What's in Season: Winter Pasta

Versatile and Satisfying, Easy or Elaborate

What's in Season: Winter Pasta

Versatile and Satisfying, Easy or Elaborate

I've been catching up on the latest issues of my favorite cooking magazines.  With the exception of Gourmet, whose January issue had a save-this-issue tribute to the late cookbook author Edna Lewis and an inspiring collection of southern-inspired recipes, the others were mostly marked by words like "comfort" and "hearty."

I'm of the mind that food should always be comforting, not just in the winter, but somehow now is when we let ourselves make dishes that need the stove left on for a while.  This means slow cooked pot roasts, soups, treats like osso buco (it doesn't have to be made with veal; Giada DeLaurentiis has a version with turkey that's in the FoodTV.com recipe database), warm desserts -- and pasta.

Many winter pastas are baked, as with a classic baked ziti or macaroni and cheese.  Others simply combine pasta with hearty sauces.  And they're not all Italian:  this month's issue of "Food & Wine" magazine featured a "Mexican-Style Chicken with Penne" and "Red Curry Peanut Noodles." 

Mary Ann Esposito's 10th cookbook, Ciao Italia Slow and Easy has a chapter on baked pastas and she has let us publish one of her always satisfying and full flavored recipes.  "Fusilli With Three Cheeses," is her version of macaroni and cheese with added beef and pork, making it a one-pot meal that could equally be a dish for company or a Sunday night supper.  I also think it's a recipe that kids will love and because it's filled with tomato sauce and lots of spinach, it's a way to get vegetables into a fussy eater of any age.

I love Mary Ann's approach to cooking, ingredients and flavors and so I'm pleased to share the second part of our recent conversation with her.  In this segment, she defends pasta against the food police and also gives us a list of what belongs in any Italian home cook's pantry. 

I suppose that if you ate enough of anything it could make you fat, but pasta gets more than its fair share of critics.  I'm not going to advocate what anyone should eat, but for me, it's rare to get through a week without pasta as the centerpiece of a meal.  Occasionally I'll cook DeCecco's whole wheat spaghetti tossed with a little olive oil and steamed broccoli florets.  But usually I make the white stuff.  I've long embraced a tip that Mark Bittman has promoted which is to have more meat and vegetables than pasta; just tip the ratio in favor of the non-pasta ingredients.

I also love pasta's versatility.  It can be the go-to meal at the end of a long day when you have little energy and even fewer ingredients on hand.  Other days it's a special dish.  In addition to Mary Ann's Baked Fusilli, we have two new recipes that might give some diversity to your pasta repertoire:  "Baked Pasta with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta" is an adaptation of the traditional Greek dish that uses tiny orzo; ours, instead, uses bigger pasta pieces and a heavy-handed portion of shrimp.  And City Cook contributing writer David Neibart has shared one of his signature recipes, a classic "Bolognese Ragu" that is a satisfying addition to any spaghetti or linguine.

Pasta Cooking Strategies

 

In the introduction to their wonderful cookbook, On Top of Spaghetti, Johanne Killeen and George Germon, owners and chefs at the great Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, R.I., write, "don't trust people who don't like pasta."  It's as good a guidepost as any in these crazy times.

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