Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Pasticcini di mandorle

Let’s finish off 2021 on a sweet note. The recipe for these soft, chewy almond cookies comes from Rachel Roddy’s outstanding first cookbook, Five Quarters (2015). She also covered pasticcini di mandorle way back in 2010 on her food blog, Rachel Eats.


These pasticcini di mandorle contain only four ingredients: ground almonds, icing (aka powdered) sugar, lemon zest and egg. Roddy sampled the cookies while in Sicily, although versions exist across Italy. Carol Field’s The Italian Baker (1985, 2011) has a similar cookie recipe that hails from the Italian Alps. Bolle di neve (“Snowballs”) contain ground candied orange peel instead of lemon zest and egg whites in place of whole egg, but otherwise these Alpine and Sicilian cookies are kissing cousins. 


Here’s Roddy’s pasticcini di mandorle recipe, which makes 15 to 20 cookies.


350g ground almonds

200g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon

2 eggs, gently beaten with a fork


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and, using a fork or your fingers, bring the mixture together to form a soft, sticky dough.


Dust your hands with icing sugar and scoop out a walnut-sized lump of dough, then gently shape and roll it between your palms into a ball. Dust the ball with more icing sugar and put it on the baking tray. Continue until you have used up all the mixture. Make an indentation in the centre of each ball with your finger so that they cook evenly.


Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown underneath and cracked, crisp and very pale gold on top. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. They will keep in an airtight tin for up to a month.


I converted 180°C/gas mark 4 to 350°F and baked without issue. Roddy writes that the “mixture will spread from walnut-sized balls into 5-cm biscuits, so space them out accordingly….” The photo of pasticcini di mandorle in Five Quarters definitely look flatter than my bake, but I sort of like the looks of the rounder version better. I used Bob’s Red Mill super-fine almond flour, so maybe that accounts for the difference. Or I didn’t shape gently enough? Or…who knows.


Make sure you follow the recipe and dust your hands with powdered sugar to roll the cookies. This dough is so incredibly sticky! But employing a little powdered sugar takes the fight right out of the dough.


Wishing everyone A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year. Fingers crossed that 2022 turns out better than the last few years.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Best Cookbooks of 2021

Well, as we near the end of 2021, I guess this year felt a little better than 2020, so that’s something. And, thankfully, a number of excellent cookbooks dropped this year. Here’s my list of the five best cookbooks of 2021.


An A-Z of Pasta - Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes by Rachel Roddy, Penguin Random House UK.


The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez, Phaidon.


Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown – Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, Ten Speed Press.


Pasta-The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food, with Recipes by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi, Ten Speed Press.


Rice by Michael W. Twitty, The University of North Carolina Press.


Here’s the why.


Of the hundreds of Italian cookbooks in my collection, Roddy’s three works—Five Quarters (2015), Two Kitchens (2017), and now An A-Z of Pasta—are among my favorites. She has a knack of compiling recipes that deliver simple yet satisfying food destine to become household standards. An A-Z of Pasta ably covers the pasta basics, but the fantastic recipes that accompany her A to Z of pasta shapes are the real reason to buy this cookbook. I previously shared a baked Sicilian pasta recipe (here). I cannot wait to cook her Spaghetti alla chitarra con pallottine di pollo in bianco (Spaghetti alla chitarra with tiny chicken meatballs and white wine). Roddy has written yet another great Italian cookbook.


A theme in my Best of 2021 selections: comfort food. I found chef Virgilio Martínez’s compilation of recipes full of delicious, comforting dishes. Intended to serve as a snapshot of Latin American food, Martínez writes “[t]hrough the process of creating this…cookbook, we carefully observed what we Latin Americans have in common: the meals we serve at home, the foods made in the streets and in our markets, and what an emblematic neighborhood restaurant has served for decades.” Martínez and his team divide the hundreds of recipes into eighteen chapters: Breads and Baked Goods; Sandwiches; Grains, Quinoa and Amaranth; Roots and Tubers; Corn; Garden Vegetables; Beans and Lentils; Fruit; Dairy and Eggs; Fish and Seafood; Beef; Pork; Poultry; Native Meats and Insects; Lamb and Goat; Sweets; Drinks; and Salsas and Condiments. Fans of Maricel E. Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina (2012) will definitely want to check out Martínez’s exciting new cookbook.


Ten Speed Press originally slated Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown to debut in 2020 but pushed publication to early 2021. Although many of the recipes in this restaurant cookbook may sound familiar—Orange Chicken Wings, Pot Stickers, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Lion’s Head Meatballs—expect sophisticated preparations worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Brandon Jew writes that “Mister Jiu’s came out of my desire to pay homage to my family traditions and my food memories of growing up Chinese American.” Super exciting recipes populate every chapter of this topnotch cookbook. I started with an easy one for Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms from the book’s chapter entitled The (New) Chinatown Pantry. The mushrooms taste awesome thinly sliced and eaten with steamed rice. Jew shares techniques to dry shrimp and scallops, to make char siu, and other pantry essential items like Fermented Chile Paste and Hot Mustard (using Chinese beer). Extra bonus: so nice to read his nod to the talented Jon Smulewitz who ran both Dopo and Adesso in Oakland, CA.


I recently wrote about Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi’s Pasta-The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food, with Recipes (here). In a nutshell: Pasta belongs on the bookshelf of anyone with a desire to elevate their pasta-making skills. The cookbook shares recipes for dishes that you might find on the menu at either of Robbins’s Brooklyn restaurants, Lilia and Misi. 


Finally, I loved reading and cooking from Michael W. Twitty’s Rice, a Savor the South cookbook published by the University of North Carolina Press. I own four other cookbooks in this collection—ChickenGumboOkra; and Pie. Mr. Twitty’s work feels weightier especially after watching the transfixing documentary High on the Hog – How African American Cuisine Transformed America. In Episode Two of the show, Twitty and Stephen Satterfield cook Okra Soup over an open fire at a former plantation. Rice contains a version of this soup. Although a thin volume, the book is full of simple recipes to makes delicious food: Wanda Blake’s JambalayaRed RiceLimpin’ SusanShrimp RiceOyster PilauPork Chops and RiceChicken and RiceShrimp Pilau. Treat yourself and loved ones to a special meal by buying a bag of Carolina Gold rice from Anson Mills and cooking one of the many excellent rice dishes in this important resource cookbook.


I want to end this Best of 2021 with a bow to a cookbook that I really, really enjoyed reading: Monk – Light and Shadow on the Philosopher’s Path by Yoshihiro Imai (Phaidon). Monk is a small 14-seat restaurant in Kyoto, Japan. It has a woodburning oven. The owner/chef, Yoshihiro Imai, makes pizza and other beautiful food from ingredients that he gathers from local farms. Why pizza? Because he loves pizza. He writes “[p]erhaps it could have been sushi, pottery, or maybe even computer programming. But pizza was what I encountered, and as I continued to make it, I fell in love with it even more, and that love continues to this day.”


Imai’s latest book resonated with me during this time of uncertainty because of his spirit and his passion for craft. Most of Monk’s recipes call for ingredients I cannot source and employ a cooking method I cannot easily replicate. But I really enjoyed reading this lovely cookbook cover-to-cover. If you check out Monk and like it, look for Imai’s previously self-published cookbook, Circle (2014).


I hope to share one more post this year, but if I don’t, Merry Christmas and A Happy 2022. Let’s be hopeful!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Spaghetti with Colatura, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs

The New York Times reported in October 2021 that global supply-chain issues affecting the publishing industry will cause release delays and book cancellations. But happily for Italian cookbook fans, two eagerly anticipated works recently debuted…mostly on schedule: Pasta-The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food, with Recipes by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi (Ten Speed Press), and Italian American-Red Sauce Classics & New Essentials by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli with Jamie Feldmar (Clarkson Potter).


Today’s post focuses on Robbins’s Pasta, but a quick word on Rito & Tacinelli’s excellent cookbook. Italian American explores the food that traveled to the United States with Southern Italian immigrants and continues to evolve in Rito & Tacinelli’s New York restaurant, Don Angie. Italian American reminds me of a personal, chef-focused version of Nancy Verde Barr’s 1996 We Called it Macaroni: An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking. Rito & Tacinelli’s Lasagnas & Baked Pastas chapter especially shines in an outstanding cookbook. But on to a review of Pasta.




Both coasts of the United States boast talented chefs exploring pasta. Here on the west coast there’s Michael Tusk, Thomas McNaughton, David Nayfeld and Evan Funke. On the east coast, Missy Robbins ranks as one of the great pasta practitioners. So, when Missy Robbins pens a cookbook on pasta, it’s news. Robbins currently owns two New York restaurants, Lilia and Misi. Both serve handcrafted pasta, but Misi’s focus is pasta as evidenced by the restaurant’s slick glass-walled pasta-making studio. 


In General


Pasta contains a wealth of pasta-making information. This is a big (400 pages), heavy (1.5 kilograms) cookbook. Pasta’s seven main sections suggest a primer: How to Make Pasta; The Shapes; How to Cook Pasta; Italian American Classics; Regional Classics; Modern Classics; and Contorni.


Pasta, however, offers a lot more than basics. It’s Robbins’s discourse on how she makes pasta. Expect restaurant-level recipes. For example, her version of Fettuccine Alfredo calls for both buffalo milk butter and cow milk butter, along with 2-year and 5-year-old Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In a recipe note Robbins shares that if you cannot find the 5-year-old product, the dish still tastes great with any Parmigiano-Reggiano aged a minimum of 2 years. And if you cannot lay hands on buffalo milk butter, Robbins says using “…all cow’s milk butter [totaling 10½ tablespoons] still yields a great dish.” Like her Alfredo, Robbins’s cookbook celebrates richness.


Consider Robbins’s egg dough recipe that calls for nearly equal weights of egg yolks and tipo 00 flour, specifically 454 grams of egg yolks (i.e., 24 to 26 egg yolks) to 500 grams flour. Although this amount of egg yolks may seem shocking, Robbins’s egg dough generally conforms to the yolk-to-flour ratios in other restaurant/chef cookbooks. For comparison:


-       The Standard Egg Dough recipe in Thomas McNaughton’s flour + water pasta mixes 300 grams egg yolks (18 to 20 yolks) with 360 grams 00 flour along with 1½ teaspoons EVOO and 1¼ teaspoon kosher salt. 


-       The Fresh Pasta Dough Recipe in Sarah & Evan Rich’s Rich Table cookbook combines 12 large egg yolks (approximately 240 grams) with 210 grams of all-purpose flour.


-       The Egg-Yolk Pasta Dough recipe in Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand mixes 8½ ounces of egg yolks (about 14 large egg yolks) with 10 ounces (or 283 grams) of flour and ½ ounce water.


Robbins states in her How to Make Pasta chapter: “This is my way of showing you how I make pasta so you can find out how you do it. The recipes are here to say ‘this way’ and to guide you for as long as you need until you know your way.” Whether a 26-egg yolk dough recipe represents a practical guide for a pasta-making neophyte warrants debate. But I suspect that the people interested in buying Missy Robbins’s pasta cookbook really want to know how Missy Robbins makes her pasta and her egg dough. 


After covering How to Make Pasta and presenting a chapter on the ins-and-outs of crafting 45 pasta shapes, Robbins turns her attention to How to Cook Pasta. This chapter, especially its Rules to Cook By, stands out in a book full of insightful cooking instruction.


Robbins shares ten rules that, if followed, will result in better tasting pasta. All ten rules deserve attention, but especially “do not put too much sauce in the pan”. Robbins points out: “One of the most common mistakes that home cooks make is adding the pasta to the full volume of sauce they have prepared.” I read this to mean that adding too much sauce to cooked pasta throws a finished dish out of balance and prevents the cooked pasta and sauce to properly marry. Robbins notes that “…the recipes [in my book] will often yield excess sauce because they are best made at a specific volume, and because they are labor intensive. Refrigerate the surplus for later in the week or freeze for a future dinner. Whoever complained about too much leftover bolognese?”


Pasta Recipes


So on to the pasta with sauces. Robbins divides her recipes into three sections: Italian American Classics; Regional Classics (from Italy’s north, central and south); and Modern Classics. The Italian American Classics feature different red sauces, including Robbins’s famous 30 Garlic Clove sauce and her fiery Diavola. She also includes a chef’s version of Penne alla Vodka,Spaghetti Meatballs, and Cannelloni.


The recipes in the Regional Classics section rival the Italian American Classics as the book’s best. Standouts include: Agnolotti dal Plin filled with brisket and caramelized onions; Timballo alla Teramana made with crepes; and Maccheroncini di Campofilone al Sugo Tradizionale (Pasta with Short Ribs and Tomato Sugo).


All of Robbins’s pasta recipes evidence her mastery of marrying flavor and texture. A great example comes from Pasta’s chapter entitled Modern Classics, which contain recipes Robbins developed or adapted to her tastes. Her recipe for Spaghetti with Colatura, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs blends briny anchovies, rich olive oil, spicy chile flakes and bright lemon juice. Add the crunch of fried breadcrumbs and a shower of fresh chopped parsley and you have a perfect portrait of Robbins’s cooking.


Spaghetti with Colatura, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs calls for 624 grams of extruded spaghetti using Robbins’s extruded dough recipe on page 41 of her cookbook. If you own an electric extruder, use Robbins’s recipe. If you own a torchio and a spaghetti die, make your own torchio-friendly dough for the recipe. But if you do not own either of these extruders, a good quality manufactured dried pasta can stand-in. When discussing ingredients, Robbins recommends these pasta brands: Rustichella d’Abruzzo; Faella; Monograno Felicetti; and De Cecco. The following recipe, according to Robbins, yields 4 (very generous) to 6 servings.


Spaghetti with Colatura, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs


Bread Crumbs


30g/ 1 piece fresh country bread, crust removed and bread torn into pea-sized pieces

28g / 2 Tbsp olive oil


To Finish


624g / 1lb 6 oz extruded spaghetti (page 123)

42g / 3 Tbsp olive oil

15g / 3 gloves garlic, finely chopped

40g / 6 to 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped

15g/ 1 Tbsp colatura [Italian anchovy fish sauce]

20g / ¼ cup finely chopped parsley

2g/ 1 tsp dried red chile flakes

1 lemon, cut in half and seeds removed


1. To make the bread crumbs, spread the bread on a sheet pan. Let sit at room temperature until crunchy on the outside with a bit of give in the interior, 2 to 3 hours.


2. Line a plate with a paper towel. Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.


3. Transfer the bread crumbs to the plate and let cool.


4. To finish, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the water.


5. Add the spaghetti to the water and cook for 5 to 8 minutes until al dente.


6. While the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan over low heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic and gently cook until aromatic but without color, 10 to 15 seconds.


7. Add the anchovies and stir to break them up. Add 2 to 3 ladles (115g to 170g/ ½ to ¾ cup) pasta cooking water and stir to combine.


8. Using tongs or a pasta basket, remove the pasta from the pot and transfer to the sauté pan. Turn the heat up to medium. Toss for 1 to 2 minutes to marry the pasta and the sauce. If the sauce begins to tighten, add a splash of room-temperature water to loosen and continue to toss to marry. (Colatura and anchovies have a high level of salinity, so adding too much pasta cooking water during the marriage can tip the sauce into too-salty territory. Feel free to alternate between pasta water and fresh water or use only fresh water.)


9. Remove from heat. Add the colatura and toss to incorporate. Add the parsley and chile flakes and continue tossing. Squeeze in the juice from the lemon halves and toss again to combine.


10. Divide the pasta into bowls and garnish with the bread crumbs.


Apart from the dish’s interplay of flavors and textures, I love the recipe’s attention to detail. How do you loosen a salty anchovy sauce but still take advantage of the emulsion made with the starchy (but also salty) pasta cooking liquid? Splash in fresh, room temperature—so as not to arrest the pan’s heat—water as necessary.




Robbins’s Pasta joins a crowded field of recent pasta cookbooks, but with its own merits depending upon your interests. Pasta eschews the molecular science of gluten and the fresh-milled flour that Marc Vetri embraces in his Mastering Pasta. Compared to Thomas McNaughton’s flour + water pasta, Robbins goes deeper into pasta-making and covers more pasta shapes. If you prefer nonna-like pasta recipes (e.g., those in Vicky Bennison’s outstanding Pasta Grannies or in Rachel Roddy’s recent An A-Z of Pasta (here)), then I suggest flipping through Robbins’s cookbook to see if it is your cup of tea. I recommend Pasta because it offers insightful, expert information to improve one’s pasta-making and overall cooking skills.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Tunisian Orange Cake

A few months ago, I shared a recipe (here) for Ciambella (aka Marbled Breakfast Cake) fromThe River Café Classic Italian Cookbook. Here’s another breakfast worthy cake. This Tunisian Orange Cake recipe comes from an outstanding cookbook, This Is Camino (2015) by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. In addition to its deliciously nutty yet bright taste and perfect moist texture, the cake takes very little time to make (especially if you have breadcrumbs in your pantry and use almond flour as a shortcut).


This Is Camino


Back in 2015, I wrote about This is Camino and shared the cookbook’s recipe for Red Lentils (here). In This is Camino’s introduction, Hopelain describes the restaurant she owned with Moore: “At its heart, Camino is about an approach to food, one that can happen anywhere. Neither Russ nor I are grandmothers, but fundamentally ours is grandmotherly cooking. Specifically, a frugal grandmother who grew up in the Depression, had plenty of style, kept a sweet vegetable garden, and could shake a good cocktail.” 


One can’t miss Moore and Hopelain’s resourcefulness when cooking from This is Camino, and the Tunisian Orange Cake recipe is no outlier. Moore writes that he came across the cake recipe in Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Book. He calls the Tunisian Orange Cake a “…perfect Camino cake—it uses breadcrumbs (good use of leftovers, plus the added bonus that you can’t overwork the gluten) and the zest AND juice of the citrus, and if you make two cakes, you won’t even have any leftover random half a lemon.”


The recipe makes a 9-inch cake. If you prefer weighing ingredients, I provide a few helpful metric weights that I use when I make this delicious cake.


2/3 cup (135g) olive oil, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup whole almonds 

1/2 cup (70g) Breadcrumbs (see page 33), ground fine

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup (200g) and 1/3 cup sugar (67g)

4 large eggs

1 orange, zest and juice

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

2 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Plain yogurt, for serving

Dates, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, then brush the parchment and sides of the pan with olive oil.


Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they are a shade darker, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Grind in a food processor until fine.


Sort through the breadcrumbs and pick out any particularly big pieces. Mix together the crumbs, ground almonds, baking powder, and 1 cup of the sugar.


In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and the zest of the orange and lemon. Pour the egg mixture into the breadcrumb mixture and stir, then scrape the batter into the cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes, until evenly brown and set. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, make a citrus syrup by combining the cloves, cinnamon, juice of the zested orange and lemon and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens, about 3 minutes.


When the cake is cool, remove it from the pan and poke a bunch of holes through the top of the cake with a skewer. Drizzle about half of the citrus syrup over the cake—this will help it keep for a few days. Serve each slice of cake with dates, a spoonful of yogurt, and a drizzle of the syrup. It’s also good with any stone fruit or citrus segments.


If you don’t finish it all, it is best to store it at room temperature covered in foil, not plastic. 




Now, what about those Breadcrumbs on page 33? Again, pure Camino: 


“I’d rather you didn’t make any of the recipes in this book that require breadcrumbs if it means you are going to buy fresh bread just for that one recipe. Please make breadcrumbs with leftover bread!


Cut up whatever ends or slices you have, put them on a baking sheet, and dry them out in your oven heated just by the pilot light. Depending on the ferocity of your pilot light, the bread should be rock hard after a day or two. Grind it in a food processor and store the crumbs in one of the many empty yogurt containers you have lying around. Don’t refrigerate. If somehow you don’t use them, and the crumbs begin to get moldy, throw them out—you gave it a good shot!


P.S. Use any kind of bread that you have.”


(One day I plan on making semolina bread just to use in this cake.)


Here’s the easy shortcut I mentioned, above: use 107 grams of almond flour instead of roasting and grinding the whole almonds. I use Bob’s Red Mill Super-Fine Almond Flour and like the results.


All good things must come to an end, and after running Camino in Oakland for 10 years, Russ and Allison decided in 2018 to retire their successful restaurant. The silver lining is that one of Camino’s Monday Night special menu items, kebabs, became the star of Allison and Russ’s new restaurant, The Kebabery. I understand that The Kebabery is moving from its original Market Street location to 2929 Shattuck in Berkeley, California. Check it out! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a slice of Tunisian Orange Cake for dessert or breakfast.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Maccheroni ‘ncasciata

Penguin Random House UK recently published Rachel Roddy’s third cookbook, An A-Z of Pasta - Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes (2021). Many of my favorite Italian recipes come from Roddy’s old food blog, Rachel Eats, and from her first two cookbooks: Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome; and Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome. In her latest cookbook Roddy turns her focus to pasta. An A-Z of Pasta shares a trove of simple yet excellent recipes that will likely become family favorites. 


Roddy opens An A-Z of Pasta with a refreshingly short Introduction and then dives right into presenting different pasta shapes in alphabetical order. Missing is the current cookbook trend of a long personal narrative and extensive ingredient/equipment section. Instead, Roddy successfully weaves essential information about ingredients and pasta making into her survey of the shapes beginning with the letters A, B and C. By the time she covers conchiglie and turns to ditali, Roddy communicates a lot of basic information about pasta while also sharing illustrative and appealing recipes.


Whenever I get an exciting new cookbook, I read it cover-to-cover and then pick out the recipe I want to try first. An A-Z of Pasta gave me a long list of possibilities: Spaghetti alla chitarra con pallottine di pollo in bianco (Spaghetti alla chitarra with tiny chicken meatballs and white wine); Quadrucci alla romana (Quadrucci and peas Roman style); Pappardelle al ragù di cipolle (Pappardelle with onion ragù); and Mezze maniche con gamberi e zucchine (Mezze maniche with courgettes and prawns). In the end I went with a Southern Italian eggplant-spiked baked pasta called Maccheroni ‘ncasciata.


Roddy writes that “Maccheroni n’casciati is a generous and rowdy dish of pasta, small meatballs, cheese and fried aubergine.” Like a lasagne, this dish takes time, but the finished bake warrants the effort. Roddy says her version serves 4 to 6, but I think it will sate a few more.


800g tomatoes, ideally fresh but you can use tinned

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

olive oil

a sprig of fresh basil


300g ground beef

1 slice of crustless bread, soaked in a little milk

1 egg

a sprig of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

75g Parmesan, grated

2 aubergines, diced into 2cm cubes

500g maccheroni

200g mozzarella or caciocavallo

butter and breadcrumbs, for dish

2 hard-boiled eggs


If the tomatoes are fresh, peel by plunging them into boiling water for 60 seconds, then into cold water, at which point the skins should split and slip off easily. Chop the tomatoes roughly, separating away most of the seeds. Chopped tinned ones with scissors.


In a large pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in some olive oil until fragrant, add the tomatoes, basil and a pinch of salt and allow to simmer away for 15 minutes.


Make the polpette (meatballs): use your hands to mix the ground beef, bread, egg, parsley and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and mould into walnut-sized polpette. Allow them to rest if you can, then fry in a little olive oil until brown and pour in the tomato sauce.


Either deep fry the aubergine or spread on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and salt, toss with hands and bake at 180°C until golden—about 30 minutes.


Boil the pasta in well-salted water until very al dente. Drain and toss gently with the sauce and polpette and the mozzarella.


Butter and breadcrumb a large baking dish about 25 x 30cm, 2 litre capacity. Pour in half the pasta/polpette mix, make a layer of aubergine and sliced hard-boiled egg, then cover with the rest of the pasta mix. Top with the remaining grated Parmesan and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.


My copy of An A-Z of Pasta came from my favorite Seattle bookshop, Book Larder, which slipped a handy little temperature conversion card into my book. For us Americans 180°C equals about 350°F, and 200°C converts to 400°F. 


I made my first pot of Maccheroni ‘ncasciata without any problems. I used a 28oz (794g) can of Bianco DiNapoli whole tomatoes that top any fresh tomatoes I could find on my island in July. I also relied on my own polpette mixture, which is a little more involved than Roddy’s, but remains a family favorite. The oven baked eggplant cubes tasted great. I don’t use a lot of dried pasta, but I am happy with how the rigatoncini from Rustichella d’Abruzzo worked in the recipe.


I am happy to add An A-Z of Pasta to my cookbook library even though the work recalls two other books in my collection. Its ABC organization and classic pasta/sauce pairings resemble The Geometry of Pasta (2010) which features outstanding recipes from Jacob Kenedy. But while Caz Hildebrand’s black and white graphics share center stage with Kenedy’s recipes, An A-Z is all about words and stories. Roddy’s writing craft seems as elemental a part of her book as the recipes.


An A-Z of Pasta’s subtitle, “Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes”, cannot help but call up Sauces & Shapes – Pasta the Italian Way by the great Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant. Sauces & Shapes, however, feels more instructive and focuses on how Italians do pasta. An A-Z of Pasta strikes me as more personal. 


Finally, I want to acknowledge Jonathan Lovekin’s handsome photographs that add so much to Roddy’s book and its home cooing vibe. Likewise, Saffron Stocker’s book design beautifully marries text and images.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021


Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers wrote a number of excellent cookbooks. The one I use most often is the UK edition of The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook (2009). In its Introduction, Gray and Rogers write of their travels all over Italy and the friendships they formed.  They met Italian cooks who shared their passion for family dishes passed down from generation to generation. Based on this theme of timeless, local Italian fare, the book’s recipes produce straightforward, comforting food.


A favorite recipe from The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook is a simple ring cake (ciambella) that Gray and Rogers call a Marbled Breakfast Cake. I like this cake because it tastes great and yet not too rich or sweet. Here’s the recipe with my parentheticals notes. 


For 6-8; makes a 23cm cake


butter and flour for the tin

4 medium free-range organic eggs

200g caster (superfine) sugar

100g plain (all-purpose) flour

200g blanched almonds, finely ground

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon baking powder

40ml extra virgin olive oil

1 medium free-range organic egg white

a pinch of sea salt

3 tablespoon 100% cocoa powder

2 tablespoons full-fat (whole) milk


Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter and flour a 23cm (9-inch) round ring tin or loaf tin measuring approximately 22 x 11 x 6.5cm (8.5 x 4.3 x 2.5 inches). Separate the 4 whole eggs, whisk the 4 whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar and yolks until thick and pale. Sieve the flour into the mixture, fold carefully to combine, then add the almonds, lemon zest and baking powder. Finally, stir in the olive oil. Whisk the extra egg white with a pinch of salt.


Divide the mixture in half, then add the cocoa powder and the whisked egg white to one half. Fold gently to combine, then stir in 2 tablespoons of milk to slightly loosen this mixture. Both the mixtures should be of the same consistency.


Spoon half the pale mixture into the cake tin, blob the chocolate mixture on top, then cover the chocolate with the remaining pale mixture. This should fill your tin. Use a table knife to cut round the tin 3 or 4 times to marble the mixtures.


Place the cake in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until done. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Turn the cake out of the tin on to a rack while still warm.


Apart from the awkwardness of coaxing a thick-ish batter into a narrow ring pan, this marble breakfast cake doesn’t take a lot of effort. The finished cake makes up for the trouble of using a ring (instead of a loaf) pan: The ciambella, although simple, looks special. If your marbling doesn’t turn out, take solace that the cake pictured in the cookbook doesn’t look very well-marbled either. 


One last note: To save time and for convenience, I use Bob’s Red Mill almond flour instead of grinding the blanched almonds.

I highly recommend taking a look at The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook if you want to add a volume to your cookbook collection. The chapter on Pasta & Gnocchi contains 23 recipes and this section, alone, warrants the book’s purchase.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Pixar's Burrow: Easter Eggs

Who doesn’t love hunting for movie Easter Eggs, especially in a Pixar film? My youngest daughter, Maddie, works at Pixar and directed the animated short, Burrow. If you watched the film on Disney+ (or in a theatre overseas), you know that a lot goes on in the film’s cutaways and backgrounds.

Some of the Easter Eggs, like the stuffed Kitbull toy, fly by but are in plain sight. But others may not be as obvious and might be harder to spot. Want a few Easter Egg hints?


WATCH the TVs. Recognize the two scenes from a 2013 short film?


SEE the restaurant? It’s based on a real one and you can find a recipe from the restaurant’s cookbook on this site.

SPOT the Bedlington? Like Kitbull, it’s stuffed, but this dog is real.

Burrow contains a host of other references that have special significance. Many of Rabbit’s co-stars represent family members. The best Easter Egg is the hidden matriarch that doesn’t live in a burrow but makes a brief cameo appearance. And see those two mice jumping on the bed? Don’t ask about that….

Good luck with your Easter Egg hunting! And speaking of eggs, you need them to make pancakes (here) and, of course, an Omelette.


p.s. David Lally did not write Burrow's music. Mozart did (not counting the bossa nova tunes, of course).