Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Domenica Marchetti Wants You to Have a Nice Dish of Pasta

When I was growing up, my mom always served us nice food. A nice bowl of lentil soup. A nice frittata sandwich. A nice dish of veal cutlets. So when I opened Domenica Marchetti's latest cookbook, The Glorious Pasta of Italy, and read her first line, I knew I was going to love it. She writes, "At my house, we never have a just a dish of pasta. It is always a nice dish of pasta, as in, 'Who wants a nice dish of spaghetti and meatballs'?"

Despite being prosaic, the word "nice," carries significant meaning for Italian mothers and nonnas. Nice means delectable, comforting, good for you, made with love. And you'll find 100 nice recipes in The Glorious Pasta of Italy, a book "for the unapologetic pasta lover."

While Marchetti encourages home cooks to get the flour flying, the dough stretching, and the cavatelli rolling, she understands that using dried pasta is convenient and says either can be used in all of her recipes. But when you are ready to make your own pasta, you'll find easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions. Marchetti tells you the equipment you'll need, how to make, store, and cook homemade pasta, and even includes a glossary of 60 different types of pasta to enjoy. Yes, 60.

Recipes are divided by use with chapters including "Pasta with Sauce," "Baked Pasta Dishes," and "Stuffed Pasta and Dumplings." As with any cookbook, you should read through the entire recipe before jumping in since many require multiple steps or lengthy processes; several include suggestions "to simplify."

Busy cooks will appreciate the "Pasta on the Run" chapter with sublimely simple dishes such as Spaghettini alla Pizzaiola, which translates to "in the style of the pizza man." Get it? Pasta with summer tomatoes, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and fragrant basil. Traditionalists will eat up "Classics Worth Keeping," such as Spaghetti with Meatball, while hipsters no doubt will tackle "Showstoppers," such as Spinach Codette with Sausage and Peas.

penne rigate with sweet peppers and anchovies

Marchetti even --  praise be to Italian nonnas everywhere -- includes a chapter on "Sweet Pasta." In these cocoa dusted pages, you'll learn how to make versatile Sweet Pasta Dough with Punch Abruzzese, a sweet, potent liqueur made from caramelized sugar and lemon and orange zest. There's also a recipe for La Cicerchiata, an exceptional Italian dessert consisting of dozens of petite fried dough balls glued together with sticky honey and colored with rainbow sprinkles.

Like the title itself, Frances Ruffenach's photographs are glorious -- artistic and downright sexy. You'll find yourself flipping through the book again and again to savor them.

So once you get yourself a copy of the book, invite some family and friends over, turn on some Sinatra, and get cooking. Roll some meatballs, stir some sauce, and twirl some spaghetti. It'll be the nicest Sunday you've had in a long time.

Penne Rigate with Sweet Peppers and Anchovies
Makes 4 servings
Printable recipe.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
6 Rizzoli brand or best-quality imported Italian or Spanish anchovy fillets in olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 red bell peppers, trimmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into strips 1/2-inch wide
2 yellow bell peppers, trimmed, seeded, and cut lengthwise into strips 1/2-inch wide
1 pound dried penne rigate, ziti, or other short, sturdy pasta
1/2 cup freshly shredded Pecorino Sardo or Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Put the olive oil and garlic in a large frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Saute, stirring from time to time, for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the garlic is softened but not browned. Stir in the anchovy fillets and 2 tablespoons of the parsley and saute briefly until the anchovies have dissolved into the oil.

2. Raise the heat to medium and add all of the bell peppers, stirring to coat them with the oil and anchovies. When the contents of the pan begin to sizzle, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. If the sauce is done before the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta, stir to separate, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

4. Transfer the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle in half of the pecorino and the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley and toss again, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed shallow individual bowls. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and serve immediately.