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]
In Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, the head notes describe this dish as crowd pleaser. And as a celebration of Zinfandel. Spaghetti always seems to come to the table adorned with tomatoes. Here’s a way, by cooking in Zinfandel, to achieve a far more royal red color. A simple marriage of pasta and redness blessed by wine overtones.
Rapini or broccoli rabe usually seems bitter and without charm. Here, the technique lets you enjoy this lovely vegetable treat with absolutely no puckering of your mouth. Merged with the pasta, your brain is likely to be a bit confused. “This looks good, but I can’t put it into a category. What is it?” It’s Bottega.
Bottega is a book inspired by the flavors of California wine country married with the heritage of Italian food and wine. Beyond this surprising pasta, the book is stuffed with new visions of flavor and delight including:
- Green Eggs and Ham where cheese, prosciutto and asparagus are elegantly presented
- Butternut Squash and Fontina Risotto with Squab Ragu, a wonderfully complicated assembly of meat and vegetables
- Crispy Pork Shanks with Red wine Vinegar Agrodolce and Wine-Cooked Apples, a dish that seems to beautiful to eat
- White Chocolate-Lavender Panna Cotta with Madeira-Rhubarb Pappardelle, a dish too complicated to describe, but you are probably already tempted!
This beautiful book, oversized and filled with excellent photographs, is one for you to consider. Start with this different pasta, then do your own explorations.
Zinfandel Spaghettini with Spicy Rapini
Yield: 8 as a first course
- 1 ½ pounds rapini [broccoli rabe]
- 1 pound spaghettini or spaghetti
- 1 750-ml bottle dry red wine, preferable Zinfandel
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons slice garlic [about 4 cloves]
- 1 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup grate Pecorino-Romano cheese
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the rapini for about 3 minutes. Using a wire skimmer transfer the rapini to a baking sheet and spread out to cool. In the same boiling water, cook the spaghettini, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes if fresh, 3 to 5 minutes if dried. [Cook spaghetti for 2 minutes if fresh, 6 to 8 minutes if dried.] You’ll do the second half of the cooking in the Zinfandel. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta and set it aside. Return the empty pasta pot to the stove.
Add the wine and sugar to the pasta pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the pasta to the pot and shake the pot to prevent the pasta from sticking. Gently stir with tongs until coated and boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente [about 3 minute for spaghettini and 4 or 5 minute for spaghetti; tasting tells you when your pasta is ready better than the clock can].
While the pasta cooks in the wine, heat a large deep sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Add the oil, reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté the garlic until pale golden, about 3 minutes. Add the chile paste, blanched rapini, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally , for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water, or more if desired. Add the rapini mixture to the pasta, toss gently, and transfer to individual pasta bowls or one big platter. Sprinkle with the pecorino.
Source: Michael Chiarello’s Bottega