The recipe for the marinara sauce at Teresa’s Italian Kitchen in Middleton is a closely guarded family secret. It was passed from executive chef Nick Yebba Jr.’s grandmother and mother and then to him when he was about 10 years old and always underfoot in the kitchen. Countless customers have raved about it, but Yebba Jr. is tight-lipped. You can still serve it in your own home, though, and maybe even pass it off as your own—Yebba Jr. doesn’t mind.
“That’s fine,” laughs Yebba Jr., who owns parent company Teresa’s Hospitality Group with his father, Nick Yebba Sr. “We even have customers bring in their own dishes for catering orders, to make it look like they made it at home.”
Mama’s top-notch marinara, as well as fresh pasta to serve with it, is now available daily to take away from her namesake Teresa’s Pasta & Bake Shop. The shop opened recently next door to Teresa’s Italian Kitchen —which also takes its name from Yebba Jr.’s late mother. Display cases in the small shop feature the sweet and the savory—one side is packed with a rainbow of pasta shapes, colored with everything from spinach to tomato puree, while the other holds a selection of classic baked goods.
All of these are made in the kitchen in back, in one corner of which stands Yebba’s pride and joy—a brand-new state-of-the-art Arcobaleno pasta machine. It cranks out up to 50 pounds of pasta an hour, and can make ravioli as well as shapes from rigatoni to cresta de gallo, so called because it resembles a rooster’s crest.
“I love the cresta de gallo,” Yebba says. “It has many different textures,” from the ruffled edge to the striped tube, making it ideal for grabbing onto sauce. “I call it elbow macaroni on steroids.”
Like a kid with a Play-Doh machine, Yebba has had a hard time restraining himself from creating new shapes. His is continuously ordering new solid brass dies for cutting a variety of pasta shapes. A catalog full of dies is never far from his pasta bench, but he’s currently limited himself to just eight shapes, including ravioli.The new machine has launched a revolution at the Teresa’s Hospitality Group restaurants; all the pasta served at all three locations—Teresa’s Prime and Grille 19 in North Reading and Teresa’s Italian Eatery, is 100 percent fresh-made in house. Previously only the fusilli was made on-site.
It’s keeping Yebba pretty busy—he says he is spending about 30 hours each week cranking out about 1,000 pounds of pasta to serve the hungry diners and the pasta shop. That’s on top of his other responsibilities, so he’s sometimes there until midnight. “I never realized how much pasta we go through until I started making it myself,” he says with a laugh. “Even my wife now says, ‘What are you doing today? Making pasta?’”
The chef is planning to train someone else to run the machine, when he has a minute. Between the busy spring season and revamping the entire menu to take full advantage of the new pasta shapes, Yebba doesn’t have much time to spare.
Fortunately, he shares the kitchen with Patti Merlina, the mastermind behind the bakeshop portion of the new space. She keeps the chef going by slipping him a few of her raspberry bowties—cookies featuring a rolled cream cheese dough filled with raspberry preserves—as needed. That’s just one of the items Merlina packs into the pastry case every day. Drawing on her grandmother’s recipes and years of experience, she prepares everything from Almond Joy cupcakes to tiramisu—generally a nice mix of classic Italian pastries and American-style goodies. Her pistachio macaroons, crispy and chewy and packed with almond paste and, of course, pistachios, have developed a cult following—they’re also her son’s favorite.
Merlina started with the company last November when the bakeshop opened, and her creations are also making waves on the dessert menu at the restaurant next door and in Teresa’s catering business.
Merlina’s aren’t the only waves, though. The new pasta maker has unleashed a wealth of creativity in the kitchen. “The machine has given us the ability to do different specials,” Yebba Jr. says. For example, for Mother’s Day, diners were treated to a house-made cannelloni stuffed with a blend of ricotta, burrata, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat and topped with a lobster-sherry cream sauce. And a spaghetti topped with tomato cream sauce, burrata, and pesto has been so popular it will be a staple on the new menu. Want to eat at home? Just stop into the pasta shop to pick up some fresh spaghetti and sauce. The compliments will be all yours—chef won’t tell.