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]
Okay, let’s do a scavenger hunt. Go to your bookshelf, the bookshelf you have devoted to cookbooks.
Good. Now go to the row devoted to Asian food.
Good. Now go to the section devoted to Malaysian food.
Good? Or not good?
Oh, you don’t have Malaysian books? Or any Asian books? Good God, no cookbooks?
I can suggest multiple solutions to this gap in your life. You could start with Flavors of Malaysia by Susheela Raghavan. A Malaysia native, she takes you on a brilliant food tour of her extensive land through 150 recipes. Good recipes. Different recipes, and yet not that different.
Take this salad, for example. You’ve had cucumber and tomato salad probably. But now, with some chilies and yoghurt, you get a different experience. This salad is easily made and more easily loved.
Flavors of Malaysia is filled with ingredients you know about but now assembled in new fashions to give you a wonderful new set of flavor notes. It’s an easy book to read and follow, with well written recipes and pictures that will tempt you to buy some curry for your kitchen. Yes, a visit to an Asian market is in your future.
In terms of recipes, start with this salad, to dip you toe in, and then experiment with some challenging flavor combinations you’ve probably not put in your mouth:
- · Pickled Mango Salad
- · Pork Rib Soup
- · Spicy Egg Curry
- · Chinese Stir-Fried Rice Noodles
- · Braised Spicy Long Beans
Flavors of Malaysia is published by Hippocrene Books in New York. They specialize in world cookbooks, with volumes ranging from Estonia to Asia. There are many European cuisines in their repertoire, but it is the Asian books that caught my eye. Start with Flavors of Malaysia and then find other Hippocrene offerings. Then you can journey, foodwise at least, to Laos, Turkey, Lebanon, and a host of other lands.
Spicy Cucumber Tomato Salad
Yield: 5 to 6 servings
- 2 medium (about 1 pound or cups) cucumbers, peeled, cored, and julienned into 2-inch by ¼-inch pieces
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 heaping cup (about 7 ounces) cubed tomatoes in 1-inch pieces
- 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds, dry roasted and pounded or ground or simply use ground cumin
- 4 to 5 fresh green or red chiles (jalapeno, Fresno, Serrano, Thai, cherry, or cayenne), sliced and coarsely pounded (about ¼ cup)
- ¼ cup chopped shallots or red onions
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric powder, if desired
The Final Garnish:
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon black or dark brown mustard seeds
- 8 fresh curry leaves
Rub cucumber slices with salt and let sit in colander with the cucumbers weighted down by a plastic bag of water for about 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is drained from the cucumbers. Alternative, place the cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl, add 3 cups warm water or enough to cover, and let sit for about 15 to 20 minutes; drain in a colander and gently squeeze out excess water. Set the cucumbers aside.
Combine the dressing ingredients and blend well. Add cucumber and tomatoes and coast well with the dressing.
Before serving, heat the oil in a small skillet. When hot, add mustard seeds and curry leaves, cover and let the seeds pop. When popping subsides, uncover and pour this savory mixture over the salad.
Source: Flavors of Malaysia by Susheela Raghavan