting to be included in a later run of pasta-coated meats. It would be far too easy for non-kosher ingredients to be inadvertently mixed in the kosher run, or for non-kosher utensils and equipment (really non-kosher) to be used. Hence the need for full, constant, close supervision during these special runs. Hence also the added expense of the kosher La Spezia pasta as compared to the exact non-kosher versions.

Moshe keeping an eye on those sausages
Moshe keeping an eye on those sausages

Not to besmirch in any way the quality of the non-kosher La Spezia products. I had the opportunity to spend time with the owner, Juan Pablo Speranza, grandson of the founder. He unabashedly stated that their products are made with love and I believe that is completely true – and that it affects the taste of the food. I then told him of my love (and longing) for my wife’s chicken soup and chulent. I didn’t elaborate on the chulent – it’ll probably just be easier to invite him over.

Together with Juan Pablo
Together with Juan Pablo

I have been in many businesses and factories over the years. La Spezia has probably around 30 workers, most of them preparing by hand large batches of pasta in multiple variations and combinations. You look at the workers and there is a quite joy and determination about them. The place is bright and airy and filled with an undertone of happiness and the scent of fresh, delicious food. Juan Pablo is proud to be able to provide his quality products to kosher consumers as well and is happy to assist in the creation of further kosher products.

It has my name on it -- I just wish I knew how to cook it...
It has my name on it — I just wish I knew how to cook it…

He then wishes to give me a gift of kosher frozen pasta, ravioli and other pasta-based products. I ask him to wait until my wife arrives as she will appreciate it much more knowing how to prepare it. I’ve been told it has to do with boiling water, but I’m content to limit myself to food that can be cooked by pushing a minimal amount of buttons on the microwave, or at most the instant add-boiling-water, wait-two-minutes, mix-if-you-must variety. Anything beyond that pushes my domesticity way beyond what my mortal cooking mind can grasp.

He looked at my quizzically. I guess Italians learn how to make pasta from a young age. He then smiled politely and promised to give the present to my wife upon her forthcoming visit to the palace of pasta. May it happen speedily in our days. Amen.

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