The Joy of Pasta

People say that Italy has a conservative food culture and, in a way, this is true. Compared with London, Rome has few ethnic restaurants. Then again, you can afford to be a bit unadventurous when you are blessed with a cuisine as inventive and varied as that of Italy.

Who needs Thai curry for excitement when you have pasta, and all its myriad sauces? Even something as simple as pasta with red peppers comes in numberless forms. The peppers might be slow-cooked into a smooth purée for dressing linguini, or cut in robust strips with penne, garlic and parsley, or stewed Sicilian-style in a spicy syracuse sauce with aubergines and capers. As Diane Seed writes, 'Italians eat pasta every day and they are not a people amused by monotony.'

Seed is the author of one of my favourite cookbooks ever, The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces, first published in 1987, which I'm delighted to see has been reissued by Square Peg (£9.99). In my twenties I cooked from this several times a week. I'd recommend it to any new student getting to grips with cooking on a budget. Seed makes you see that with a cauliflower and a packet of rigatoni you are halfway to a frugal feast.

Her 'top one hundred' includes all the things you'd expect, such as carbonara, vongole and puttanesca, the famous 'whore's spaghetti', which Seed first heard about from two elderly priests debating the 'pros and cons' in a Neapolitan restaurant. But there are also surprises here, such as tagliarini with lemon and ham, a verdant rocket pesto, and an autumnal pumpkin sauce. Seed's concise collection ranges over 'the fresh green vegetable sauces of Puglia in the southern "heel" of Italy, the rich pork and tomato ragù of Naples, the delicate saffron and courgette-flower confection of the Abruzzi region…'

You might think 100 was enough. But there's always another way to cook pasta. For Nigella fans (I am one), the arrival of Nigellissima (Chatto & Windus, £26), her Italian collection, is a signal to get out your largest pasta pan and snuggle in for a cosy winter in the kitchen. New pasta recipes include 'yellow spaghetti', which ingeniously borrows the flavours of a risotto milanese (saffron, butter and wine, though, this being Nigella, the wine becomes marsala).

 By Bee Wilson the Telegraph 12th Oct 2012


Bee Wilson writes 'The Kitchen Thinker' food column for The Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine, for which she has been named food journalist of the year three times by the Guild of Food Writers. She also contributes book reviews to The Sunday Telegraph and other newspapers, and is the author of two books on the history of food.


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