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The Many Pleasures Of Fresh Pasta

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Pastabilities Chef Ian Cummings and owner Marguerite Oliver with a Asparagus Prosciutto Lasagna.



Long before pasta became the rage, Marguerite Oliver was touting its glories and making great pasta available to people in Ann Arbor. To the happiness of healthy eaters, her Pastabilities store in Kerrytown was popular years before pasta boutiques popped up around the country. That it will also now be a part of the new Merchant of Vino store in the Plymouth Mall just doubles the pleasure.

Oliver’s delight in people and her keen desire to make people happy with food has long been her trademark whether it be helping a customer with directions on how to prepare pasta easily and flavorfully or telling a diner a humorous story to brighten the day.

At the Pastabilities’ tavla calda (hot table) are many treats made with pasta reflecting Oliver’s Italian heritage and showcasing her talent in using pasta in varied ways. At her counter where pasta is sold (it’s also available at many stores locally) you can purchase fresh pasta to be cut for linguine, spaghetti, lasagna, angel hair -— any pasta style you need. And if you don’t know quite what you need or how to prepare it, there’s no need to feel intimidated. She and her helpful staff are committed to raise your comfort level in using pastas of all types.

Oliver and her staff are always experimenting with recipes not only available in the stores, but also for use in their extensive catering of all kinds of events from wedding receptions to comfortable dinners for the family. She encourages staff like expert Chef Ian Cummings to prepare dishes that are not only low-calorie and low-cholesterol but also low-sodium — a special concern to Oliver’s husband, noted physician William Oliver. It is, in fact, this concern over low-sodium foods that led Oliver to develop her line of pasta snack foods, Pasta Crespa, now being distributed nationally.

Appointed by the State Department to travel to Russia this fall on a trip to encourage entrepreneurship and awareness of the possibilities of pasta as a business and as a healthy food choice, Oliver has made her mark not only on Ann Arbor culinary enjoyment here but also on the international appreciation of the art of pasta as well.

Here are two recipes Chef Ian Cummings has developed for serving at Pastabilities.


1/2 pound fresh asparagus
1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, shredded
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin, then minced
1/4 pound freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 pound Mozzarella cheese
1 pound fresh lasagna sheets (Pastabilities has these) Bechamel or white sauce (Oliver says that her Bechamel uses 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup milk with the flour — one-half tablespoon per cup of liquid — butter and minced garlic; her white sauce uses 2 cups milk as the liquid)

1 - Cut off tough end pieces of asparagus. Slice the remaining stalk; cut off and save tips. Steam sliced stalks until tender. Place in food processor until smooth. Add to Bechamel or white sauce. Add the prosciutto.

2 - To build the lasagna, take a small amount of the sauce; spread on the pan. Then layer lasagna sheets. Then add more sauce and lasagna until you have three or four layers, ending with sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce over the top sheet of lasagna. Add Parmesan. Arrange the asparagus tips on the top.

3 - Bake about 45 minutes at 375 degrees.


1/4 pound fresh shrimp, peeled
1/4 pound fresh sea scallops (if large, cut in half)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves or more sliced garlic
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked in 1/2 cup water and microwaved (save the water)
1/3 cup pitted black olives (oil cured Greek olives)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 pound fresh linguine, cooked while sauce is being made

1 - Heat oil in pan. Add sliced garlic; stir. Add shrimp and scallops; cook 3-4 minutes or until cooked through.

2 - When soaked dried tomatoes are cool, slice, saving the water in which they were soaked. Add the tomatoes to the shrimp mixture. Add olives. Stir for about a minute. Add white wine and one-half cup water from microwaved tomatoes.

3 - Serve linguine on plates. Add sauce.