Straight out of Naples to NugegodaView(s):
By Smriti Daniel
Whenever Mapalagamage Thushara Sanjeevani inhales the scent of basil she finds herself missing Italy. It’s a potent reminder of the beautiful country where she lived and worked for a decade. In Naples she fell in love with the architecture, the food and a Sri Lankan named Susil, who would later become her husband. Though she enjoyed her time abroad, Thushara, who speaks fluent Italian and Sinhala and a smattering of English, always knew she wanted to come back to Sri Lanka to raise her family. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she also nurtured the dream of starting her own restaurant. Seven years after they returned home, that dream has become a small restaurant in Nugegoda named Pasta Hut.
Thushara says she’s always been someone curious about food, eager to try and taste and then recreate the dish. In Naples she found herself absorbed in the rich cuisine – in love with cappuccinos and gelatos but also with the food served in the traditional local restaurants. Though she was never chef, while working in these restaurants she soaked in all the basics and then went home to practise them. The first thing she turned out was a lasagne. (It’s already one of her most popular dishes at Pasta Hut.)
Though she has a simple menu strong on classic Italian foods: thin crust pizzas (they come in only one size – “In Italy every pizza is 12 inches,” says Susil) are baked in a cinnamon wood fired oven and range in price from Rs. 950 for a 4 cheese margherita pizza (mozzarella, blue cheese, ricotta and parmesan) to Rs. 1400 for the pepperoni supreme.
Her pasta section includes spaghetti bolognaise, polpette al sugo or Italian meat ball pasta (All Rs. 450) and ravioli (Rs. 750) as well as vegetarian pastas like the spicy calabrese made with parmesan and bell pepper (Rs. 400).
She does her own paninis and wraps and three types of lasagna round off the menu. A ‘Saturday Special’, spaghetti alle vongole made with fresh oysters, tomato, chilli, garlic and parmesan cheese is priced at Rs. 450. Every day there’s also a special soup – potato cream, pumpkin and lentils are regulars on the menu.
Thushara says that Italian cooking appeals to her in part because of its reliance on fresh, delicious ingredients. So her day’s specials are cooked just before lunch with ingredients she purchased in the morning.
Many of the non-perishables – including the coffee – are imported from Italy. She prepares almost everything herself, you can see her busy at work in the restaurant’s little open kitchen. Thushara says that though having to be so hands on can get stressful, she enjoys talking to her customers and often rustles up a custom dish to suit specific requests – think a kochi chilli for added spiciness or a specific combination for your own pasta.
Walk into Pasta Hut on any given day though and Thushara will have something out of the ordinary on offer. Today, the mini buffet includes a tray of chicken lasagna, mutton tortellinis, a bowl of bow-tie pasta and an assortment of intriguing looking sauces. We tuck in to luscious little parcels of ravioli filled with ricotta (made in-house) and served with pesto and cashewnuts (Thushara’s twist on the classic dish.) She tops it with a single basil leaf, plucked from her own garden – a little piece of her Italy on the plate.
Pasta Hut is at 285/1/C, Stanley Thilakarathne Mw., Nugegoda. For deliveries call 011 2814474. Open 11:00am – 10:30pm.
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