When the shelf space allotted for cookbooks is small and ever-threatened by newcomers, the new entries can’t be one-trick ponies; they’ve got to be inspiring, hungry-making, hankering-inducing, practical, un-faddish keep-earners. Ideally, it can meet you where you are while nudging you forward. Eataly’s new All About Pasta: A Complete Guide with Recipes ticks that box.
A first glance might make you think otherwise. The book is designed in a photo-heavy way that recalls the Eyewitness books I read as a child, ones about gems or Ancient Egypt or First Ladies. In All About Pasta, different golden noodles—squiggles of dried fusilli, fresh nests of bigoli, chubby mezzelune—and friends (like olives, mushrooms and bottarga) float pleasingly in white space, accompanied by helpful descriptions in which one can learn about how to rinse salt-dried anchovies or that a strand of tagliatelle should be only so wide that 12,270 strands stacked together would be as tall as the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna. (One also learns that in Italy there are official designations about such things!)
On reading closer, you realize just how much you are actually learning about pasta, and about how the pasta serves as a lens for Italian geography, colloquialisms, sociocultural history—how, for example, historically wealthier regions are known for luxurious egg pastas while historically less-wealthy ones are known for durable, often-dried flour-and-water maccheroni. One of my favorite moments in the book is at the very beginning, opposite the title page: It’s a map of Italy that shows the specialty pasta of each of the 20 Italian regions—trofie in Liguria, where basil grows so plentifully that a pasta pesto can cling to is necessary; cappelletti in Emilia-Romagna, a region so stuffed with wonderful cheese that its local pasta must be, too. While nothing is unnecessarily complicated, the book presents a pasta that’s not a Hail Mary dinner but an occasion worth warming up the serving bowl for (or, rather, that it can be both).
Each recipe gives you the method for making the pasta from scratch and encourages you to do so (“Because orecchiette are relatively simple to produce at home and can be stored at length, you owe it to yourself to try making them at least once,” reads one). But there’s an unspoken nod throughout that picking up premade fresh pasta made by your local Italian deli (or, heck, a box of the dried stuff at the bodega) is a good option for when homemade is off the table. It’s here where the book earns its keep. Embrace the sauces and skip the fresh pasta instructionals (the pairings of sauces and shapes are so appealing that I know I’ll take this route often). Or stick to your usual aglio e olio two-step, swapping in fresh, hand-shaped noodles for the boxed ones. All About Pasta might be a single-subject book, but it’s hardly a single-use one.
Pizzoccheri (Buckwheat pasta with cheese and cabbage)
Buckwheat pizzoccheri from the Valtellina area are baked in a cheesy casserole that is perfect for a chilly winter evening. Look for the local red wine called “sforzato” to pair with this dish.
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
3 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup 00 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
Coarse sea salt for pasta cooking water
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 small head savoy cabbage, cored and chopped
1 small yellow onion, minced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
½ cup shaved Fontina cheese
Combine the two types of flour and shape into a well in a bowl or on a work surface. Add some water to the center of the well and begin to pull in flour from the sides of the well, adding more water as needed, until you have a crumbly dough. You will probably need between 1 and 1½ cups of water total. Knead until firm and well combined. Cover with an overturned bowl and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan and set aside. Roll the dough into a thin sheet and cut into strips about ½ inch by 3 inches.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with coarse salt, and add the potato and the cabbage. When the water returns to a boil, gradually add the pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente and potato is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion until browned. Drain pasta, potato and cabbage and transfer to the prepared pan. Pour the butter-and-onion mixture on top, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle on both types of cheese and toss to combine. Bake until the cheese has melted and the top is dotted with brown spots, about 15 minutes. Let the pasta rest for a few minutes before serving.