Assenti's Pasta2044 India St.Little Italy619-239-5117
Anyone who's ever had to make a nice meal on short notice knows how difficult that can be to pull off. Almost anything worth eating requires significant prep and cooking time, and if you're not particularly expert in the kitchen, there's the additional risk of something going badly awry. If you've ever been stuck in this circumstance, there's a place in Little Italy you should know about that will make your life much easier.
Assenti's Pasta sells fresh pasta, made daily from its India Street storefront, to both retail and restaurant customers. In addition to a variety of pastas, Assenti's sells homemade sauces, sausages, appetizers and desserts, as well as wine, cheese, salami and locally made Gibaldi Italian bread. Every day there's a selection of more than a dozen fresh pastas, as well as a freezer case stocked with an array of ravioli, cappelletti, cannelloni, manicotti and other dishes. Assenti's also features imported products from Italy, including capers, anchovies, canned tomatoes, dried pasta, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Founded 23 years ago by Adriana Assenti, Assenti's has since been taken over by sons Roberto and Luigi, with Luigi's wife Carmen offering support in the form of homemade caponatina (eggplant appetizer), tiramisu and biscotti. When Assenti's started, the pasta was pressed to order, producing 30 pounds on a good day. They have since grown rather dramatically, presently producing 400 pounds per day.
Thanks to the eclecticism of San Diego's chefs, Assenti's produces a lot of unusual pastas that you just don't see many places-some of which came about to satisfy restaurants' requests. Flavored pastas include lemon saffron, chipotle, carrot, jalapeño, New Mexico chile, tomato basil and even chocolate. The cappelletti (small, stuffed pasta akin to tortellini) come in cheese and meat varieties, and the raviolis include chicken prosciutto, roasted chicken and garlic, lobster, pumpkin, porcini mushroom and smoked mozzarella, as well as standards like cheese and beef. Assenti's sauces are varied as well, including Alfredo, arugula, Gorgonzola cream, marinara and puttanesca. Everything is delicious and worth trying.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the quality of the pasta is the way some restaurants pass off Assenti's creations as their own homemade stuff. One of my favorite restaurants was this great little Italian place in La Jolla that closed about four years back. Its homemade gnocchi was exemplary, and I came to find out it was often made at Assenti's. Roberto doesn't mind, telling me about customers who confess to setting out pasta machines and scattering flour before the arrival of dinner guests who then get served his pasta. As far as he's concerned, people have their pride, and he's just glad that what he makes is so good that others to want to claim it as their own. On the other hand, some restaurants mention it as a selling point, putting out table cards informing patrons that the pasta comes from Assenti's.
But the best benefit of fresh pasta is that it cooks so quickly. You can stop by Assenti's, pick up some pasta, sauce, a great appetizer-like the green olive spread or caponatina-bread and wine, take it home and have an impressive restaurant-quality meal ready in less than 20 minutes.
If you're new to Assenti's, Roberto's suggestion (apart from trying everything) is to buy some fresh pasta, a container of sauce and a loaf of bread. While that is certainly a great introduction, another possibility came courtesy of Roberto's sister Gilda, who told me during one of my first visits how to make a dish she calls Lazy Lasagna.
Buy a pound of fresh, short pasta, such as radiatore, a couple of the homemade sausages, a container of the marinara sauce, a pound of ricotta cheese and a pound of mozzarella. Remove the sausage meat from the casing and brown in a skillet, breaking it into chunks with a spatula. Shred the mozzarella and add half to the fresh pasta, along with the ricotta and browned sausage meat. Stir in the sauce, adding just enough to moisten all the ingredients. Pour the mixture into an oiled baking dish and top it with the remaining mozzarella and bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. A simple, yet incredibly delicious, dish.
Assenti's is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Your purchase comes with a guide to the different pastas and their cooking times, along with quick-and-easy pasta recipes on the back.