Eataly: All About Pasta, A Complete Guide with Recipes

Eataly, All About Pasta, A Complete Guide with Recipes by Natalie Danford and Francesco Sapienza, Rizzoli 2018, 176 pages $25.00

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.

Federico Fellini

And there’s nothing magic about making pasta. Once you’ve learned a few techniques that work for your pots and your kitchen, you can make delicious pasta from almost anything.

But why not become a pasta conjurer and master the techniques of twisting agnolotti into little rings, fluffing delicate noodles into nests, and pinching a plate-sized raviolo?

And why not learn from Eataly–the experts in all edibles Italian? This book records regional differences and catalogs the shapes and sauces of Pasta Secca, Pasta Fresca, and Pasta Ripieni–dried, fresh, and stuffed pastas.

Pasta Secca is made of nothing more than semolina wheat flour and water. It is “a modernized pasta” first made in the Neapolitan town of Gragnano in 1842. Its extruded shapes are versatile, convenient, satisfying, and inexpensive. Pasta Secca recipes start with the iconic Spaghetti al Pomodoro, but turn the page to learn the secrets of flavor–olives, sea salt, bottarga, anchovies, dried tomato, and the modern equivalent of ancient garum, colatura. Add these to your pantry for simple but brilliant dishes.

Photos of Pasta Fresca and Ripieni will guide you to a translucent dough that drapes like linen and can be pinched into pansotti, cappelletti, ravioli, agnolotti, and mezzelune. recipes will have you serving them simply in broth or with lush and nuanced fillings of meat, vegetables, and cheese.

Each chapter introduces shapes and styles, then pairs them in classic recipes like Pasta alla Norma, Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, and cheesy Ravioli Magri. The recipes then move on to   intriguingly unfamiliar dishes like Couscous alla Trapana, and Vincigrassi, and beet stuffed Casunziei.

Throughout the book, sidebars add to your expertise on topics including pesto, “final touch” flavorings, unique vegetables like nettles and wild asparagus, the textures and flavors of different flours and grains.

It’s like having a Nonna who can share the way she always done things to get her perfect results. And with a Nonna’s efficiency, the book sweeps aside those stupid stereotypes like adding oil to the water, throwing cooked pasta at the wall, and serving it in a soupy sauce. Please, don’t break the pasta to fit it in the pot! Just follow these simple techniques and your palate for a perfect pasta.





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T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks

This book records the cooking and shopping experiences of two American educators in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, and is an excellent mix of research, experience, and recipes. And yes, some of the tales of privation–wonky stoves, uneven markets–are true, but there are also incredible foodways–dairy, foraging, and gardening.

This review appeared in the September 2018 issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. Check us out!

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Distilling the South, A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors

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Distilling the South, A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors by Kathleen Purvis, UNC Press 2018, cloth $30.00, 208 pages

Well, between Scotch and nothin’, I suppose I’d take Scotch. It’s the nearest thing to moonshine I can find. 

William Faulkner

The distillers in this book are making liquors that are far more sophisticated than moonshine, but like moonshine, are anchored in their place.

Kathleen Purvis, author and food editor at the Charlotte Observer, begins with a quick history of Southern distilling traditions, beginning with the Scots-Irish settlers who adapted their tradition of barley brewing to American corn.

After a reminders of what the Whiskey Rebellion was all about–taxation–and a nod to the skills of enslaved distillers, Purvis hits the road, crafting six tours through 11 Southern states.

In each place she fits a puzzle piece of local laws. In Florida, there seems to be a constantly changing limit on the number of bottles you can buy from a distiller. In Virginia, a two-level ABC system relies on a board of 10 people who approve every spirit stocked on retail shelves. In South Carolina, be alert to the state’s “blue laws” that limit Sunday liquor sales in ten counties.

But she also finds the stories and flavors that make visiting the distilleries worthwhile, whether through spectacular Shenandoah scenery or ferreting your way though an industrial park. Some communities have embraced local distilling. In Lexington, Kentucky, the Distilling District of old industrial buildings is active with restaurants, entertainment, and bars. Others, like Richland, Georgia are hoping distilling will revive a dying farm town.

Purvis doesn’t get into judging flavors. As she writes, “…in alcohol, quality is in the palate of the taster…”. And there are plenty of flavors to evaluate–apple pie moonshine, tangerine brandy, red or green absinthes–along with the traditional like silver and golden rums, and aged whiskeys.

The book is designed for you to undertake your own evaluations, highlighting distillers and their stories in each state, but also with a list of even more distilleries that might be closer to your home. She also provides some tasting advice–unlike wine tasting, there’s no spitting. Purvis suggests an initial inhale, attentive sipping, and swallowing to get the liquor’s full flavor.

There are a few recipes here as well. Not for someone like me, who never baked a cake that couldn’t be improved with a tot of brandy, but for real connoisseurs who appreciate the bartender’s art of mixing. Some drinks are as simple as a Charleston Storm Warning–spiced rum, ginger beer and a lime wedge. Others, like the Revolver, are more nuanced combinations of whiskey, fig bitters, and coffee liqueur.

But whether you’re sipping solo or ladling punch, quality counts. So clear a space in the trunk, turn on the GPS, and hit the road.



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Savor the South–Pie

Pie, A Savor the South Cookbook by Sara Foster, UNC Press 2018, cloth $21.00, 168 pages

I do 45 minutes of cardio five days a week, because I like to eat. I also try for 45 minutes of muscular structure work, which is toning, realigning and lengthening. If I’m prepping for something or I’ve been eating a lot of pie, I do two hours a day, six days a week for two weeks.

Gwyneth Paltrow

So, she sounds like fun.

Whatever. I consider pie-making to be a basic life skill–like riding a bicycle or driving a stick shift.

And nothing rewards the time taken to develop the skill like pie. Store-bought pies are too sweet, their fruit fillings are mostly goo and the crusts are chewy and tasteless. By comparison, the crusts are flakier and the fillings are snappier in a home-made pie.

This book, part of the estimable Savor the South series, will set you up to hone your pie-making skills. Eventually, you may get as good as Sara Foster‘s aunts who didn’t need a recipe, “–they just mixed, rolled out pastry, and baked to perfection.”

Foster recounts Southern pie traditions–crusts made with lard in a region where pigs were plentiful, and flavors like chess pie, developed from pantry staples–cornmeal, vinegar, and eggs. But she also points out that pies are international–tarts, galettes, empanadas, spanakopitas, crostatas.

Before you start, Foster offers about a dozen pages of advice. Sounds not-so-easy-as-pie, but it’s the kind of stuff you likely already know, like the read the recipe through, or the kind of stuff you might not have picked up from a pie-baking aunt, like how to use leftover crust trimmings. And after you choose to forge ahead, you can always check back and discover how to make a meringue that doesn’t weep or avoid a soggy-bottom crust. Her best advice is to, “Make lots of pies. That’s how you learn.”

Even though the chapter on  crusts is the last one in the book, you should think about them first. There are choices and it’s kind of like pairing pasta with sauce–it becomes instinctual after a while. Foster includes the classics like an Everyday Flaky Piecrust and shortbread-like Pate Brisee. There’s a slightly sturdier crust for hand pies, and a home-kitchen-friendly Rough Puff. She uses nutty spelt flour, dark and enticing chocolate wafers, and surprising Saltines.

The fillings range from seasonal, like ripe peaches that barely need any sugar, to “anytime pies” filled with chocolate, buttermilk, coconut, custards, and nuts. There are a few standards like Banana Cream Pie or Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie, but most of the recipes have a twist. You can guess what Plum Frangipane Galette or Spiked Sour Cherry Pie might taste like, which makes you want to bake them. Or there are recipes that you can only imagine, like Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie with Saltine Crust or Sweet and Salty Peanut and Pepsi Pie, which also makes you want to bake them.

Put your mind and fork to it and you’ll never again settle for supermarket pie.

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Cleaning out the Basement–Summer

cover summer

Summer, edited by Alice Gordon and Vincent Virga, Addison-Wesley Publishing 1990, hardback, 252 pages

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”

Paul Prudhomme

Summer reading is usually a novel with “girls” disappearing, having tattoos, or parsing shades of gray. Or one of those airport potboilers that I fear are filling up the world’s landfills.

But summer is such an evocative season, it inspires some transportive writing.

I likely found this book on a remainder table–who would not be captured by that slice of watermelon–and for many summers I made a point of pulling it off the shelf to re-read when the weather was warm and the cicadas were singing.

It was published in 1990, on the cusp of the internet. Now you can google a dimly remembered or mangled phrase, title, or author’s name and be deluged. And if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll find something just as interesting.

But it’s nice to unearth these essays, poems, and illustrations carefully set out like a cabinet of curiosities to be reviewed in a quiet moment. The essays reflected on light, family visits, the change and realizations brought about by a sudden break in routine.

And they also talk about food. Louise Erdrich surveys her garden, her gardening habits and how they connect her to her past and future. Phyllis McGinley recalls sand-seasoned sandwiches at the beach. John Updike, amid fireworks and station wagons, calls on the iconic July 4th foods–clambakes, corn-on-the cob, and beer.

And the “culinary spectacles,” as recalled by Marianne Gingher, that appear when the grandchildren come to visit–“twelve-egg angel food cake with cups of boiled custard on the side for dunking, Coronation Butterscotch Pie, Granny’s Graham Cracker Roll, Hundred Dollar Chocolate Cake…”.

It all confirms what we know. Food links us to our families, our memories and our selves.For me, it’s corn-on-the-cob at nearly every meal. So, it’s summer–go make your food.


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Fruit, Recipes that Celebrate Nature

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Fruit, Recipes that Celebrate Nature by Bernadette Worndl, Smith Street Books 2018, hardback $35.00, 240 pages

Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.

Julian Castro

Fruit is such a gift–seasonal and treasured sweetness, no wonder they serve as a metaphor for success and life’s good things.

And when they are in season, I rarely make it home from the farm market without sampling the berries, or from the orchard without trying an apple or a peach.

When it is fresh and ripe, grown in a season that is not too wet and not too cold, fruit is transcendent.

But why not gild the lily, relish the kumquat, strudel the apple, sorbet the citrus, pickle the plum, or stew the rhubarb? This book has all those wonderful sweet things to do with fruit, but, Worndl finds appealing new takes. Tiny pears are baked into a ginger cake and served with coffee cream, poached quince add warmth to a Negroni, and blueberries are distilled into a liqueur.

The book was created by an Austrian based team of author, editor, photographer, and designer, so you’ll find traditional yeast-risen buns filled with plum jam and served under a blizzard of powdered sugar. Some of the recipes, like an apricot strudel call for Quark–a fresh cheese, and other ingredients like greengages and elderflowers are rarely seen in American markets. But a resourceful cook will make replacements, tiny yellow plums for the greengages or chamomile for the elderflower.

World also  moves beyond sweets and tradition and uses fruit to create depth and spark in  savory dishes. Dishes like Nettle and Cherry Pizza, Braised Dijon Rabbit with Blueberries, and Roast Chicken with Greengages are intense, intriguing, and cookable.

This is an elegantly produced book, elevating fruit beyond childish sweetness, that will inspire you to do more than just snack from the pint of berries.



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Happy Fourth!

and Happy Summer!

Enjoy local produce and some American history with Bread & Beauty!

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