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
Cacio e Pepe Preparation
- Boil rigatoni until slightly more al dente than you wish.
- Put the oil and half the pepper in a saute pan along with the 6 tablespoons of pasta water.
- Add the cooked rigatoni to the pan and saute for a few minutes - until the pasta water is absorbed.
- Serve the with pecorino cheese and remaining pepper sprinkled on top.
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
- 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
- Cut tomatoes into chunks and puree (seeds and all) in blender.
- Fry the garlic in 4-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil for a few moments until cooked but not browned.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- Keep warm, balanced over the boiling pasta until it is ready (if you time it right you do not need to do that).
- 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.
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.