The Culinary Institute of America — yes, that CIA — is recognized as the best culinary school in America. If you can’t invest two or four years to attend, then you have an alternative: the series of cookbooks written by the CIA staff. The latest in this series, Pasta, is a wonderful book that will appeal both to professional chefs and foodies.
When we cook pasta at home, the tendency is to be two toned: spaghetti or lasagna. How many of us have ventured out to cook risotto, crespelle, or polenta. Sample them at a restaurant? Sure. Try it at home? Uh, maybe not.
Pasta is designed to carry you over the threshold, to inform you, educate you, and in the end to let you prepare an exceptional meal.
Sure, Pasta has spaghetti and lasagna recipes. But, probably not ones you have tried:
- Lasagna with Asparagus and Fontina
- Lasagna with Eggplant, Tomato, and Mozzarella
- Vegetable Lasagna with Tomato Sauce
- Spaghetti with Anchovies, Wild Fennel, and Toasted Bread Crumbs
- Fresh Spaghetti with Lamb Sauce
- Handmade with Spaghetti with Porcini Mushrooms
- Spaghetti with Garlic, Tomato, Mint and Fresh Tuna [recipe below!]
Pasta is organized seasonally [Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring] but truly you probably can source the fresh ingredients you need for any of these recipes almost year round. At the back of the book is a strong appendix with basic pasta and sauce recipes. Well, not that basic. How about Red Wine Fettuccine and Rabbit Broth? That’s a meal in itself.
Pasta has 150 recipes and 100 full-page color photos [styled and shot by Franceso Tonelli] to inspire and guide you. The typical recipe is one page: 6-10 ingredients, 3-8 steps. The intensity level of the recipes ranges from moderate to serious. I was cooking on my own, so I went for a spaghetti recipe. Suzen is much more dexterous and would jump to tackle one of the almost 20 gnocchi recipes [like pumpkin with crayfish].
These are the sorts of recipes that you would “buy” at a truly high end, contemporary Italian restaurant. Yet here they are, staged and ready for you to try at home.
My spaghetti dish was wonderful, in large part because of the technique. Garlic, tomatoes and eventually the tuna are cooked in heavy skillet. The spaghetti is, of course, boiled. But the spaghetti is pulled from the pot two minutes early and finished off back in that skillet where it can absorb the flavors. The result? If you just eat strands of pasta — with no fish in that forkful — you still get a delicate fish flavor that has entered the pasta. Sublime and quite satisfying. I had a very strong sense of accomplishment [achieved without sugar or chocolate!]
It’s a challenge to write a cookbook that is serious, fun, and sure to produce an exceptional dish, page after page. Pasta is just that kind of book. Pick up a copy. Let the pictures seduce you, and put some water in the pot.
Spaghetti with Garlic, Tomato, Mint and Fresh Tuna
Yield: serves 4 to 6
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 10 ounces fresh tuna, cut into ¼ inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 2 cups peeled seeded diced fresh or canned tomatoes
- Kosher salt, as need
- 1 pound dried spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon thinly slice or chopped mint
Heat the oil in a wide saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the crushed garlic cloves and sauté until the garlic is aromatic and just staring to turn brown. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the tuna and cook, stirring as necessary, until the tuna is seared on all sides, about 1 minute.
Add the minced garlic and the parsley and stir to combine. Add the wine and once the wine is simmering, about 1 minute, add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tuna is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
While the tuna is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and stir to submerge and separate the strands. Cook, uncovered, until the pasta is almost fully cooked, 5 to 7 minutes [check the recommended cooking time for your pasta and cook 1 to 2 minutes less than that recommended time].
Drain the spaghetti in a colander. Shake well to remove any water clinging to the pasta. Pour the drained pasta in the pan with the tuna and sauce and toss together over medium heat until evenly combined. Add the mint and cook over low heat until the spaghetti is fully cooked and the sauce thickens and clings to the spaghetti, about 2 minutes.
Serve at once in a heated serving bowl or in pasta plates.
Source: Pasta by The Culinary Institute of America [Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli]
“It looks beautiful,” I said to Suzen. “The smell is great.”
“Try one,” she dared me. I passed. Allergies. My next mussel is her next inheritance.
It was Valentine’s Day and Suzen’s feast for class — Bubbles and Bites — was this marvelously rich and beautiful dish form James Peterson. The combination of mussels with saffron and mint was surprising and successful.
Suzen said it tasted as great as it looked. I took her word for it.
Steamed Mussels with Cream, Saffron, and Mint
Yield: 4 first course servings
- 50 to 60 small cultivated mussels (about 2 pounds [900 g])
- 1 cup [250 ml] dry white wine
- 2 medium-size shallots, chopped fine
- 1 small clove garlic, chopped fine, crushed to a paste with the side of a chef’s knife
- 1 cup [250 ml] heavy cream
- 1 pinch saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 25 fresh mint leaves
- ½ teaspoon olive oil
- Crusty French bread sliced into 1 inch thick pieces
Wash and sort the mussels.
Combine the wine, shallots, and garlic in a pot twice the size of your pile of mussels, cover the pot, and simmer gently for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors into the wine. Put the mussels in the pot, cover the pot, turn the heat to high, and steam for about 4 minutes.
Holding the lid firmly on the pot with a kitchen towel while also holding the pot handles, shake the pot, moving the back side up and toward y o u so the mussels that were on the bottom of the pot are redistributed to the top. Steam for about 2 minutes more, or until all the mussels have opened. Stand back when you remove the lid and don’t put your hand in for a few seconds or the steam can burn you. Scoop the mussels into a large bowl, leaving the steaming liquid behind in the big pot, and keep them warm while you’re making the sauce.
Gently pour the mussel cooking liquid into a saucepan, leaving behind any grit or sand. Add the heavy cream and the saffron and its soaking liquid and bring to the simmer.
Take off and discard the top shell from each of the mussels and divide the mussels among 4 plates. Rub the mint leaves with the olive oil to keep the mint from turning black when you chop it, and chop it fine. Stir the mint into the sauce and season the sauce with pepper.
Ladle the sauce over the mussels in the soup plates, and serve immediately. If the mussels cooled off while they were waiting, rotate each plate of mussels (be sure the plates are ovenproof) under the broiler for 30 seconds or so.
Source: Glorious French Food by James Peterson