Making a quick pasta sauce from scratch is easy enough, but between work, happy hour, improv class, and yoga, who has time? The supermarket’s wall of jarred options is dizzying; many come saddled with sodium and sugar, and most taste the same. If you focus on locally-made versions, you'll discover amazing options prepared with Northern California ingredients created by entrepreneurs who micromanage every aspect of their businesses to ensure consummate quality.
A visit to Rockridge requires a trip to Market Hall, the expansive food and specialty store that houses eight independent retailers. There, you’ll find The Pasta Shop where creative director Sandy Sonnenfelt’s gamut of tasks includes innovating new flavors. In January, they released a rich Truffle Creammto complement their porichi truffle ravioli, and a Roasted Tomato and Pepper option that was born out of recipe for Veracruz sauce. Tangy with capers, and chunky with tomatoes, onions, and sliced olives, it's the kind of thing you can eat a dish of. The top-selling Arrabbiata stubbornly burns the back of your throat while the Arugula Parsley Pesto made with ground almonds tastes like springtime. Find them at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Good Eggs, Amazon Fresh, Market Hall, and Fourth Street Pasta Shop in Berkeley.
Nearly seventy years after his grandfather opened a tomato cannery in San Jose, Rob DiNapoli partnered with James Beard award-winning chef Chris Bianco to develop a line of canned California tomatoes that would rival those imported from Italy. In 2012, they released their pasta sauce, a minimalist blend of organic tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil from Tehama County, garlic from Gilroy, and sea salt. “It’s really more of a base,” says DiNapoli. To ensure top quality and consistency, the duo employ an unusual production method. “We pack 100% of what we’re going to sell for a year in the summer,” he says. Beginning in July in Lemoore, California, fresh tomatoes are harvested at their peak and packed on-site. “We might make too much. We might make too little,” says Dinapoli, but for now, there are no plans to change course. Find the tomatoes and sauces at Whole Foods, Mollie Stone’s, Lunardi's, and online at Baia Pasta.
“I am the whole company,” says Judith Capellino. She founded her namesake ravioli and pasta sauce business in 1980 after dazzling guests at a dinner party with her decadent Alfredo sauce. Soon, she added a intense pine nut-based pesto Genovese, which continues to be her top-seller. Cappelino advises customers to use it in moderation explaining that one 7 oz. container will dress a pound of pasta. She recommends freezing extras by pouring a little olive oil over the top. Like all her sauces, it’s made weekly. And you won’t find sugar in her tomato-based sauces; instaed, she relies on slow-cooked onions and carrots for sweetness. See where to find her fresh and frozen sauce.
Owner Rick Cresci’s grandfather established the business as a pasta company in 1949 in Burlingame. About seven years ago, it moved to South San Francisco, and the offerings have expanded to include olive mixes and spreads. The popular Pesto, made without pine nuts, packs in Northern California basil and pungent garlic from Christopher Ranch in Gilroy. You’ll find a richer Sundried Tomato version as well as jalapeno-spiked Sicilian Tomato sauce. Cresci sells mainly to grocery stores and delis to use in their prepared foods, but you can purchase his products at several farmers markets. Home Maid received organic certification last year, and Cresci and hopes to launch his organic line in the fall.
Dave Hirschkop’s innovative lineup, which now includes seven sauces, has won multiple awards. Ask him for a recommendation, and he’ll steer you toward the Butternut Squash. Delicately sweet and creamy, despite the absence of cream, it won the 2009 best sauce award at the New York Fancy Food Show. Hirschkop started his company with hot sauce, so it’s no surprise his Organic Spicy Heirloom Marinara has also earned accolades, nabbing the 2009 Scovie Award and the 2010 Golden Pepper prize. Distributed nationally, you’ll find his products at major grocery stores like Whole Foods.