Just talking to Salvatore Costanzo makes you hungry. He’s passionate about pasta.
Salvatore – known as `Sal’ – has previously run cafes across Canberra. But his decision to start making pasta more than six years ago has taken that to a new level.
“I used to have the coffee shop and stuff, but pasta for me is something I want to do more… because I have a passion for cooking,” he says.
Nonna Maria’s Pasta started as a hobby: Sal only intended to have a small stall at the Capital Region Farmers Market. But he quickly picked up extra customers.
“From doing regular markets on Saturday, I had requests from restaurants. From there it got bigger and bigger.”
Sal now supplies fresh pasta to several Canberra region restaurants and cafes and has become a regular at the Southside Farmers Market. He’s also planning to attend the Haig Park Village Market and the new market in Gold Creek. All of which he’s been able to do with support from his family.
“The family is good, they help me a lot. Without them I can’t do much at all because they help me with social media, packing up stuff, and coming to the market.”
Sal grew up in the Italian village of San Luca in the Reggio Calabria region, which he says is “near the toe of the boot”.
He still recalls helping “Mum” and “Grandma” (the eponymous “Nonna Maria”) in the kitchen, making pasta by hand and rolling out macaroni with knitting needles!
“Mum had nine kids so sometimes trying to feed them was a bit hard,” he says.
“I’d help put the chilli on the string and we’d hang and tie them up for the winter. And we’d hang cherry tomatoes up [to dry], and that’s what we’d eat when winter came. We’d put the cherry tomatoes, olives and chilli together to make a sauce.”
He still loves traditional pasta such as casarecce, which translates to ‘home made’. But it’s his colourful combinations that most often catch the eye of market visitors.
The markets are also an important source of inspiration for Sal.
“Most of my ingredients are from the farmers’ market. I buy the eggs from there… Local is the best thing. You try to support each other.”
He has favourite stallholders who sell the best potatoes for making gnocchi, and loves using specialty ingredients such as truffles when they’re in season.
He also draws inspiration from other cultures, suggesting his popular saffron and chilli pasta can be served with seafood, spices and chicken: paella style. And he’s thinking about trying out a confit duck ravioli.
He’s uncertain what his “Nonna” would make of all his creative flavours. But wife Teresa reminds him that his brothers back in Italy are always interested in what he’s making and take inspiration for their own restaurant. It seems food runs in the family – and “Nonna” would be proud!
Sal occasionally collaborates with Canberra restaurants to make specialty ravioli fillings and regularly visits those who use his pasta to see what dishes they’ve created. He was particularly impressed when his chilli and prawn ravioli was served with capers and seaweed!
Nonna Maria’s Pasta is now far more than a hobby. Sal plans to move from his current base of operations at the Barton Grocer to a larger dedicated space in Mitchell.
The move will allow him to experiment with more pasta flavours, sauces and ready-made meals plus increase his gluten-free options.