Apparently, Italians didn’t invent pasta, but it could be argued that they’ve perfected it. It’s one of the cornerstones of their cuisine, eaten at almost every meal and with an infinite number of sauces and/or accompaniments. Americans, despite their flirtation with low-carb eating, have embraced pasta; it’s quick and easy to make, readily available and inexpensive, and can be as plain or as fancy as you want. At the recent meeting of CPL’s Bibliobites culinary book group, our two chosen titles explored pasta territory both familiar and unexpected.
The book most people experimented with was Giada DeLaurentiis’ Everyday Pasta. Amazingly, no two group members made the same recipe– good work, everyone! This variety made for a lively discussion. Recipes that were tried and that received a thumbs-up were: the tagliatelle with short-rib ragu (“very good!”), Roman-style fettucini with chicken (“easy to make….tender and delicious”), turkey artichoke stuffed shells (“delicious– a different way to prepare stuffed shells”), chicken piccata with (gluten-free) angel hair pasta (“the chicken was great but I learned you can’t reheat rice pasta– the texture suffers”), and the eggplant mezzaluna ravioli, made with wonton wrappers. This last was even a hit with “Mr. Fussy,” who hates eggplant but didn’t realize that was what he was eating. Reportedly he enjoyed every bite!
In the “OK but I probably wouldn’t bother with it again” category were the saffron with orzo and shrimp (“it didn’t have that much flavor”), capellini with tomatoes and peas (“nothing special”), the baked pastina casserole (“it needed something….garlic? wine?”), rigatoni with sausage, peppers, and onions (“good for a crowd but nothing outstanding”), and creamy pumpkin lasagna rolls, which were complicated to assemble and were “good but not worth the effort.”
On the negative side was the popover recipe (“it stuck to my non-stick pan, even though I used cooking spray!”), and the pasta and ceci soup (“easy to make but too salty”). The general feeling seemed to be that the book was good, but not terribly inventive. To be fair the book is called Everyday Pasta, and so probably isn’t designed to be cutting edge. We appreciated that most of the recipes were fairly quick and easy to make, and most used ingredients that are available in any supermarket.
However, if you want to try something a little more esoteric, look no further than our second title this month: Pasta Modern by Francine Segan. This book showcases modern twists on traditional recipes and/or recipes using less-familiar ingredients and combinations. For instance, soup in a sack involved making a dough of semolina, eggs, and chopped ham, which you then formed into a cylinder and enclosed in parchment paper. This “sack” was then simmered in broth. When cooked, it was diced and served in the broth. Different, and “really, really good!” Duck Venetian style was a sauce made of ground duck served over pasta. While the sauce didn’t seem to hold together all that well, the duck flavor was “different and delicious.” This recipe is pretty tough on the budget, though– duck breast is $14.99/lb! Zucchini-glazed pasta used a common ingredient in a new way: zucchini is grated, salted, and the squeezed juices are used as part of the pasta-cooking liquid. The grated zucchini is added raw or sauteed at the end: “very tasty!” Might come in handy during the summer glut of zucchini. Pumpkin carbonara sounded good: roasted squash and onions combined with an eggy sauce. But the sauce was nearly nonexistent, so it was basically a plate of pasta with roasted veggies– good but not what the recipe promised.
This title had plenty of tempting photographs, and a beautiful two-page display of many of the less-familiar pasta shapes– helpful when trying to find substitutes. Certainly this book is not an “everyday” one, but if you’re looking to expand your pasta repertoire and try something unique, this is a good book to check out.
For next month, we’ll be teaming up with our One Book Chelmsford community-wide reading program and doing our part to “Keep Chelmsford in Suspense.”
The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook features recipes contributed by leading mystery and suspense writers. From appetizers to desserts, these writers have tried it all; and we hope you will, too! Join us at our next meeting in the Fireplace Room on Friday, April 29 at 11 AM.