Whenever I'm in the mood for a fresh, hearty pasta meal I head over to Pasta E Basta of 26 Main St. in Amherst, Mass. The quality and authentic flavors of the food created at Pasta E Basta are not something that has come from a jar. Everything on the menu is fresh and fairly priced, and the portions will keep you full for days. (I've actually gotten three days worth of lunches from just one meal.) The interior is very cute and cozy, and on weekends it can get pretty packed. Walking in, you immediately smell the aroma of fresh garlic sauteing in olive oil and you feel like you're in heaven. When I went, we were lucky enough to be sat in the upper level of the restaurant, which was less crowded and had windows which overlooked the entire center of Amherst and the lovely green common. Although the service was a little bit slow, it never affected the quality of our food...everything we were served was piping hot and well worth the wait.
Every meal at Pasta E Basta starts out with the complimentary bread basket. The bread is homemade and it is by far one of my favorite breads that I've had accompanying an Italian meal. They serve it warm with a garlic olive oil for dipping which has a little bit of heat behind it. The oil pairs wonderfully with the doughy, lightly salted bread. If you're not careful you can fill yourself up on the bread and oil alone...it's that good.
In my opinion, you can't go to an Italian restaurant and not order something "a la caprese". I happen to love fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella and they have an appetizer that's just that, drizzled with olive oil and served in layers on a plate. The best part about it is that everything is fresh and it's only $3.95 for a good-sized plate. This goes perfectly with the bread they give you, and, for me, it's the perfect way to start off the meal in a light way so that you can really indulge in your meal.
The best meal I've had at Pasta E Basta (and I've had a few) was the gnocchi with pesto cream sauce ($9.75). The sauce has a perfect balance between the cream base and the fresh and herbal pesto that it's mixed with. The starch from the potato gnocchi helps the sauce to really stick to the pasta and with a small garnish of a few sun dried tomato slices, it makes the perfect meal. If you'd like, try adding lightly caramelized onions to your plate to add another layer of flavor and a little bit of sweetness. The menu is set up so that all you have to do is pick your pasta and then pick your sauce and whatever other items you might want to add. The standard pastas like spaghetti, penne and fettuccini don't cost any extra, but for just $1.00 (and I highly recommend spending the extra dollar) you can choose from gnocchi, cheese tortellini, or cheese, salmon, pesto, shrimp, red pepper, vegetable, artichoke, porcini mushroom, or spinach and ricotta ravioli. My guest ordered the porcini mushroom ravioli with the blue cheese shitake sauce ($9.75). I have to say, although I am not a huge fan of blue cheese or mushrooms in large quantities, I actually didn't mind the dish. It was very pungent smelling, but it tasted earthy from the mushrooms, with a little bit of tangy kick from the blue cheese and was very creamy. The mushroom taste came more from the sauce than the ravioli themselves. You can expect to pay anywhere from $6.75 to $12.00 on a pasta meal, which will fill you up then, as well as many days later. Whenever I eat here, I usually can only eat about a third of the portion they bring me. The rest goes home in a doggy bag for lunch, dinner, or both over the next few days. They also offer hot and cold paninis, pizzas, and grill items such as fresh tuna, rosemary chicken, and salmon skewers.
If you're looking for a tasty Italian meal on a budget, look no further than Pasta E Basta. You'll be able to get several delicious meals out of one night out (the pasta always tastes even better the next day) and you won't have to break doing it.
*Pasta E Basta's menu is available on the Delivery Express website listed above. If you'd like, you can order their food to go as well...it's just as good and they'll deliver right to your door for a small fee.