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Pasta Improvvisata: How to Improvise in Classic Italian Style Hardcover – June 2, 1999

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You may find yourself dusting off your hand-cranked pasta machine after thumbing through Erica de Mane's Pasta Improvvisata. She has taken pasta in one hand, tradition in the other, and pulled together an inspired cookbook.

This book is about cooking. Sure, there are plenty of recipes, but each recipe is a point of departure that encourages inspired cooking. Pasta Improvvisata isn't about religiously following a recipe to arrive at the perfect re-creation of an established Italian dish--there's a lot to be said for that, to be sure. There's a lot to be said for a recipe so well written that the unwitting cook is assured of putting on the table the same dish, right down to texture and aroma, that an Italian cook might be putting on his or her table. Marcella Hazan is a master of just such a recipe.

Erica de Mane's departure is to start with the feel of a particular Italian dish--just the approach or style--and then improvise with the kinds of ingredients actually available in American supermarkets. She ends up with dishes that are in the Italian spirit, but that speak to a willingness to be experimental, a willingness to say "Hey, these are the ingredients I have on hand, and this is the pasta dish that comes as a logical conclusion."

Roasted Asparagus Lasagne with Fontina springs out of a dish that's traditionally just asparagus roasted with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Why not make it as lasagne? In the author's notes at the end of this recipe are several variations on the theme. She constantly coaxes the cook to reach out and try new things. How about Saffron Tagliatelle with Lobster, Tomato, and Cognac? Or Roasted Zucchini, Fennel, and Gruyere Tossed with Penne (which springs from the author's mother's sauce of sliced zucchini sautéed in olive oil)?

Tie on an apron before opening this book. You may not have the chance once you dive in. --Schuyler Ingle

From Publishers Weekly

Encountering De Mane's book, the experienced cook will wonder if her imaginative advice is at all necessary. After all, the familiarity and simplicity of many pasta dishes inevitably invite chefs to toss in a bit of personal invention. Food writer De Mane is up to the challenge, however, and her book, divided into three parts (pasta with vegetables, with fish and with meat), will expand most cooks' thinking. Fresh ideas abound. She provides more than a dozen tomato sauces, from the usual to her Simmered Tomato-Fig Sauce and the free-spirited Tomato and Orange Sauce. With all recipes, De Mane offers substitutions to change basic results: for the Tomato and Orange Sauce, she suggests using mint instead of the specified basil or tossing the pasta with ricotta before adding the sauce. Rather than providing eye-opening revelations, De Mane reminds readers what can be done when combining or adapting Italian flavors. Classic linguine with white clam sauce becomes Linguine with Clams, Pancetta and Marjoram, which itself can be altered by using bacon rather than pancetta, by mixing the clams with parsley pesto or by adding fresh corn kernels. Other variations spring from Anchovy and Fennel Seed Sauce, Fusilli with Veal Capers and Lemon (a twist on veal piccata) or Baked Cavatappi with Chicken-Arugula Meatballs. Since improvising requires handy ingredients, an annotated Improviser's Pantry listing explains what to have at the ready. Good Cook Club and BOMC alternate selection. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (June 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068482972X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684829722
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Here's what the New York Times said on June 6, 1999, in a round-up of the year's best cookbooks, by Corby Kummer: "Unlike most books on America's favorite home-cooked supper, 'Pasta Improvvisata' is a book you will use. Erica De Mane, a first-time author, has adapted pasta recipes from all over Italy to her fine Italian-American palate and her well-stocked but not recherche Italian-American pantry. De Mane is a bit talky and not yet a prose stylist, but she is an experienced, generous home cook who understands how both Italians and Americans like to eat, and she deftly manages to bridge the two cultures. I like her abundant good sense and outspoken opinions, probably because I agree with many of them. 'Dried pasta made by American companies is so inferior to the firm, nutty versions imported from southern Italy that it is not even worth considering' (although I would add that my own favorite, Martelli, is made in Tuscany). 'There is nothing wrong with eating a lightly sauced dried pasta dish as a main course, but a big dish of tortellini bolognese is too rich and filling to be eaten in any but small servings.' She borrows French techniques when they suit her and makes freer use of butter, goat cheese, cognac, French garlic sausage and even garlic itself than Italian cooks would. But that's her point. 'When transporting a recipe across country lines, you want to preserve the spirit, adapting it when necessary to the ingredients you have to work with.' This straightforward theory is surprisingly hard to practice. With apparently endless invention and love of actual cooking, De Mane succeeds."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The approach of this wonderful book is truly innovative. Erica de Mane takes the lay cook in hand and shows how much fun it can be to improvise in the kitchen. I am not particularly courageous when it comes to this sort of cooking and appreciate the encouragement. Whatsmore one has the option of simply following the recipes and getting marvelous results. The array of recipes are mouthwatering and those I have tried have pleased my two daughters who are difficult to please.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
cooking with erica demane's book is a blast. everything i have made has been delicious and new, and with each recipe i see how to use ingredients together that can be used in other ways as well. she makes it easy to learn how to improvise and it makes me feel like a real cook. a lot of her pasta sauces can also be a side dish or a stuffing for potatos or dressing for meats and fish. it is an enormously fun and seemingly effortless way to learn how to make really delicious, totally satisfying food.
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Format: Hardcover
I love cookbooks and I am always on the lookout for good ones that bring fresh ideas and easy preparation to the table (no pun intended). When I found Pasta Improvvisata I quickly snapped up a copy, and so far I have not been disappointed. This is a good book for those who like to experiment a little without starting completely from scratch.

This is more than just a collection of recipes with a list of possible variations, which I have seen in so many other cookbooks along the way. This will be somewhat obvious just by looking through the table of contents. There are several main sections in this cookbook, as follows: Pasta & Vegetables, Pasta & Fish, Pasta & Meat, The Improviser’s Pantry, Good Italian Cheese to Use with Pasta, Making Fresh Pasta, Broths for Pasta Soups & for Enriching Pasta Sauces and finally the index, acknowledgements and bibliography.

The table of contents does not list the individual base recipes, though. In several of the main sections, there is a breakdown of the types of recipes that are in there. The most detailed is the section on Pasta and Vegetables. There are subsections for making tomato-based sauces, matching pasta and sauces together, garlic and olive oil, vegetable and cheese-filled pasta and so many more. It’s easy to narrow down where to find a starting point when you know what you want to do in a general sense, but it also means you have to mark your page should you find something that you like or something you want to refer to later.

Each base recipe presents a classical or traditional Italian dish. From there, each base recipe without exception has a section attached to it titled Ideas. In this little add-on there are usually a couple of ideas on how to take the base recipe and tweak it a little to make something new.
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