Leigh Foster in the BostInno office!

A small company based in Boston is trying to dispel the notion that pasta is Italian, always eaten with sauce, and has a long shelf life. Nella Pasta, which launched in May 2009, was founded by Leigh Foster and Rachel Marshall. The two women, who are 25 and 26 respectively, met and bonded while commiserating over a job they hated. After discovering they had both taken cooking classes in Florence while in college, they started talking about food. “Just to get us through the day, we were like, ‘let’s start a pasta company,’” said Foster. After they were both laid off, they went to Dunkin Donuts and drafted a business plan that day. They knew they wanted to sell pasta in farmers’ markets, so they developed recipes while Marshall attended The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and Foster babysat.

Bella Pasta is now a finalist for Start Small, Go Big, a DailyCandy contest for small businesses nationwide that are ready to expand. There are twelve finalists altogether and only four finalists in the food category (other categories include fashion and fun). One winner will be chosen in each category based on the number of votes received, so be sure to show them some support. The contest ends Wednesday, September 29 at 9 am. You can vote once daily (per computer or mobile device) on Facebook.

In addition to selling pasta at local farmers’ markets, you can find their pasta salad at the Equal Exchange Café in North End and City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain; they plan expand to other stores soon. Most customers are families, but they hope to reach a younger demographic in the stores.

Nella means “in the” in Italian. The name was chosen because the company focuses on making pasta from local, healthy ingredients. “We got into the local food movement, and that’s what makes us different today. Our pasta is not traditionally Italian. It’s more about the ingredients we put it in it,” said Foster. Since the pasta is made from scratch and contains no preservatives, it only has a shelf life of a week, but you can also freeze it. Ingredients are sourced from local farms such as Spring Brook farm, Brookwood community farm, and Stillman’s farm. Recently they teamed up with Katsiroubas to find local produce in the area.

Foster and Marshall create all the recipes themselves, drawing inspiration from the season. They specialize in combining unique ingredients you might not necessarily associate with pasta, such as a white bean and roasted garlic ravioli. They try to offer a variety of pasta each week based on available ingredients. You can view the week’s offerings by visiting the Weekly Menu tab on their website.

Pricing is based on ingredients. “It’s hard for people who don’t understand what fresh pasta is to understand that this is $8 and you can get a package of Barilla for $1, which you absolutely can. One is flour and water, and one is whole wheat flour that is local with eggs, cheese, and all that fun stuff,” said Foster.

Samples for the BostInno team!

They will be debuting their local wheat, which comes from a wheat farm in Northfield, MA, at the Boston Local Food Festival on October 2. “It’s our hope that if stores are willing to pay for it, then we’re going to phase out all-purpose flour altogether. If you’re going to eat pasta, it might as well be really good and really healthy too,” said Foster.

While Nella Pasta is meant to be eaten without sauce, the spaghetti I sampled could have used an extra flavor kick. The Roasted Beet Pasta Filled with Mozzarella was quite flavorful on its own though. They advise customers to eat it with olive oil. The best part is that it only needs to be cooked in boiling water for one minute, and it’s packed with nutrients for a quick, balanced meal. While it’s not low calorie, it contains lots of fiber and protein. Nutritional information is not included on the packaging because they can’t afford to add it, and they aren’t legally required to until they sell $600,000 worth of pasta. They also sell pesto and inside-out ravioli, which is a spread containing ravioli filling.

For those with a sweet tooth, they make dessert ravioli. “It’s basically a dessert crepe,” said Foster. Their pasta package for Gilt City Boston, which offers discounts at businesses in the Boston area, includes a Gilt-y Pleasure Dessert Ravioli, which is made with bittersweet chocolate and filled with honey-sweetened ricotta. “As soon as you get your mind set in the fact that pasta doesn’t have to be for dinner, it’s basically just flour and eggs, which is also cake.”

When the farmers’ markets close, Foster and Marshall do catering. They rarely make Italian food though – they have only made pasta once. “Catering is our time to put pasta aside and make completely different menus,” said Foster.

Become a Facebook fan, follow them on Twitter, and visit their website. Have you tried Nella Pasta yet? If so, what is your favorite type?