I don't often stop and admire the pasta shapes on my dinner plate, but I am inspired to change my ways by The Geometry of Pasta, a book that examines the many shapes and sizes of pasta, and offers some recommendations on which sauces pair best with certain shapes. Did you know there is a reason why you might use ruffle-edged lasagne noodles instead of flat-edged?
Other than headlining a BLT or lying beside a pile of scrambled eggs, this may be our favorite use for bacon. It adds so much flavor to pasta, pairs well with so many vegetables (green peas, broccoli, butternut squash), and—if you chop it into pieces first—cooks in no time.
A traditional Florentine pasta, ricotta gnocchi is the lighter, hipper cousin to northern Italy's potato gnocchi.This gnocchi cooks up as soft, mild-flavored dumplings. They make a great base for any sauce, especially a simple tomato sauce. And if we'd known how easy it was to make ricotta gnocchi, we would have added it to our cooking rotation years ago!
Last week, on the same day, I encountered two very different recipes for polenta. One had a practicality born of science, curiosity and efficiency. The other was much more rooted in time and tradition. One quick, the other slow. One required a modern appliance; the other, sourcing a special, stoneground organic polenta. The former I discovered, rather fittingly, while listening to a podcast and the later, equally fittingly, while sitting on a couch next to an open window while browsing through a book.
Imagine limoncello: cool, refreshing, sweet-tart limoncello poured straight from the freezer into a waiting tumbler. Now imagine it creamy. Sounds pretty good, right?! I will be starting a batch of holiday gift-giving ASAP. Care to join me?
I always giggle a little at how universally disappointing it is to eat Tuscan bread. Saltless, with a completely unsatisfying texture, it can be real let-down when the carb cravings hit. And yet, it comes from Italy, a country revered deeply for its culinary traditions.
But then, like clouds parting, those savvy Italians redeem themselves with panzanella, the traditional Tuscan bread salad that combines their stale, tasteless bread with tomatoes. Suddenly, that bread has a purpose.
My husband likes nothing more than a good ragù. His perfect meal would involve something saucy, bright, and rich with a bit of meat, falling over a dish of toothsome pasta. A good ragù is nearly a religious experience for him. It expresses the ultimate goodness of the world, a place where people feed one another good food in love and honesty. So when a fennel and sausage ragù at a local restaurant invoked this mystical moment, giving him a cross-eyed moment of pleasure, I felt that the gauntlet was thrown in my lap.
Iceberg lettuce has fallen into deep disfavor with many cooks and food-lovers. Memories of bad, bland salads from our youth, and pale excuses for greenery on the plates of low-rent restaurants have pushed iceberg to the side in favor of more interesting greens: Arugula, romaine, spicy microgreens.
But iceberg still has a place, and in the heat of summer, I crave it like no other lettuce. Shaved thin, in a feathery pile, iceberg lettuce offers crisp, pure refreshment. In this salad, my own take on the Italian-American chopped salads of pizza parlors and pasta joints, iceberg shines.
Schiacciata all’uva is a sweet Tuscan focaccia stuffed with Concord grapes, available in Florentine bakeries beginning in September. Florence resident Emiko Davies, tired of waiting for schiacciata season, decided to make her own savory version filled with a layer of ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes. We'd take this over a plain cheese sandwich any day!
And just like that, summer feels like it is almost over. Beach vacations are winding down, kids are heading back to school. (Watch for a bunch of back-to-school content, coming up next week!) Getting dinner on the table becomes a less of a leisurely affair and more dependent on thinking ahead.
My own fallback in such times is the pasta casserole. Yes, I wrote an entire book about casseroles, but that hasn't stopped me from making them again and again, pulling in any fresh ingredients at hand, and baking up something bubbly-delicious.