Little Hollows Pasta: Bringing a taste of Italy to Somerset
- Credit: Archant
Taking three simple ingredients and a love of homemade food, Little Hollows Pasta has created a taste of Italy in the heart of Bristol
A store cupboard staple, pasta is by far our favourite Italian import, although, tangling our forks around ribbons of fresh tagliatelle wrapped in golden olive oil is something we only really associate with warm summer evenings on vacation in the Mediterranean. Little Hollows Pasta however, is capturing this essence and convincingly bringing a taste of Italy to our Somerset tables.
A purpose-built industrial unit in a Bristolian quarry is a far cry from the sight of Italian nonnas hand-rolling pasta in the hills of rural Bologna, but owner Chris Davis has kneaded authenticity and passion for pasta into a thriving Somerset business.
Although inspired by the art of pasta making when he was given the book, The Geometry of Pasta, which depicts the fascinating geometric nature and diversity of the savoury dough, Chris says he has always loved good home cooking.
“Both myself and partner Claire have always enjoyed cooking and favoured making everything from scratch where possible - including pasta. I’d longed to run my own business and having worked in a bakery in central Bristol I had a real insight to what it was like to run a business with a true artisan ethos.
“Pasta making was the first thing, in terms of a viable business, that had really got my blood pumping. I’d experienced proper fresh pasta whilst travelling in northern Italy and there was no comparison to products I’d previously tried.
“There are so many small producers in the UK making all kinds of products to a very high standard but I could see there was a gap in the South West market for a really good pasta producer, taking advantage of beautiful, locally-sourced ingredients.”
As I watch Chris making light work of passing the dough in thick ribbons through his Italian-imported pasta machine, I know I’m witnessing someone who has truly grasped not only the technique of pasta making, but the love and passion Italians share for their nation’s dish.
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It’s just like pastry-making as I study Chris’ technique of rolling, folding and turning a couple of times before seeing the beautifully yellow pasta dough go through the machine. I ask Chris the reasoning behind this; just like when making puff pastry, I’m told, he is lovingly laminating the pasta.
“It’s all about taking these opportunities to improve the product,” Chris explains. “This simple process builds layers in the dough, like a lattice effect, to help encourage the gluten and improve the overall texture.”
This precision and passion is evident in every aspect of Chris’ business, from the perfectly rolled dough, to the precisely parceled pasta, delicately dusted with semolina and packed off for delivery. A very temperamental and somewhat delicate product, it’s clear that Chris has worked hard to create pasta which is as authentically perfect as possible.
“A lot of product testing went into achieving an adequate pasta,” Chris chuckles. “Although simple in essence, pasta is such a tricky nut to crack. I needed to create a product that was durable enough to be transported to and from market but equally had a satisfying, al dente texture when cooked. Looking pretty on a market stall, but an inadequate product when customers got it home to cook just wasn’t going to cut it.”
As I sit chatting to Chris, I realise that it’s our county’s love for food markets that has once again made a pipeline dream become a viable business (not forgetting Chris’ long hours and commitment to the cause too, of course). Situated alongside Bristol food market regulars and street food traders Murray May’s, Dawson’s Bakery and The Little Taquero, just to name a few, I soon realise that it’s farmers’ markets that are making this growing business a household name in the South West.
“Farmers’ markets have always been the core of our business,” explains Chris. “They’re the reason we’ve managed to start and grow Little Hollows Pasta to where it is today. We are privileged to now be regulars at thriving markets with a lot of emphasis on local food and other locally-made products.
“I think as people continue to be more aware of large retailers’ complex supply chains, issues with huge amounts of waste and other detrimental impacts on local communities, producers and the environment, the more they start looking for an alternative.
“Interacting with our customers at markets is the best part of what we do. We’ve made a lot of friends at the markets we attend and get invaluable feedback week after week.”
With total ownership of the ethos and direction of the business, Chris insisted from the start that not only was he going to source the best ingredients available - helped by fellow market traders - and employ traditional Italian methods, but he was also determined to provide a plastic-free product to lessen any environmental impact. With a product that is so susceptible to moisture levels, it was not an easy route to take but it’s one customers have appreciated from the start.
In the same vein, Chris highlights another area of his business in which he had to employ a novel idea to ensure minimal waste. With a product that uses far more egg yolk than whites, it wasn’t long before he realised they had to find a use for the surplus whites. With the help of Claire’s savvy thinking and tasty recipe, the answer was another Italian classic - ricciarelli. A marshmallowy, Italian-style macaroon, these sweet bites are selling like hot cakes at market. A delicious solution to minimising food waste!
What stands out most about Little Hollows Pasta is how a thriving business has been created from three simple ingredients: eggs, flour and a passion for pasta. Pasta’s tactile nature and simplicity captured Chris from the start, having tried homemade pasta some two and a half years ago. Authenticity and sheer gusto continues to be the driving force of this business and this is definitely something you can taste being lovingly rolled into every one of Little Hollow’s pasta products.
Recipe: Fresh fusilli with green ricotta sauce
• 100g frozen or fresh peas
• 100g spinach
• 2 tbsp green pesto
• 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
• 20g Grana Padano, finely grated
• Large handful of fresh basil, extra for serving
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• Sea salt & cracked black pepper
• 180g fresh fusilli pasta
1. Place the peas in a pan of salt water and cook until tender. Place the spinach in a colander and drain the peas and cooking water over the spinach to wilt. Drain well and allow to cool before placing the peas and spinach in a food processor.
2. Add the pesto, ricotta, Grana Padano and basil to the peas and spinach. Blitz the ingredients together until smooth, adding a little oil to loosen the mixture slightly.
3. Add a squeeze of lemon and taste the sauce before seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.
4. Cook the pasta according to cooking instructions, then drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan and stir through the green sauce over a very low temperature until the pasta is completely coated.
5. Serve immediately with an additional sprinkling of Grana Padano, basil leaves and cracked black pepper.