Confidence. That is what it takes to produce a cookbook in monochrome with illustrations and no photography. Very few people can pull it off (Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson springs to mind) so it is a brave publisher who puts out a book like this. But Pavilion are onto what is surely a safe bet, for this is an update of the absolute classic Portrait of Pasta by Anna first published way back in 1976 when macaroni cheese from a Heinz Tin and a watery Spag Bol was the height of Italian cuisine in most homes. Nigella Lawson has stated that Anna’s book changed the way the English thought about Italian cooking, some praise indeed.
The book has been fully updated and revised and comprises 120 recipes with a fascinating history of pasta. In fact the book is worth it alone for the history which dates back for centuries. In the text you will discover that in 1914 the USA imported 77m lbs of pasta from Italy. This is pretty incredible if you consider it is essentially made from flour and water and could surely have been made in America.
Rather interestingly Del Conta provides us with the knowledge that in Italy 26kg of pasta is eaten every year per capita, in the UK this drops to an astonishing 2.5kg, less than 10% of the Italians. This will no doubt challenge your perception and make you query why. Is Spag Bol not a weekly staple in households with kids, what about lasagne or macaroni? I would be very interested to know what are consumption of Pizza is and if the UK as a whole has increased its intake at the detriment of pasta? As Del Conta points out, pasta is inexpensive and filling so this comes as a great surprise.
To provide some idea to the depth of information contained in the book about the history of pasta, the various types, how to make an cook it along with a myriad of of other useful information, the recipes do not begin until you reach page 70. This book does not gloss over the fundamentals at all.
Some cook books are obvious but this is far from it. Recipes I have highlighted to try include:-
Penne with roast pork juices and anchovy sauce
Tagliolini with sweetbreads and ham
Conchigliette with Gorgonzola, pistachios and brandy
Baked pasta, chicken and chicken livers in a mushroom sauce.
Reading through the recipes it is hard not to salivate and be inspired. On reflection and analysing the consumption of pasta in my house I have to admit it is relatively low. It is certainly more than 2.5kgs* but still rather dismal. This book will now serve as inspiration to me to increase my repertoire of pasta dishes and experiment more. I can think of to better person to guide me through the cornucopia of pasta dishes then Del Conte, for she is the Milanese God Mother of cook books and the authority. Nigella Lawson describes her as “the best writer on Italian food there is” and that every single cook should have at least one copy of her book.
I have calculated that 2.5kg equates to just 6.8gm of pasta per day. A standard portion weights 75g so this mean the average person eats pasta once every 11 days. Lets all buy this book, be inspired and cook more pasta!