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Monday Morning "MUG"ing: Bringing nonna’s flavours to Thunder Bay

This week’s Monday Morning MUGing visits the Pasta Shoppe, where modern convenience meets Italian heritage

THUNDER BAY - Co-owners Ashlyn Ransome and Kim Pizzolato started their Pasta Shoppe as a small basement operation, making two types of hand-rolled pasta and five kinds of sauce as well as hand-rolled gnocchi. The two believed that the family recipes of their nonnas (Italian grandmothers) would be popular if people didn’t have to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen, and they were right. The following year, they were able to move into a storefront on May street, on the same block as Upshot Coffeehouse and Farmhouse Fudge.

Now in their fourth year, the Pasta Shoppe makes nine types of freshly cut extruded pasta and seven sauces. They have upgraded from a hand-cranked roller to an extruder from Italy that allows them to make pasta out of just semolina and water, without eggs. “We make our pasta fresh every single day; there are five cuts of plain pasta that we promise to have always, and our 6th is a flavoured pasta,” says Ransome.

Their flavoured pastas vary from week to week - sometimes it’s brightly coloured beet or pumpkin gigli, sometimes it’s flavoured with cracked black pepper or steeped roasted chilli peppers, and occasionally the fusilli is rainbow-coloured with sun-dried tomatoes, orange bell pepper, yellow bell pepper and spinach.

Ransome has a marketing background and Pizzolato has a financial background, but they were inspired by Sunday family dinners with hand-rolled meatballs and gnocchi. “It was always a treat when nonna made them,” says Ransome, and the two thought Thunder Bay foodies would love it too. All of Pasta Shoppe’s recipes are nonna-inspected and approved - but they have tweaked the gnocchi recipe a bit, replacing the potatoes with ricotta. “It makes a lighter whipped dough, and is easier to make consistently. With potatoes, it’s different each time,” explains Ransome.

Each batch of pasta takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Semolina is mixed with water to make a “dough” the consistency of wet sand, and is then poured into the extruder, which compresses and squeezes it out of a bronze die. The fresh pasta is good in the fridge for four to five days, or in the freezer for up to three months. Customers can buy uncooked fresh pasta, sauces to go, or get bowls of freshly cooked pasta with sauce - your choice of pasta with any of their seven sauces. The meatballs are, of course, made with Ransome’s nonna’s recipe.

Open four days a week (from Tuesday to Friday), the Pasta Shoppe is a two-person operation. “We just try to stay really good at what we do. It’s a lot of work,” Ransome admits. “But once you find your groove, find what works for you, you’re able to set up a good way to get everything done.”