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This article was published 8/11/2021 (284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While employees fill and pinch dozens of empanadas in the prep kitchen at La Pampa’s St. Vital location, Alfonso Maury is hovering over a large pasta maker with a knife, waiting patiently for the tendrils of fresh spaghetti to reach the ideal length.
The Maury family has cornered the local market on Argentinian pizza with their Exchange District restaurant, Corrientes, and have been serving gourmet empanadas at their La Pampa locations for the last several years. Pasta is the next frontier.
"In Argentina, there is a fresh pasta shop in every neighbourhood," Alfonso says. "And Sunday is a pasta day in Argentina. You can see a line of people just waiting outside to buy fresh pasta."
The new venture is called Tuco — named after a traditional Argentinian tomato sauce — and offerings include a selection of fresh, frozen and pre-made pasta dishes. Menu items are either served hot and ready to eat or packaged for assembly and reheating at home.
While Argentinian and Italian pasta share many similarities, the former relies more heavily on flour than semolina — giving it a softer texture — and features more meat than vegetables.
"There was such a big Italian immigration to Argentina, so there’s a big Italian influence on the cuisine," says daughter Nadia Maury, who is the brand manager for the family businesses. "Some things remained the same and others were slowly adjusted over time."
Tuco’s menu includes a rotating cast of pasta shapes, gnocchi and sorrentinos, round ravioli-esque morsels filled with anything from beef to walnuts, ham and ricotta. Sauces include classic and spicy tuco, alfredo, rosé, pesto, bolognese, four cheese and smoked garlic cream.
Since launching in October, one of the biggest draws has been vacuum-sealed bags of pre-cooked pasta and sauce. At home, the unopened bag is dunked in a pot of boiling water and processed until hot.
"For people with less experience in cooking, this is perfect," Alfonso says. "I’m gonna do the effort and you can take the credit… I’m OK with that."
The products are also geared towards those who enjoy eating fresh pasta, but don’t have the time or energy to make their own.
"When was the last time you or anyone else that you know made fresh gnocchi from scratch?" Nadia says. "It’s really hard, it takes a lot of steps, so this adds to the convenience."
Adding new items to existing brands is a risk, especially when those items may be unfamiliar to most Canadian customers.
"Sweetbreads and green onions, in Argentina, is a (delicacy) that I’m sure 99 per cent of Canadians will tell me, ‘Hey, we will not eat that.’ You need to think about what the people like to eat here," Alfonso says. "Sometimes you think they’re going to love it because you love it and that is a big failure in some restaurants."
While sweetbread, an organ meat, won’t be gracing the menu anytime soon, the Maurys are looking forward to testing out stuffed pasta with local ingredients, like bison and venison.
Tuco is still in its infancy, but if Alfonso has learned anything in the last two years, it’s that it doesn’t hurt to diversify.
"I still believe in the restaurant," he says. "But after the pandemic, you need to start to think what do I have to do, what can I do if this happens again?"
Tuco is available at La Pampa’s River Heights location at 1549 Grant Ave. Hot, ready-to-eat pasta dishes can be ordered through SkiptheDishes and pre-made bagged or frozen pasta can be picked up in-person. Follow @tucopastawpg on Instagram for updates.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.