Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Cookbook Reviews: Thirty Minute Pasta, and Baking Kids Love

October 5th, 2009 · No Comments


Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes, by Guiliano Hazan

Guiliano Hazan comes from good stock: his famous mother, Marcella, taught Americans to cook Italian, and he’s run with the mantle. He’s known to viewers of the Today show, and well known among cooking students as the recipient of the 2007 IACP award for  Cooking Teacher of the Year. His school is in Verona, Italy

In his new book, Hazan teaches cooks that long hours over a stove or prepping ingredients aren’t always the way to coax flavor from foods, nor put company-worthy dinner on the table.

Organization, a good pantry and simple combinations of foods full of flavor are key.

Do you cook pasta properly?

I appreciate the notes and tips that good authors include – things they don’t assume that everyone knows. Hazan starts with a very basic instruction page on How to Cook Pasta, with five simple steps I’ve paraphrased here:

  1. Use a lot of water (apparently, the most common mistake). Six quarts to a pound of pasta is about right.
  2. Salt the water — but not until it comes to a full boil – and use more than you think needed so the pasta won’t be bland. Hazan recommends two tablespoons per six quarts.
  3. Boil, uncovered, until al dente — not crunchy in the middle, but not soggy, either. Chewy, if you will. The only way to figure it out is to taste it when you think it’s about right, since cooking instructions vary too widely to depend on package instructions.
  4. Don’t add oil. Stir while cooking a few times and keep it at a rolling boil. It won’t stick as long as you’ve got enough water.
  5. Drain the pasta – but do not rinse! Rinsing removes the starch that allows the sauce to properly cling to the pasta. Tosso the pasta immediately with its sauce and serve at once.

Shapes plus sauces mix and match – carefully

pastashapesAlong with a few soup recipes (the egg drop with zucchini, Amalfi style is tasty), the book is focused on pasta and pairing the dozens of shapes with the right sauce. That, too, isn’t something many get right. The shape of a noodle dictates which, and how much of a sauce will stick to it — thus, in the front of the book, Hazan also describes the two kinds: flour and water, and egg pastas. He then covers the many shapes, and lists their “ideal pairings” — the sauces he’s provided that match up.

A pantry list is also given, and though fairly short, Hazan stresses quality, even in convenience foods. The one ingredient that was a surprise was his use of a bouillon cube rather than canned broth. He explains it only as a preference and says that he thins it down with a great deal of water to “approximate Italian broth.”

Unusal combos

Some of the dishes he’s put together for this book have interesting flavor profiles, such as fusilli with zucchini and mint, or the most unusual, spaghetti with melon (in this case, cantaloupe). Hazan references a meal he had as a child in Venice that his mother picked up and began cooking at home. He now surprises guests with it. (Recipe below).

A linguine with crab and arugula is upscle enough to serve to guests — it’s another one from the Amalfi coast. He makes a version of a dish I have made with different noodles — Tagliatelle with chickpeas. Fresh tomatoes, olive oil and garlic with onion are all that’s needed other than canned beans — it’s a simple, hearty dish that, with a salad and bread, makes a terrific quick meal. For traditionalists, there are spaghetti carbonara, or a fettucine Alfredo, or tagliatelle with a simple meat sauce.

The book’s filled with enticing color photos and if I have any complaint it’s the typeface – it’s a little small for glancing over at while sitting on the counter next to me as I worked.

Spaghetti with melon

  • 1 3-pound canteloupe
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti (or linguine)
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water; place over high heat and bring to a boil.

Cut away the rind of the melon down to the orange flesh. Cut the melon in half; discard the seds, and cut the melon into 1/2-inch dice. Put the butter in a 12-inch skillet and place over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted completely, add the melon and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the melon begins to break down and most of the liquid it releases has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, add the spaghetti and stir until all the strands are submerged. Cook until al dente.

Add the tomato paste and lemon juice to the melon and stir well. Add the cream and cook until the sauce thickens and reduces by about a third, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

(From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes, September 2009, Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Hardcover, 176 pages; $27.50.)

*     *     *


Baking Kids Loveby Cindy Mushet and Sur La Table

The kitchen is one heck of a great classroom — and with all the interest in cooking and baking, kids take to it a lot easier and with much more enthusiasm than adults might think.

This cookbook, subtitled “Reconnecting Families, One Treat at a Time,” at first glance seems advanced — some adults I know still couldn’t get it. But a precocious 10- to 14-year-old is going to get a great deal out it — not just confidence (cooking is a great confidence-builder in everyone), but learning math and measurements, some physical science and not a few art skills.

Kid tested and approved

baking-kids-kidsThe author used her 11-year-old daughter as the tester, so she was able to include recipes that kids actually will eat – though which few don’t like sweets?

There are kid-cute names for recipes, like Rattling Bones and Fingers, Johnny Appleseed Crumble, and Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake.  Recipes run the gamut of baking from sweet cakes and cupcakes and cinnamon buns, to Gotcha Focaccia and Monkey Bread. (A master mix dough for the cinnamon buns makes pretzels and a pizza crust, among others.)

There are a number of tips and notes attributed to Bella that we surmise had an adult editor helping with, but they’re solid tips no matter who’s giving or receiving them.

The book is smart enough for adults, however: there are recipes that are going into my repertoire – a pumpkin gingerbread Bundt cake, and a Nutella chocolate tart.

Reading skills, not to mention techniques (whipping egg whites to just-soft peaks while beating in sugar) are definitely for an older child – and supervision is key to safety when hot ovens, hot stoves and melted chocolate is around.

Easy for some, inspiring for all

But a few recipes —  peanut butter cookies for one — are simple enough for younger kids if they can read, or their parent can read to them.

Tips in the front of the book, and technique explanations, are smart and have some illustrative photos to help visualize the process. The recipes are lengthy, but steps are numbered clearly and each has a photo of the finished product.

More than anything, it’s inspiring to read – with a child. If it gets parent and child in the kitchen together, or around a table together, we’re all for it.

Pumpkin gingerbread

Pan preparation:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup unseasoned, fine, dried breadcrumbs

For the cake:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 can canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup canola or corn oil
  • 1/2cup unsulfured light molasses
  • 1/2 cup water

To finish:

  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar


  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • 10-inch Bundt pan
  • Sie3eve
  • 1 large and 1 medium bowl
  • Whisk
  • Silicone spatula
  • Toothpick
  • Oven mitts
  • Cooling rack
  • 10 to 12-inch flat serving plate or cake stand

1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter the Bundt pan or spray it with pan spray, then dust with the bread crumbs.

2. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and salt into the large bowl. Push through any lumps with your fingers.  Whisk to blend evenly.

Put the egg, sugar and pumpkin in the medium bowl and whisk until well mixed. Add the oil, molasses and water and whisk until smooth and blended.

Pour the liquid ingredients onto the dry ingredients. Whisk gently at first, and then, as the mixture blends, whisk faster until you have a smooth batter and don’t see any more dry patches.

3. Using the silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top feels firm and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Using oven mitts, transfer to the cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes. You need to turn this cake out of the pan while it is warm, but not hot.

4. Place the serving plate upside down on top of the cake. Hold the plate and pan together like a sandwich, then flip them over (together). Be sure to ask an adult for help if this is too tricky. The cake will fall out of the pan onto the plate. Lift off the pan. Serve the cake warm or cool completely.

Just before serving, place the powdered sugar in the sieve and hold it over the cake. Tap the side of the sieve gently as you move it slowly over the top, showering it evenly with sugar.

Makes a large 10-inch Bundt cake.

(From Baking Kids Love by Cindy Mushet and Sur La Table, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009. Hardcover-spiral binding, color photos, 118 pages; $20.)

Tags: Cookbooks new and old

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