Joe D’Andrea, owner of Vera Pasta, got his start selling pasta at the Phoenixville Farmers market. Today, Vera Pasta can be found at restaurants and markets in 30 states. Using authentic and time-tested methods he learned during his exploration of Italy, Chef Joe D’Andrea crafts homemade artisan pasta, flavored with fresh produce.
Chef D’Andrea is emphatic about the details – the simple ingredients, the slow process, and the wholesome experience. Our team was lucky enough to visit with D’Andrea and learn more about his start and his process.
Chef Joe D’Andrea grew up in an Italian household in West Chester, PA. He first learned about Italian cuisine from his grandmother, whose cooking style originates from the Abruzzi region in Italy. After graduating from West Chester University, D’Andrea attended the Italian Culinary Academy in Manhattan where he learned classical cooking techniques, along with Italian language and culture. Next, he traveled to Parma, Italy to attend ALMA, The International School of Italian Cuisine.
A few months after moving back home, Joe started his business, Vera Pasta, in a mission to bring the simple, true flavors of Italy back home, and with a promise of quality and authenticity. Vera Pasta is dedicated to showcasing pasta and sauces from all regions of Italy, from the rich sophisticated north to the rustic bold south.
Artisan pasta is handmade to ensure that only the best ingredients and processes are used to produce a quality product. “Sourcing responsibility is very important to us,” says D’Andrea, “Our flour comes from North Dakota as we feel it’s the best place to grow semolina flour in the US. It’s a non-GMO hard wheat that holds up best to machines – it’s coarse and flavorful. All other ingredients we source locally with an eye on quality.” Vera Pasta flavored dry pastas use real ingredients like roasted garlic and pureed spinach – never powders.
At Vera Pasta, they utilize the age-old technique of pasta extrusion, which originated from the South of Italy. This means that the dough is pushed through bronze dies to create the shapes of common pastas. Commercial dried pasta is extruded through plastic inserts, but at Vera Pasta only bronze will do. Not only is this the Italian tradition, but it also results in pasta with a very distinct, course texture that gives pasta sauce something to bind to.
Commercial pasta is cut and steamed to kill bacteria, then dried for as little as three hours. Artisan dried pasta is dried in an environment with low heat (about 110F) for up to 36 hours. As a result, artisan pasta has a much better flavor and the integrity of the wheat is preserved. Says D’Andrea, “You can smell the wheat when you are boiling the pasta! It is packed full of flavor before you even add anything else to your dish.”
Q&A WITH CHEF D’ANDREA
When did you know that you wanted to start a pasta business?
Starting a pasta business pretty much came out of thin air. When I returned from studying Italian cuisine in Italy I missed making pasta everyday so I started Vera. The rest, as they say, is history.
What kind of equipment do you rely on to make your pastas?
All of our equipment comes from Rome, Italy. Our machines are “artisan machines” which means not industrial and slower moving for quality.
What is the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever incorporated into pasta?
Soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. I was going for an Asian flavor. It didn’t work too well.
Which pasta is your top-seller?
Spinach penne or traditional radiatori.
What’s your favorite type of pasta to make? Why?
Ricotta gnocchi because it reminds me of making pasta with my grandmom.
What’s your favorite type of pasta to eat? Why?
Orecchiette, because it pairs perfectly with broccoli rabe and sausage. My favorite!
Any tips for someone trying to make pasta at home?
It may not come out right the first time but keep trying it and take notes of what you did so you can learn from it. It’s a labor of love and no cookbook can teach you.
We proudly offer these Vera Pasta products at your neighborhood Kimberton Whole Foods: assorted dry pastas, ravioli, gnocchi, and marinara. Find the last three in our freezer section. The gnocchi is made using a very special recipe handed down to D’Andrea from his grandmother.
Want to learn more? D’Andrea also maintains an informative and easy-to-read blog that covers useful culinary topics such as San Marzano Tomatoes and Recipes for Leftover Pasta.