Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 Top 10: The Geometry of Pasta

Sixth in a series of reviews of my 10 favorite books read in 2010, presented in alphabetical order.

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy

As the full title states, "The Perfect Shape + The Perfect Sauce = The Geometry of Pasta," so the talents of book designer Caz Hildebrand + London chef Jacob Kenedy = this terrific book.

Part history-of-pasta and part cookbook, it begins with an overview of pastas (southern Italian peasants’ plain semolina to wealthy northerners’ incorporation of eggs and different starches) and tomato sauces (also varying from light to rich), and the concept of matching the delicacy/sturdiness of a pasta to that of a sauce. And then comes that geometry -- the actual pairings of those shapes and sauces via a 270-page alphabetic encyclopedia of dozens and dozens of pasta shapes, including:

• A short history of each pasta (referencing climate, culture and politics/economics), for example the intricate shapes that were made “when housewives had to fill long winter evenings,” and the delicate and haughty pastas of the Renaissance, which “specialist nuns would make in their convents”;
• An arresting b/w graphic of its shape;
• In some cases, recipes for making that pasta at home;
• In all cases, recipes for sauces/fillings suited to that shape;
• Suggestions for other sauces (an Index makes it easy to locate sauce recipes).

I'd expected this book to be glossy and slightly oversized, so was surprised to find it the size and construction of a hardcover novel. While that doesn't sound like a book to be taken into the kitchen and later wiped down, you'll want to do so -- it's filled with easy-to-follow recipes for every level of cook, from quick sauces with a few common ingredients, to sauces involving a dozen ingredients and progressive steps that are mini-tutorials in cooking technique. They include olive oil and/or butter and a wide range of fish, fowl and meat. Most serve 2-4 people as a main course; some serve 6-8 and a few feed a crowd. But even if you're an armchair foodie with little intention of preparing the recipes, this book's design and interesting (even amusing) discussion make it a delightful read.

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