A Pasta Handbook

A Pasta Handbook

There is no shortage of pasta cookbooks.  This iconic food has been written about in dozens of volumes, photographed, regionalized, deconstructed, and even made the focus of scholarship by California Studies in Food and Culture and the University of California Press in a new and highly detailed academic and cultural history.

So is there anything new that can be offered on the subject in yet another pasta cookbook?  Surprisingly, quite a bit.  

Phaidon Press, the people who brought us The Silver Spoon (Italian cuisine), 1080 Recipes (Spanish), Vefa's Kitchen (Greek), and more recently, the French classic, I Know How To Cook -- all generous, hardcover-with-a-ribbon comprehensive books that simultaneously overwhelm and satisfy us, has published The Silver Spoon Pasta (Phaidon Press, $39.95 hardcover). 

At "only" 336 pages, this relatively thin volume -- relative to their other books -- is a dream come true for any pasta lover.  That's because, as any pasta lover knows, we want to stand in the pasta aisle at the grocery and get tempted by some charming shape -- a whimsical bow-tie, a curly corkscrew of rotini, the curve of a seashell.  And then we want to decide how to cook it.

46 Pastas Cooked 360 Ways

Unlike most pasta cookbooks that organize recipes by flavors and sauces, this book is all about the pasta.  Part I features 21 different types of dried pasta, first, the long ones:  bavette, bucatini, angel hair, linguine, reginette, spaghetti, vermicelli and zite.  Then the short pastas:  shells, ditalini, bow ties, fusilli, elbow macaroni, macaroni, mezze maniche, penne, pipe, rigatoni, wagon wheels, sedani, torgiglioni.  If you've never heard of some of them, don't feel insecure -- neither have most Americans.  But every shape is increasingly available in our stores and this book's authors are generous with photos to educate and with tips for making switches between sauces and shapes.

And that is the point of the book -- that the shape of the pasta dictates how to sauce, cook and serve it.  The 360 recipes includes ones with cheese (shells with gorgonzola), meats (macaroni with sausage), seafood (bow ties with crab), and all vegetables (spaghetti with zucchini), plus the popular tomato sauces like marinara, arrabbiata, amatriciana, penne norma, and the tomato-based vodka sauce.

Part II
of the book is all about fresh pasta-- first, how to make it (complete with helpful photos) and then how to cook it in 25 shapes, especially the sophisticated filled pastas like agnolotti, cannelloni, ravioli and tortellini.  In total, the book shows how pasta can go from the simple (made just with bread crumbs) to the sublime (potato and porcini mushroom ravioli) showing that this loved food can indeed be complex and special enough for a dinner party.

The book itself is charming and fun with its combination of cute illustrations and useful photos -- essential, of course, since much of the point of the book is to teach you which shapes are which.

The first recipe I cooked from this book was Bow Ties With Shrimp, which starts with a base of shallots, white wine and a handful of green peas (I used frozen) and finishes with the quickly cooked shrimp.  It was light and complex at the same time and a nice alternative to my usual garlic shrimp scampi and spaghetti.

The publishers have let us share with you two penne recipes, one that cooks the pasta almost as if it were a risotto, and the other a classic and spicy arrabbiata.  We've included with each recipe the authors' primer on penne -- it could end up making penne your favorite pasta!

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