Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Best Cookbooks of 2019

For the last nine years I’ve posted my picks for the best cookbooks of the year. With so many outstanding cookbooks published in 2019, I worked hard to winnow the worthy down to the five that I liked best. I present, in alphabetical order, my list.

Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe’s Grand Mountaintops by Meredith Erickson, Ten Speed Press.

American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta by Evan Funke with Katie Parla, Chronicle Books.

The Book of St. John by Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver, Ebury Press.

The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Lavash: The bread that launched 1,000 meals, plus salads, stews, and other recipes from Armenia by Kate Leahy, John Lee and Ara Zada, Chronicle Books.

A little more about these books.

Alpine Cooking surveys the cuisine of the Italian, Austrian, Swiss and French Alps. Under Italy she shares recipes for Radicchio Dumplings, Piedmontese-Style Agnolotti and Ditalini with Fava Beans. In her Austrian chapter we learn how to make Pine Schnapps, a Spring Rhubarb Cocktail and Apricot Dumplings. The dish I most want to try in her Swiss section is Veal Stripes in Cream Sauce, Zürich-Style from the Zürich Via Bellevue Hotel in Gstaad. Desserts standout in the French Alps chapter, especially the recipes for a simple Savoie Cake and a not-so simple Polka Dot Paris-Brest. If you plan to travel in these alpine areas, Erickson shares her bar, hotel and restaurant recommendations. By far the most handsome book on this year’s list, I found myself transported by Christina Holmes’s exquisite photography. 

And speaking of photography, as I wrote hereAmerican Sfoglino succeeds, in large part, because of Eric Wolfinger’s photographs. The trio of Funke, Parla and Wolfinger make hand-rolling a thin circular sheet of pasta (sfoglia) with a long rolling pin (mattarello) seem perfectly possible with both desire and practice. After covering the basics of creating pasta dough and sheets, Part 2 of the cookbook tells the reader how to transform la sfoglia into delicious Emilian pasta dishes. I applaud Chronicle Books for letting Funke dig deep into the disappearing craft of making la sfoglia.

If asked to pick the most important cookbooks of the last 25 years, I’d confidently offer up Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating. Henderson’s latest cookbook, The Book of St. John,“reflects a moment in time” in Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s 25-year-old St. John restaurant. Henderson writes as well as he cooks. In the cookbook’s Introduction he shares that “[n]ose-to-tail means holistic eating. It is a way of being in the world…[it] is not about bravado and it should not be about ego; one should never forget that the point of a kitchen is to cook people their lunch, which they should enjoy.” Another quote: “It is no good for a chef to sleep under their oven; they should make like a whale, keeping their mouth and their mind wide open for the plankton of ideas, and they should spend time with their family.”  Food-wise, the book boasts that it contains 100 brand new recipes from London’s iconic restaurant. If you own Nose to Tail Eating and/or Beyond Nose to Tail, then The Book of St. John might strike you as quite familiar. So what! If you love Fergus Henderson’s other books, you will love this book, too.

My pick for the best cookbook of 2019 goes to The Gaijin Cookbook. I own a lot of Japanese cookbooks, including a good number that cover Japanese comfort food/soul cooking/home-style recipes. Most of these books are very good. (I especially like Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota.) Orkin and Ying have penned an essential work for cooks interested in making comforting Japanese food. Since its fall release, I’ve cooked more than a dozen dishes from The Gaijian Cookbook ranging from Tonkatsu (Fried Pork Cutlets) to Ochazuke (Rice with Tea) to Kurimu Shichu (Chicken Cream Stew) to Gyudon (Beef and Onion Rice) to Gyoza (Japanese Dumplings). Another shout out to the photographer: Aubrie Pick’s images perfectly support Okin and Ying’s text and genial voice.

Armenian food occasionally plays a supporting role in cookbooks put out by major publishers. Naomi Duguid includes recipes from Armenia in her 2016 Taste of Persia. Olia Hercules scatters a few Armenian dishes in her two cookbooks, including her latest, KaukasisLavash, however, is a genuine, one-hundred-percent Armenian cookbook. After teaching a food photography course at the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Armenia, John Lee returned to the states and shared his Armenian food experiences with Kate Leahy, a seriously talented food writer who helped author a number of excellent cookbooks (including one of my favorites, A16). Leahy and Lee hooked up with Ara Zada, a Southern California chef who also taught a workshop at TUMO, and Lavash represents the fruit of their partnership. In its introduction Leahy speaks to the culinary differences between historical “Western” and “Eastern” Armenia, the food traditions that Armenians carried with them during the diaspora, and the evolution of food in Armenia proper after the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire. I always wondered why the food from today’s Armenia rarely resembles the food that my Armenian grandparents and first-generation parents cooked in the San Francisco Bay Area. Leahy does a great job of explaining this in a way that makes historical and cultural sense. I plan on writing a full review of the cookbook in 2020, but I happily include Lavash on my best of 2019 list.

I want to conclude with a list of other outstanding cookbooks that I read in 2019. In no particular order, I recommend these books: Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin; South by Sean Brock; Soul by Todd Richards; My Mexico City Kitchen by Gabriela Cámara; Tu Casa Mi Casa by Enrique Olvera; Pasta Grannies by Vicky Bennison; The Turkish Cookbook by Musa Dagdeviren; The New Pie by Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin; and Food Artisans of Japan by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. If you like hunting for excellent Japanese ingredients, definitely check out Hachisu’s book.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

6mm Ridged Macaroni Die No. 169

A couple of weeks ago, Emiliomiti had a pasta die sale to celebrate World Pasta Day. I bought a bronze 6mm ridged macaroni die (catalog No. 169) for my Bottene Torchio Model B. Emiliomiti currently offers five different macaroni dies for the torchio with the No. 169 making the smallest pasta of the lot. I picked the No. 169 because its size works particularly well in both soup and sauce.  To my taste, elbow macaroni dressed in a tomato sauce, with or without meat, represents the ultimate in comfort food.

Here in the United States, say “macaroni” and most people, especially kids, will conjure the image of a elbow-shaped pasta that is often served in a thick, orangey cheese sauce. The English-language edition of Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta defines maccherone (entry No. 140) as a “[g]eneric term for various types of pasta, both fresh and dry, which are boiled in abundant salted water or in broth.” Zanini De Vita writes:

“The story of maccherone on the Italian peninsula has followed tortuous paths that have not yet been fully charted. Today, the term generically indicates a dry pasta of various sizes made with durum-wheat flour and water. But in the south, the word maccheroni is used for some types of fresh pasta and, even more often, for any dry pasta, long or short, from penne to spaghetti to bucatini. In the north, once dominated by rice and polenta, the word maccheroni is the name of a specific type of pasta, usually tubular, short, and curvilinear, like conchiglie (see entry [No. 61]).”

I christened my new No. 169 die with a dough of 80 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal, 35 grams Central Milling Extra Fancy Durum, 1.5 grams fine sea salt, and 65 grams of an egg mixture comprised of 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk. I used a standing mixer fitted with a paddle to make a dry-ish, clumpy dough that I formed into a long, thin log. I tightly wrapped this dough log in two sheets of plastic and left it to hydrate at room temperature for 30 minutes. I then removed the plastic wrap, loaded the dough into the torchio fitted with the No. 169 die, and cut the pasta after a quarter-turn of the extruder’s handle. (Actually, my wife cut and I turned. When making a diminutive shape, operating a torchio solo is a real pain in the back.)

I look forward to enjoying these 6mm macaroni in lots of different types of pasta sauces and in soups such as sagne e lenticchie. I paired my freshly minted elbows with some leftover braised lamb shoulder, a little of the lamb’s braising liquid and some peas, all finished with a heavy-hand of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheese. I can’t wait to try the small macaroni with polpettine in a tomato sauce. True comfort food.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Pasta Grannies & American Sfoglino

Let’s tip our hats to 2019: I cannot remember when publishers released as many outstanding cookbooks in a calendar year. American Sfoglino by Evan Funke with Katie Parla (Chronicle Books) and Pasta Grannies by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant) stand out even in this year’s stellar crop of cookbooks.

Funke, who learned his pasta craft at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese, presents the lessons of Alessandra Spisni’s Il Manuale Della Sfoglina to an English-language audience. The only thing American about American Sfoglino is Funke; his cookbook is 100% Emilian through and through. Using the thickness of Post-its to help visualize how thick to roll la sfoglina to make tagliatelle (4 Post-its), strozzapreti (7 Post-its) and lasagna (9 Post-its) is a great idea. Let’s face it: Trying to teach someone how to roll out a thin sheet of pasta with a mattarello is no simple task. But Eric Wolfinger’s photographs make the challenge much easier. So if you want to learn how to roll la sfoglina with a mattarello and then make a host of classic Bolognese pasta dishes, then buy American Sfoglino. What a beautiful book!

Pasta Grannies belongs on the bookshelf of everyone who loves to make and eat pasta. If you are not familiar with Vicky Bennison’s project, type “Pasta Grannies YouTube videos” into your web browser and check out the growing collection of instructional videos. Pasta Grannies documents these incredible Italian makers thus preserving regional pasta traditions that might otherwise fade away through the passage of time. What differentiates Bennison’s Pasta Grannies project from other efforts to memorialize la cucina della nonna (e.g., Carol Field’s 1997 In Nonna’s Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers) is that Bennison’s videos bring the unique talents and personalities of these amazing women to life. I admit that I wondered if Bennison’s cookbook would capture the on-screen charm of her Pasta Grannies. It does! I like that, with a modicum of effort, you can find Bennison’s video of a Grannie making a dish featured in the cookbook. O brave new world…

Monday, October 21, 2019

Pasta Lunga Dough for a Torchio

I first made the pasta dough featured in this post on World Pasta Day—25 October—back in 2016. The dough contains a blend of freshly milled and bolted White Sonora flour (here) and Organic Artisan Baker’s Craft bread flour from Central Milling. I developed this dough for use in a torchio pasta press (here) and it works extremely well when extruding long forms of pasta (e.g., spaghetti, spaghetti quadri (here) and even capelli d’angelo (angel hair)). 

I previously covered my approach to milling (here) and bolting flour (here). The following recipe, which makes enough pasta to serve 2 or 3, includes precise weights based upon the results that I consistently achieve with my KoMo Fidibus Classic grain mill and Gilson Company No. 40 and No. 50 stainless steel test screens. Different milling and bolting set-ups will yield different results. Treat the following recipe as a guide and adjust, adding more or less of an ingredient, as necessary. It may help to know that the 85 grams of twice bolted White Sonora flour described in step 8, below, constitutes approximately 57% of the total flour used to make the pasta dough.

1) Place a medium-sized pouring bowl on a scale, tare the scale and put 275 grams of White Sonora wheat berries into the bowl.

2) Adjust your grain mill to a fine—but not its finest—setting. On my KoMo Fidibus Classic mill, I set the grind indicator near the top left mitre joint of the face of the mill’s housing.

3) Place a clean sheet of parchment paper (approximately 13” x 15”) on your work surface under the mill’s spout. The paper needs to be large enough to catch the flour that falls through the bolting sieves.

4) Put a full height No. 40 sieve on top of the parchment paper under the mill’s spout. Turn on the mill and add the 275 grams of White Sonora wheat berries into the mill’s hopper. While the mill processes the flour into the sieve, replace the pouring bowl onto the scale, which should read zero.

5) After the mill finishes grinding the wheat berries, lift the sieve with one hand and lightly tap the sieve against the heel of your other hand so that the flour moves back and forth across the screen’s face and flour gently falls onto the parchment paper. Stop bolting when the falling flour begins to slightly darken and the remaining material in the sieve looks coarse compared to the bolted flour.

6) Pick up the parchment sheet on either side and carefully pour the sifted flour into the bowl on the scale. 275 grams of Sonora White wheat berries milled and sifted as described above produces approximately 130 grams of flour.

7) Replace the parchment sheet onto the work surface and put a full height No. 50 sieve on top of the sheet. Pour the ±130 grams of flour in the bowl into the sieve and replace the bowl onto the scale. Bolt the flour through the No. 50 sieve onto the parchment paper. Again, the material in the sieve will slowly darken as the flour makes its way through the screen, leaving behind bran and other material.

8) Carefully lift the sheet and pour the sifted flour into the bowl on the scale. You should have approximately 85 grams of White Sonora flour. 

9) Add 65 grams of Central Milling Organic Artisan Baker’s Craft flour to the White Sonora flour. You want the flour mixture (i.e., the bolted White Sonora flour and the Artisan Baker’s Craft flour) to weigh 150 grams. Stir the flour to blend.

10) Add 1 whole large egg and 2 egg yolks to a glass beaker and beat together. The egg mixture should weigh approximately 100 grams.

11) Put the 150 grams of flour into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle.

12) Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Very—and this is key—slowly add small amounts of the beaten egg mixture into the flour. Patiently wait between each small pour to allow the mixer to incorporate the egg into the flour.

Most likely you will not need to add all of the egg mixture to get the proper consistency for this particular pasta dough. On average I use approximately 85 to 88 grams of the egg mixture. The dough should look clumpy, but not too dry. After removing the dough from the mixer’s bowl, you should be able to form it into a ball that retains its shape. The dough will feel a little dry, but don’t worry, it will soften as it hydrates in step 13, below. From start to finish, the step of adding the egg mixture to form the dough takes me about 6 minutes, more or less.

13) When the dough comes together as described in step 12, above, turn off the mixer and form the dough into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Very tightly wrap the dough log twice in plastic film and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Tightly wrapping the dough helps the dough to hydrate.

14) After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough, screw in your chosen torchio die and place the dough in the torchio’s chamber.  Set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at your desired length. The pasta should feel dry and not unworkably sticky. When making a very thin noodle such as capelli d’angelo, I dust the cut pasta with semolina flour before placing the pasta on a tray to dry out a little. 

Although this dough works particularly well when making long noodles—this is my go-to recipe for thin soup noodles—don’t limit this dough to making pasta lunga; the dough works great for rigatoni (here), gramigna (here) and, well…a lot of different pasta shapes. The combination of the soft White Sonora’s elasticity and Central Milling’s hard bread flour produces a fantastic tasting pasta well-suited for a torchio. If you want to roll this dough with a pasta machine, soften up the dough by adding more of the egg mixture. If you do not own a grain mill and want to try out the recipe, consider using Hayden Flour Mills White Sonora Type 00 flour.

Happy Pasta Day, everyone!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Flour Lab by Adam Leonti

The Fall 2019 Cookbook Season has arrived! On 10 September 2019, Clarkson Potter released Flour Lab by Adam Leonti with Katie Parla. On 24 September we’ll see American Sfoglino by Evan Funke with—again—Katie Parla (Chronicle Books) and The Gaijin Cookbook by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In October the floodgates burst open. I look forward to reading: Alpine Cooking by Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press); South by Sean Brock (Artisan); Pasta Grannies by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant); Poilâne by Apollonia Poilâne (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Lavash by Kate Leahy, John Lee and Ara Zada (Chronicle Books). I’ll hold back on my picks in November’s crop, but will note that November’s offerings look as exciting as October’s.

If you frequent this site, you know that I spend a lot of my energy exploring fresh pasta and home-milling flour for pasta making. When I heard about Flour Lab by Adam Leonti and its section on pasta, I became pretty excited. Few books meaningfully cover making pasta with freshly milled flour, the exception being Paul Bertolli’s 2003 classic Cooking by Hand. Leonti worked with Marc Vetri and both clearly know pasta.

Although Flour Lab contains a section on pasta, it is not and does not bill itself as a pasta-centric text. The book’s subtitle reads “[a]n at-home guide to baking with freshly milled grains.” Flour Lab divides into six chapters: The State of Grain; Cooking with Fresh Flour; Making Bread; Making Pasta; Making Pizza; and Making Pastry, Cookies, and Cakes.

Flour Lab’s Making Pasta chapter runs about 50 pages long.  It opens with this sentence: “If you’re a novice, I want you to forget about recipes for a moment and instead get acquainted with how dough feels beneath your fingertips.” Sound advice. 

The challenge of a book like Flour Lab lies with having something meaningful to offer beginning, intermediate and experienced pasta makers. Based upon my reading of the book’s milling overview and pasta section, Flour Lab will satisfy and best serve the motivated novice and, perhaps, a slightly more seasoned maker. Beginners should not expect to be spoon-fed, but rather will be exposed to milling basics and possibilities. The real teaching comes from experimentation and the lessons gleaned.

Flour Lab rewards the attentive reader. For example, when attempting Leonti’s pasta recipes take note of his recommendations regarding Extraction (on pages 119 and 120 of the US hardcover first edition). He writes “[y]ou can make all of the pasta recipes here with 100% bran inclusion, but I recommend sifting out the bran, then adding a percentage back to taste.” He continues: for a pasta paired with a “hearty Bolognese, I add 5% of the weight of the flour—for example, I add 25 grams of bran to 500 grams of flour.” Personally, I think this important information belongs on the same page as the pasta dough recipes or with the pasta sauce recipes found at the end of the chapter. I understand that the amount of bran that a pasta maker wants in a pasta dough is, in part, a matter of personal taste. However, I believe the beginning pasta maker working with whole-grain flour will benefit from more guidance. A pasta novice trying to make Leonti’s whole-egg dough with 100% bran inclusion Sonora wheat will certainly be in for a wild ride.

The more advanced pasta maker should appreciate the legwork that Leonti put into the book’s Resources section and review his grain recommendations.  However, I don’t believe the advanced maker is his intended audience. In my opinion, Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand will better serve the more experienced pasta maker interested in using home-milled flour. With this said, any book that propels the home-milling movement forward deserves praise. If you are a new or intermediate pasta maker with an interest in home-milling flour, definitely check out Flour Lab.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pasta Knives

Next up in my series on pasta tools: the humble pasta knife. Many pasta makers have a favorite one that they use to hand cut pasta sheets into ribbons. For wide noodles, I like to use an Italian Pino Extra that I bought from a knife dealer on eBay. This Pino boasts a wide, heavy 9.5-inch blade that makes cutting tagliatelle a breeze. The knife also works particularly well slicing thick udon noodles. 

When I want to cut a thinner noodle, I pull out my razor-sharp Carter nakiri knife. Although wide, the blade is super thin thus making the knife well-suited to cutting tagliolini.

Carter sells its knives on-line. Finding a vintage Pino pasta knife might take a little more of an effort, but, in my opinion, worth it.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Encyclopedia of Pasta in Paperback

Good news, everyone! In September of 2019, the University of California Press will publish a paperback version of the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita and translated by Maureen B. Fant. This edition will retail for $26.95.

If you do not already own a hardback copy of this essential work, consider picking up a paperback edition at your local bookseller or at one of the many fine culinary bookstores in the US. On the East Coast, I like Kitchen Arts & Letters. I buy my cookbooks here on the Left Coast from Book Larder in Seattle.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Pasta Wheel

One of the first pasta tools I acquired was a pasta wheel (aka a pastry wheel). I now own a small collection of this essential tool. I use my favorite one all the time when sheeting pasta, cutting shapes (pappardelle and trenette) and when making stuffed pasta. I bought this dual wheel cutter at Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo (here) during a pasta pilgrimage to Bologna. You can now buy these sturdy tools outside of Italy. Emiliomiti (here) sells a straight wheel, fluted wheel, dual cutter and even an adjustable quad cutter. These heavy-duty brass cutters will last a lifetime.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Pasta Grattata

After sliding dough into the chamber of my torchio pasta press, I insert the machine’s piston and turn the handle until a small amount of pasta—about 1/4-inch—pokes through the bronze die. I trim this pasta off and put it aside before turning the torchio’s handle in earnest to extrude the dough.

Sometime ago while making bigoli (here), I made my customary trim cut. This time it struck me that the small bits of pasta that I held in my hand resembled a unique pasta shape in their own right. I made a mental note to do a little research to find the shape’s name.

A couple of days later, by a happy stroke of serendipity, I came across a package of grattini at DeLaurenti, an excellent food and wine shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Although grattini looked slightly different than the pasta I trim off of my bigoli die, the package gave me a lead.

Oretta Zanini De Vita writes that grattini is the Emilian name for Pasta Grattataentry No. 187 in her Encyclopedia of Pasta (University of California Press, 2009). Pasta grattata literally means “grated pasta”. The shape goes by a myriad of different names from Italy’s north to south. In Emilia it’s grattini. In Friuli, it’s called pasta grattada and mignaculis. In the Veneto it goes by the name of pasta gratada, pasta gratadè and pestariei. Lombardy, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily each have their own unique name for the shape.

The traditional way to create pasta grattata is to make a very hard dough from flour and water, to dry the dough, and then to grate it “on a large-hole grater, or [crumble] it with fingers, to make [irregular tiny shapes that are cooked in broth].” Zanini De Vita writes that nowadays you are more likely to find pasta grattata made with an egg dough, which the package of grattini, above, proudly proclaims.
As I searched for grattini through Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia, I came across another pasta shape that resembles my bigoli trim. Grandine, entry No. 119, literally means “hailstones”. Like pasta grattata, one finds grandine throughout Italy’s regions. Although the shapes resemble one another, Zanini De Vita writes that grandine is a mass-produced shape made with durum flour and water. In Sicily, grandine goes by the name of pirticuneddi and palline da schioppo (“musket balls”). Zanini De Vita ends her grandine entry by writing: “In Sicily, pirticuneddi are mentioned among the first pastas made with a special torchio, the so-called paste d’arbitrio.

If you own a torchio, making pasta grattata—or grandine, it’s your call—at home is super easy. It just takes some time and, I believe, two people: one to make small incremental turns of the torchio’s handle and another to cut the hundreds of tiny bits of pasta that come through the press’s spaghettoni die. I suppose a person with a strong back could both turn and then bend down to cut, but that’s way too much up-and-down to my mind.
If you don’t own a torchio, you can make pasta grattata the old fashion way with a box grater. I found a recipe by the late, great Giuliano Bugialli’s (here). You can find his recipe in Bugialli on Pasta (Simon & Schuster, 1988). Bugialli calls the shape pasta grattugiatapasta grattata or pasta rasa. He introduces the shape as follows: “Pasta grattugiata exists in different parts of Italy under various names. While this kind of pasta is homemade, it has even been adapted to commercial dried pasta under the name of grandinine or pastine, and in modern times is used mostly in broth.” 
I find Bugialli’s recipe, which originates from Reggio-Emilia, particularly interesting. He mixes all-purpose flour, very fine semolina flour and freshly grated Parmigiano cheese with eggs to make a dough similar to the one used to create passatelli sans the dry bread crumbs. Bugialli also shares a neat trick to prepare the dough for grating: knead the dough for 15 minutes until it turns very hard, then wrap it in plastic and freeze the dough for 45 minutes. Why? He writes: “This replaces several hours of drying.”
As both Zanini De Vita and Bugialli point out, most cooks serve pasta grattata in a broth or soup. I suppose one could also cook the shape like risotto. I plan to try pasta grattata in a pea pod broth with polpettini, leeks and peas all dusted with pecorino cheese.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Giuliano Bugialli, food writer and teacher: 1931-2019

I just learned that Giuliano Bugialli died on 26 April 2019. You can read his obituary (here) at the New York Times.

After purchasing The Fine Art of Italian Cooking in the late 1980’s, I wanted to amass all of Mr. Bugialli’s cookbooks. His works serve as an expert guide to anyone who wants to understand traditional Italian cuisine. I learned about nocino (here) from his Foods of Naples and Campania (and for this I shall always be grateful). I constantly reference his Bugialli on Pasta. Case-in-point: my 18 April 2019 post (here) on Nettle Powder Pasta. I believe Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking rivals Jacques Pepin’s The Art of Cooking.

To honor Mr. Bugialli, I want to share one of my favorite recipes from all of his cookbooks. Pasta con I carciofi comes from Bugialli on Pasta. In his chapter on Pasta and Vegetables, he includes five artichoke recipes. The following Sicilian recipe is a delicious take on Pasta alla carbonara but with artichokes. It serves 4 to 6.

1 large lemon, cut in half
3 large artichokes
½ cup olive oil
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lukewarm water
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Siciliano or romano cheese
1 pound dried rigatoni, preferably imported Italian

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of cold water and drop in the lemon halves. Add the artichokes to soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion on a board. Clean the artichokes following the instructions on page 67, and cut them in quarters. Then cut each quarter into thin slices and return to the lemon water.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized flameproof casserole over medium heat; when the oil is warm, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Drain the artichokes and add to the casserole, mix very well, and sauté for 4 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the water. Cover the casserole and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. When finished, the liquid should be completely absorbed and the artichokes very soft.

Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Mix the eggs with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste in a large serving bowl. When the water reaches a boil, add coarse salt to taste, then add the pasta and cook until al dente, for 9 to 12 minutes depending on the brand. Drain the pasta, transfer to the bowl with the egg mixture, mix gently but thoroughly, then add the artichokes with their juice. Mix again and serve with a few twists of black pepper.

Bugialli was a great teacher and so, no surprise, this recipe offers so many valuable cooking lessons. First, US grocery store produce often benefits from re-hydration. I’d like to think this was true in 1988 but no longer the case in 2019—but sadly, no. To this day I still trim and soak store-bought vegetables to re-hydrate them before cooking. Second, you can create so many beautiful pasta sauces by employing the technique of gently braising vegetables—in the case of this recipe, artichokes—to tenderness. Finally, I love that Bugialli uses water to braise the artichokes. Although today I often cook with rice koji stock or some other super-liquid, this recipe reminds me that water delivers pure flavor.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Stinging Nettle Powder Pasta

I wrote (here) about making green pasta with a torchio pasta press. During my research to create a torchio-friendly green dough, I came across an interesting note in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Knopf, 2008).

Outside of spinach, no other coloring can be recommended as an alternative to basic yellow pasta. Other substances have no flavor, and therefore have no gastronomic interest. Or, if they do contribute flavor, such as that of the deplorable black pasta whose dough is tinted with squid ink, its taste is not fresh. Pasta does not need to be dressed up, except in the colors and aromas of its sauce.

Other pasta masters take a more favorable view of flavored pasta. In Bugialli on Pasta (Simon and Schuster, 1988), Giuliano Bugialli devotes an entire chapter to flavored pasta and shares dough recipes incorporating: tomato paste; saffron; paprika; tomato and oregano; green bell peppers; red bell peppers; artichokes; wild mushroom; rosemary; sage; black pepper; and lemon.

Marc Vetri’s Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015) also dedicates an entire chapter to flavored pasta (including a recipe for squid ink pasta). Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2014) contains recipes for Cocoa Tajarin, Tomato Farfalle and Red Wine Rigatoni. Even a modern classicist like Paul Bertolli includes a recipe for herb pasta in his masterwork Cooking by Hand (Potter, 2003).

Most vegetable or herb dough recipes recommend either hand chopping or puréeing the flavoring and then working it into the flour during kneading. In some cases, such as Bugialli’s artichoke-flavored pasta, the recipe calls for braising the artichokes, then using a food mill to purée the artichokes, and finally reducing the purée into a thick paste before incorporating the flavoring into the flour. Reducing a purée eliminates extra liquid and concentrates flavor.

Using a dried powdered ingredient delivers the essence of a flavor without any liquid. Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns in their Bar Tartine cookbook (Chronicle Books, 2014) write: “[d]ehydration is more than just a method for preserving food. Extracting the bulk of the water from fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish concentrates flavors and changes textures. It’s one of our most important tools for building flavor.”

Although the exception rather than the rule, pasta dough recipes using dehydrated ingredients exist. In the cookbooks referenced above, Bugialli shares a flavored pasta recipe that calls for paprika. McNaughton’s Tomato Farfalle recipe uses tomato powder.

If you own a dehydrator, you can make a flavoring powder in less than a day. Fresh, stemmed leafy herbs, such as basil, oregano, mint and parsley turn brittle yet bright after 6 to 8 hours in a dehydrator set at 95°F/35°C. Flowers such as fennel, elderflower and cilantro only take 2 to 6 hours to dehydrate. If you don’t own or have access to a dehydrator, you can dry ingredients in a low oven, outside in the sun, or even indoors if you have the time and patience. Another option: experiment with store bought dried ingredients, such as wild mushrooms.

It being spring and owning a dehydrator, I decided to make a pasta dough using powdered wild stinging nettles. After foraging and washing the nettles to remove dirt and bugs, I cut the leaves off their stems and blotted the leaves dry. Following the advice of Balla and Burns, I set my dehydrator to run at 95°F for 8 hours.

Stinging nettles smell extraordinarily wonderful while drying. After 8 hours I put the brittle leaves, which no longer deliver a painful sting but remain prickly, into an electric spice grinder. My five dehydrator trays of nettle leaves produced enough dark green nettle powder to fill a small vial. 

I made two batches of pasta dough with my nettle powder. For the first batch I added 2 grams of nettle powder to 70 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Flour and 43 grams of Central Milling Extra Fancy Durum flour. I made my dough in a standing mixer fit with a paddle using just enough of a whole egg and another egg yolk mixture—about 70 grams—to form a clumpy green dough. Wrapped in plastic film, this dough hydrated for 30 minutes at room temperature. I then placed it into the chamber of my torchio fitted with a lumache bronze pasta die. In minutes I had a trove of dark green snail shells. After making some egg pasta snails, I added the cooked straw and hay lumache into a light sauce of thinly sliced asparagus braised in rice koji stock and finished with a bit of cream, freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The nettle pasta had a slight vegetative and nutty flavor.

For my second batch of dough I reduced the amount of nettle powder to 1 gram and used a ziti bronze die. The finished ziti pasta remained green, but less intensely so. I’ll stick with the 2-gram version in the future.

It’s easy to get excited about—and perhaps even carried away with—all the possibilities afforded by using flavored powders to make pasta dough. Circling back to Marcella Hazan’s note that opened this post, I believe one’s own personal taste should govern what one wishes to make and to eat and to share at one’s table. If the idea of making pasta verde appeals to you, give nettle powder a try.