Pasta, a new encyclopaedic and heartfelt cookbook, has raised the bar for how wheat, water, and quanto basta appear on the written page. “These are actual cookbook goals,” I recently texted a Los Angeles chef friend who is working on his own cookbook after posting a few pages from the book on Instagram, which included a beautiful image of a bull and calf on a lonely road in Umbria. He wanted to know if the book was any good. He should slam his chosen book-buying link because he, as a Franny’s and Momofuku alum, would learn some serious moves from the material. Pasta, years and bowls of rigatoni al diavolo in the making from chef Missy Robbins and novelist Talia Baiocchi.
This is a book on complex pasta expertise as well as less-complicated saucing and taste balance, and it unfolds in a series of well-articulated acts. The first half of the course covers pasta cutting, stuffing, shape, and cooking, as well as the differences between cannelloni, cappelletti, corzetti, and casarecce. (Prepare your flash cards.) The second half of the book, peppered with stunning in-situ photography by Stephan Alessi, brings together Robbins and Baiocchi’s months of research driving around the boot, as well as Robbins’ years of professional apprenticeship in Emilia-Romagna and Friuli, as well as working at the legendary Spiaggia in Chicago, before running A Voce in New York for half a decade.
There are regional dishes for tortellini in brodo and gnudi alla fiorentina, as well as modern favourites you might have seen at Robbins’ two ghost-pepper-hot Brooklyn eateries, Lilia and Misi. Robbins discusses her approach for perfect pasta in our recent interview—and why you should never rinse your pasta. Never, ever, ever, ever.
I think the regional meals were the most enjoyable to work on because I created the majority of the recipes for the book and they weren’t necessarily things that were in the restaurant or that I’d done before. I mean, I’d cooked certain stuff previously, but I didn’t have proper recipes. I literally just shared a picture of the agnolotti dal plin, and I’m not a big lover of filled-meat pasta. “You can’t have a pasta book that covers the north and not include agnolotti dal plin,” I said. That is not a possibility. It was the regional meals that really had me thinking about how to pay homage to these delicacies while still respecting the dish’s culture.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Italy photos by Stephan Alessi. Food photos by Kelly Puleio.
TWO EXCITING PASTA RECIPES
Pasta alla Puttanesca
“Puttanesca is the flavour of Naples, a real assault of pungency and salt that is as outspoken and frenzied as the city itself.”
Colatura, Garlic, and Bread Crumbs Spaghetti
“Spaghetti with la colatura di alici, which is essentially aglio e olio with a high dose of colatura, can be found all along the coast of Campania.” It’s similar to pasta alle vongole but without the clams and twice the brine. This is a close replica.”