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)
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