Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Geometry of Pasta - cookbook review

Does every pasta shape require a special sauce? Chef Jacob Kennedy thinks so and sets out to prove his theorem in The Geometry of Pasta.

Little hats, wheels, corkscrews, shells, ears and ribbons adorn the pages of The Geometry of Pasta. Written by Chef Jacob Kennedy with almost art deco illustrations by Caz Hildebrand, this cookbook published by Quirk Books delivers a smorgasbord of pasta dishes from A (Agnolotti) to Z (Ziti).
There's pasta for every day of the year and then some. For an Italian cook, that is good news! Kennedy has done his research - giving you the history of the pasta shape, the region where it was developed and the perfect accompanying sauce that will succulently grab the sauce and never let go until it reaches your palate.
The majority of the sauces are quite simple relying on the freshest ingredients to enhance the pasta. Fanciful cappelleti ("little hats") are paired with butter and sage or asparagus and cream. The larger, tubular maccheroncini takes on heartier sauces: chicken and prunes or eggplant and tomatoes.
From the simplest dish (cacio e pepe) to stuffed raviolis, the pastas are paired with seasonal produce, meats, fish and in many cases simple sauces that would be an elegant first couse. Directions for creating these geometric pastas are concise and to the point. Chef Kennedy serves up his pasta with anecdotes, opinions and a wry sense of humor.
Autumn is a busy work time, so my meals have been on the simplistic side - without sacrificing flavor. The Cacio e Pepe (Pecorino and Pepper) was a huge hit. Comforting, earthy, peppery and snuggle-into-your-seats-your-home-for-the-evening warmth was in every bite.
Cacio e Pepe Ingredients - serves 2
(Used by permission from Quirk Books)
  • 1/2 pound rigatoni (I doubled the recipe)
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons of hot pasta water
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper (even with doubling, I used more)
  • 1-1/2 cups freshly grated pecorino Romano to serve
The pepper flakes and grated cheese were caught on the rigatoni ridges and inside the tubes. It's what you want.
Cacio e Pepe Preparation
  1. Boil rigatoni until slightly more al dente than you wish.
  2. Put the oil and half the pepper in a saute pan along with the 6 tablespoons of pasta water.
  3. Add the cooked rigatoni to the pan and saute for a few minutes - until the pasta water is absorbed.
  4. Serve the with pecorino cheese and remaining pepper sprinkled on top.
There were no leftovers. Sigh. Served with soft lettuces and a simple vinaigrette, I did have everyone singing for their supper.
Paccheri con Ricotta e Pomodoro (pasta with ricotta and tomatoes)
(used by permission from Quirk Books)

Paccheri are huge thick tubes often cooked with a squid sauce. Paccheri is Neopolitan in origin and was considered a common, poor food. Paccheri was not readily available so I used one of Kennedy's substitutions: cavatappi (they resemble corckscrews) which grabbed the sauce well.

Paccheri con Ricotta e Pomodoro Ingredients - serves 4 as a first course
  • 1/2 pound paccheri (I used cavatappi)
    3/4 cup light tomato sauce (recipe follows; very easy)
    1/2 cup fresh ricotta (preferably sheep's milk (I used cow's milk)
    1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Provolone (I used Provolone)
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    10 basil leaves
    Garnish: grated Parmesan or Provolone or ricotta; drizle of olive oil
Light Tomato Sauce Ingredients
  • 5 large vine-ripened tomatoes (2-1/4 pounds)
    3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    6 tablespoons extra-virgiin olive oil, divided
    Asmall pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional - but it does add flavor)
    Generous 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Light Tomato Sauce Preparation
  1. Cut tomatoes into chunks and puree (seeds and all) in blender.
  2. Fry the garlic in 4-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil for a few moments until cooked but not browned.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes followed by the tomato puree and salt. Bring to a brisk boil and cook until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes no longer look raw.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and and add the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons of oil to finish. (Do ahead: cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)

    *Note: No time was given but it took about 10-12 minutes of boiling.
Paccheri con Ricotta e Pomodoro Preparation

  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions. The sauce comes together very quickly, so wait until the pasta is in the boiling water before you begin the sauce.
  2. Put tomato sauce into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Transfer to a warmed bowl (I didn't do this - I did all in the saucepan which I removed from the heat).
  3. Add the cheeses and oil and whisk briefly. It will be rustic - it does not have to be completely smooth. Season with plenty of salt and pepper (taste as you go).
  4. Keep warm, balanced over the boiling pasta until it is ready (if you time it right you do not need to do that).
  5. Drain pasta and mix thoroughly with the sauce. Add torn basil laves. Feel free to grate with extra Parmesan or Provolone or ricotta or simply drizzle a little olive oil over all.
Pretty in pink as a first course.

Or as a side.

This simple dish was a winner. The fresh tomatoes (still available in Minnesota) were necessary. An anemic tomato would not be flavorful enough. The sweetness of the tomato, the creaminess of the ricotta and the bite of the Provolone conspired to produce a dish rich with nuance. The sauce clung to the pasta and it was perfect fare for an autumn evening.
If you are a novice, you might prefer a more detailed recipe: how long to boil the tomatoes, when to add the salt. If you are used to cooking according to taste, this would be a cinch. I do prefer actual photos of the finished dishes. Some of the illustrations do not entirely tell you exactly what the pasta looks like. The illustrations whimiscally charm but might confuse a novice cook.
The high point of the book is its delving into the history of the pastas, the lore and accurately matching each pasta to its sauce. Nothing is more disheartening than preparing a sauce that simply slides off the pasta and lands in the bottom of the bowl!
As someone who has spent her entire adult life playing "make-believe" in the theatre world, you can believe it when I say I am a certifiably allergic to math and mathematical terms. But one of the blessings of the mathematical world is - there is an answer. And that can be comforting. In The Geometry of Pasta - there are definitive answers: all pasta shapes are matched with their definite sauce.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of The Geometry of Pasta. I was not paid for the review - the execution of recipes and my opinions are my own.


Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

So interesting I always liked geometry but not food-related! :)

Oh I can eat that pasta with ricotta all days!!

All the best,


Velva said...

Suddenly, geometry is interesting. Your pasta dishes are simply stunning. Everyone ate well this week at your house. :-)

Mister Meatball said...

Cacio e Pepe!!!

Many a knucklehead has argued that it's nothing but pasta and cheese.

Which it is.

But it takes skill to make a good one, you know. And yours looks fine.

Anne said...

Hmm. Never looked at geometry that way. Maybe geometry would have been easier if it was food related.
The pasta dish sounds simply wonderful! What a lucky family you have!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I love both pasta presntations, Claudia! We often have pasta with a tomato and ricotta sauce.

My Italian husband always told me that certain shaped pastas went with certain sauces, so I know he would enjoy looking at this cookbook to confirm his opinions.

I wish you told me you needed Paccheri -- I'm sure I could have found it in EATALY -- that store has everything!

La Bella Cooks said...

So interesting! I've had my eye on this book for some time now. Looks like I should pick up a copy.

Arlene Delloro said...

Sounds like a fabulous cookbook. Love those simple sauces. I agree that there are certain sauces that cry out for a particular pasta shape.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I confess the different pastas seem to be a foreign language to me, so thanks for your help in sorting things out. I know that using the right pasta shape makes such a difference in how the sauce is absorbed, but I still have sooo much to learn.

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

What a bonus post! I love all of these recipes and ways to make sauces. My favorite is the black pepper pasta water and cheese love it! Make it as a side often` amazing how many pasta shapes there are and you are so right you can have a sauce for each kind. versatile. I actually crave tomato sauce on Sundays as it was tradition, hard for me to eat and adapt to the game days foods now. Oh how I love this post! Everything screams Italian and homemade tradition for sure!,

Nancy said...

I never thought I would say this but, you've made me interested in geometry now. Sounds so interesting. Pastas look so good. Great post!

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

I've always been charmed by the boggling array of pasta shapes and think perhaps the intrinsic artisty of Italians is amply demonstrated by the production and cooking of pasta. Pasta is welcomed with open arms in my kitchen - we eat it at least 3 times every week.... and we're in the heart of southeast Asia. I love the tomato ricotta and provolone sauce. I need to get this book!

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

I've always been charmed by the boggling array of pasta shapes and think perhaps the intrinsic artisty of Italians is amply demonstrated by the production and cooking of pasta. Pasta is welcomed with open arms in my kitchen - we eat it at least 3 times every week.... and we're in the heart of southeast Asia. I love the tomato ricotta and provolone sauce. I need to get this book!


Oh Claudia, the sauces sound divine, but the idea that every shape needs a different kind of sauce gets my head spinning! How could I remember them all?!?

Fresh Local and Best said...

I didn't think fresh tomatoes would still be an option so north at this late date, but thank goodness! They make a world of difference in the punchiness and life of a sauce! I'm going to find out more about the appropriate pasta shapes to suit my sauce.

Torviewtoronto said...

delicious sauce

Kristen said...

I am going to have to see if I can find this cookbook in my local library. It sounds fascinating.

My Little Space said...

Claudia, thanks for sharing the pasta cookbook review. It's great to learn more about pasta. Will check out the book later. Your porvolone dish looks divine! Thanks so much. Hope you're having a wonderful day.
Cheers, Kristy

Rosemary @ Sprigs of Rosemary said...

I just love the variety of pasta shapes (and their names!) -- I wish I had easy access to more variety. Believe me, I grab 'em when I find them. Thanks for sharing your wonderful cooking and insights.

Claudia said...

Mister Meatball: Cacio e Pepe could not be simpler - but indeed that little trick of adding tablespoons of pasta water with the oil really did the trick of adhering the cheese and pepper all the ridges of the rigatoni. And when all is fresh - it cannot be beat.
The book also has recipes for the different pastas - and which dough (semolina, flour,egg) go with which. But for me - that will be a winter project.

Lori Lynn said...

That pink sauce is awesome.

Angie's Recipes said...

Different shape of pasta with different kind of sauce...that sounds marvelous.
That ruby-red pasta sauce looks great!

Monet said...

I have long been curious about what sauces to match with what pasta. This book sounds fascinating and looks like it would be a delicious addition to my shelf. Thank you for sharing...and for your kind words and thoughts. They mean so much.

Magic of Spice said...

Sounds like and interesting cookbook...I do love the varied pasta shapes out there, does make it more fun :)

Reeni said...

I love this book! There is no other like it that I know of. It's going on my wish list! I like simple pasta dishes like the pepper and pecorino and the pink color of the second sauce is so inviting! Thank you for making my soup and writing about it! So happy it was a hit.

chow and chatter said...

this book sounds cool esp the history and as ever great pasta dishes on here love it

thanks so much for the kind comment on the pumpkin soup :-)

Hugs Rebecca

theUngourmet said...

These pasta shapes make eating pasta so much fun! I love your simple yet delicious pasta recipe as well. It's just perfect for the end of a busy day.

Barbara GF said...

Sounds like a delightful book, Claudia. I could eat all those pastas, from A to Z, too. The Cacio e Pepe sounds simply sublime.

Jen_from_NJ said...

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this book recently and now can't wait to break it out and try a recipe! Thanks for the inspiration. Your pastas look delicious.

Koci said...

What a beautiful pasta dish! That book sounds so fun! :D

Donna-FFW said...

What a wonderful review.. I want the cookbook now. You wrote beautifully!!

Dimah said...

Your pasta looks delicious! Fantastic combination!

Heather S-G said...

What an incredibly fun and interesting book! I've always thought certain pastas went better with certain sauces/ingredients...great review! I'll be on the lookout for the book :D

tasteofbeirut said...

What a useful and enlightening post! I would not know what exactly is done with what so this is indeed a life-saver. Love these simple but flavorful sauces you are presenting, of course with a great glass of Italian wine!

Chef Dennis Littley said...

I love all the different shapes. When we were in Italy I was amazed at how many there really were, and I was told the same thing, there was a specific sauce for each is amazing! Your pasta dishes look oh so delicious, I would love to try a plate of each...I do love pasta!
Thanks for sharing this book with us, I will look for it.

Sutapa said...

This post of yours you will drive crazy any pasta lover and I am not an exception! Geometry of pasta seems an interesting books where every shape has its own sauce!Great!!

Gastronomicduo said...

I just had this book in my hands the other day. Thanks for the review, I've gotta go pick it up.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

This sounds like a cool book, even though I don't like math, I do love pasta and sauce, oh and let's not forget the cheese!

Kim said...

Hmmmm...imagine we learned the geometry of pasta in place of regular math in school. Bet I would've ended up with a much better grade that way.

As a pasta lover, I know I would love this book. Wouldn't it be tempting to make each and every recipe, trying out all the pasta shapes along the way?

Anonymous said...

This post is full of wicked good pasta ideas. I'm getting hungry reading. My grandmother would love it.

FOODESSA said...

That second tomato and Ricotta dish would certainly be a hit at my table too.

About the theory behind the some ways I can totally get what he's portraying. As for myself...I'll keep trusting my instincts on pasta and sauce pairings ;o) I get the feeling you have great instincts also!

Flavourful wishes,

Clare @ Mrs Multitasker said...

That book looks absolutely FASCINATING! And I like how good and simple the cacio e pepe look and sounds...

OysterCulture said...

Love this, I think you've made me see I need to et a new book. I have the history of pasta shapes and love the background of each of them.

Your recipe for Cacio e Pepe looks amazing and just like some delicious pasta we had in Rome. Thanks again for the inspiration.