You may not know Brian Bertolini, the chef-owner of Rio Bertolini’s Pasta, but chances are, you’ve seen him zipping around town in his 1967 Italian Vespa Ape, a cargo of fresh noodles in the back. This 30-year-old has plenty of stops to make, serving 50 kinds of pasta to 120 local restaurants, plus a steady stream of customers at local farmers markets.
“Six years ago, I started making pasta at home with just a rolling pin and a freezer,” says the Culinary Institute of America grad. His beginnings may have been humble, but he’s worked his way up in high-end restaurants from Connecticut to Charleston. “I made pasta for many different chefs, learning their techniques,” he explains. That knowledge paid off—today, Bertolini’s business includes a staff of three working in a commercial kitchen in West Ashley.
But, he promises, culinary tutelage isn’t required for great homemade pasta. “Gnocchi is good to start out with because it’s one of the easiest pastas to make well,” Bertolini notes. The dumpling-like balls can be formed from a variety of substances, including cheese, potatoes, and winter squash.
Bertolini’s favorite base is ricotta, which “produces a nice, consistent gnocchi.” There are several options for obtaining the cheese: make your own; order Ricotta Impostata online or through Bertolini; or purchase it from the supermarket, then use cheesecloth to drain it in the fridge for a day or two. This is important, because your base should be as dry as possible. “If the dough looks like mashed potatoes, it’s too wet,” he advises.
A little flour will help if the dough sticks to your hands a bit, and don’t worry, “Gnocchi don’t have to look pretty. They’ll still be delicious.”
Keep this Italian specialty even simpler with Bertolini’s suggested sauce, a combination of butter, cooking water, and minimal seasonings. “It really lets the pasta shine,” he says. Gnocchi should be served immediately, “so have your sauce simmering, then spoon the pasta right in.”