With my daughter starting back at school last month, my husband and I have been able to enjoy lunches together as we work from home. Lunch preparation for us leans towards being quick and easy — soup, sandwiches, or pasta. The latter being a particular favourite of my husband. Normally he roasts cherry tomatoes which then become the topping for a good quantity of buttered pasta (whatever we have on hand as he is not picky). And while he could eat this dish every day, I confess that I am not that devoted, which is why when my friend sent me a copy of Rachel Roddy‘s latest cookbook, An A-Z of Pasta: Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes, I looked forward to trying different pasta recipes; taking our lunches further than my husband’s old stand-by.
After reading the introduction to Roddy’s cookbook, I understand why my friend thought I would enjoy this book. Two of my all-time favourite books are Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book and Vegetable Book. Both are organized – A to Z – and provide interesting history, her personal connections, as well as corresponding recipes for each entry. These are books I randomly flip open and read whatever I happen upon. And, in a similar way, Roddy offers this experience to the home cook. In the introduction she tells us: “Some stories are practical, others historical, geographical, some more earnest than others, and they always end with recipes. The idea is that 50 stories, arranged alphabetically according to the first letter of the shape, are like pieces of a jigsaw in that they fit together to form not the picture, but a picture of pasta.”(7) I’ve found that while my pasta pot is burbling and bubbling away on the stove, I sit on my small stool in the corner of my kitchen and read entries as I do with Grigson’s books. I find Roddy’s writing clever and funny and the recipes delicious.
An A-Z of Pasta is an easy book to get cooking from, especially if you’re like me an have a variety of dried pasta in the pantry. While there are instructions throughout the book on how to make certain pasta from scratch (i.e., fresh egg pasta, pici, potato gnocchi, etc.), I appreciated that making pasta did not need to be part of the experience. So, for the majority of our lunches, I would grab a bag of pasta from the pantry and then look through the book to see what I could make. At the beginning of the book Roddy offers a list of suggestions for what to make with certain shapes and, she helpfully marks the vegetarian recipes as (v) for quick and easy reference.
The first recipe that I tried was the recipe for Ditalini e lenticchie (Ditalini and lentils). In this recipe, you add chopped onion, garlic, celery, and carrots to a large pot. Once the vegetables have sautéed for a bit, the lentils get added and once they are cooked, the ditalini is tossed in. The resulting meal is almost stew-like — what Roddy refers to as “steady and good food.” Hearty and warming, this pasta recipe is perfect for these cool autumn days.
A recipe which has become a favourite of my daughter is the Alfabeto in brodo (using Roddy’s recipe for Golden vegetable broth). The consuming of the Alfabeto in brodo always takes much longer than any other dish because my daughter will hunt out letters to scoop them up to make words. I imagine I probably did the same when I was a child as it is truly one of life’s pleasures.
Roddy’s recipes are adaptable too — one lunch hour I found myself without fettuccine but still wanting to make the recipe for Fettuccine, burro e parmigiano (Fettuccine, butter and Parmesan). So, I ended up using linguine in place of the fettuccine, which worked well, and the resulting dish was sublime! Is there anything better than a good quantity of buttered noodles covered in cheese? This recipe serves two — perfect for my husband and I to enjoy for lunch when our daughter is at school.
Pasta in a tomato sauce is delightful and while there is always a wall of selection at the supermarket, Roddy offers sauce recipes which are easy to make and extremely delicious. The recipe for spicy tomato sauce in the recipe Penne all’arrabbiata (Penne w/ Spicy Tomato Sauce) is wonderful. The heat from the chilli is not too intense but instead adds a lovely kick — what Roddy refers to as “fiery delight.” The other tomato sauce recipe that has become a go-to is her Simple Tomato and Basil Sauce which is given in the Spaghetti section. I found the recipe one Saturday when we bought fresh spaghetti from the farmer’s market and, I was sold as soon as I read: “this sauce is an everyday bliss.” Made with a can of peeled plum tomatoes, then cooked with olive oil, garlic, dried red chilli, and, of course, fresh basil, this sauce recipe is one to keep in what I call the “forever files.”
Rachel Roddy’s An A-Z of Pasta is a book full of pasta recipes as they should be: steady food offering enjoyment and simple pleasure. I’ve found quiet contentment as I sit with my own pasta bowl and watch my family enjoy theirs. Whether I’m cooking from the book or have just picked it up to read a random entry on pasta, what Roddy offers is a clever and personal guide to pasta.
A note to those reading, this was a gift from a friend overseas so if you’re looking to buy a copy for yourself and you live in North America, then I would suggest checking out the Book Depository. A fine online shop to buy books published in the UK (An A-Z is published in the UK by Penguin Fig Tree) — they also offer free, worldwide shipping.