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If you're craving homemade pasta like your nonna used to serve but lack the time, inclination or culinary aptitude to make your own, then look no further than Cassinelli Food Products in Astoria.

Owned by Tony Bonfigli and Nella Costella, both natives of Italy, Cassinelli has been a neighborhood institution since 1958. The store, located at 31-12 23rd Ave. (near 31st Street), has occupied its current location, comprising a small retail store with rear rooms used to produce and freeze pasta, since 1972 when the duo assumed ownership, Bonfigli said.

Cassinelli exudes an intimate, collegial feel, more famiglia than factory.

"We have very good people," Bonfigli said. "They're all very talented."

Most of the employees have been with the company for more than 20 years. Costella worked for the store's original owners, whom she credits with teaching her about various facets of the business, part time while her daughter was growing up, she said.

"Adela Cassinelli taught me everything that I know," she said.

On a recent morning, the employees of Cassinelli, many of whom are culinary-industry veterans hailing from kitchens in Manhattan and Europe, churned out batch after batch of pasta, including cappelloni ("large hats," small circular tortellini) and ravioli filled with ingredients such as meat, cheese, mushroom and a mixture of cheese and spinach.

First, large sheets of pasta are created by mixing and kneading semolina (durum wheat) in large stainless-steel machines. The sheets, weighing roughly 35 lbs., are then fed through machines specifically designed for making various types of pasta, while the filling is fed through the hopper, Bonfigli said.

Pasta is made fresh daily during store hours, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 pm. Tuesday through Saturday. What the company produces on any given day depends on the orders for commercial delivery that it receives, said Costella.

Cassinelli sells 30 different varieties of pasta, ranging from everyday staples like cheese ravioli, gnocchi and rigatoni to more exotic varieties such as black trenette and black fusilli, both made with squid ink, and paglia e fieno, loosely translated to "straw and hay," which refers to traditional white pasta interspersed with spinach pasta, according to the culinary Web site Recipezaar.com. Cassinelli's version pairs egg linguine with spinach linguine, Bonfigli said.

Business is split equally between wholesale clients — including Manhattan eateries such as Nanni in Midtown, epicurean destination market Agata & Valentina and esteemed Astoria eatery Trattoria L'incontro — and local Greek and Italian customers yearning for a fix of authentic fare.

"Generally, Italians, they come here from Bayside, Whitestone," said Bonfigli. "You get some little old ladies, who used to make their own pasta, [but] they developed arthritis and ours is the closest thing."

Rocco Sacramone, chef and owner of Trattoria L'incontro, swears by Cassinelli's products, especially the sheets of pasta used for making ravioli and lasagna.

"The texture of the pasta is really awesome," he said. "They use a real, true egg pasta, pasta all'uovo in Italian ... not just water and flour."

Sacramone uses Cassinelli ravioli sheets for all of Trattoria L'incontro's ravioli, as well as the store's squid ink pastas, which are served with a crabmeat and lemon sauce, he said.

Italian specialty retailer Agata & Valentina carries the company's fresh cavatelli, cheese ravioli and spinach and cheese ravioli, which sell quite well, said Sarah Taylor, executive project manager for Agata & Valentina. Cassinelli's focus on craftsmanship and use of quality ingredients meshes well with the retailer's mission to sell artisanal, homemade products, Taylor said.

"They use top-quality ingredients when making their products, real parmigiano reggiano," she said, as opposed to fillers that are commonly used. "It's important because you can tell the quality."

If You Go

Cassinelli Food Products

31-12 23rd Ave.

Astoria, NY 11105

718-274-4881

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Closed Sunday-Monday

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