Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

torta pastiera

This recipe is inspired by my friend Maria Hedley, who originates from Sorrento and has made torta pastiera for me on many occasions. Last Easter (the traditional time for eating it), at her place in Dorset, we had had a magnificent Neapolitan lunch of cannelloni and needed a long walk to burn off the carbs. We walked for miles and miles along the stunning coastline, and throughout the walk we had the happy thought that we still had the torta pastiera to return to. Long strides of anticipation carried us back to Maria’s, where she made a pot of hot coffee, gave us each a small glass of cold, homemade orange liqueur (much like limoncello but with orange) and a slice of her torta… Heaven. As a tip: the great thing about this cake is that it tastes even better after a couple of days. 

Serves 8  

For the pastry
250g (9oz) tipo OO flour
100g (3½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar, plus extra for dusting
pinch of sea salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon runny honey
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

For the filling
150g (5½oz) grano cotto (or, pre-boil some risotto rice in water for 15 minutes until al dente; drain and cool)
350ml (12fl oz) whole milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
400g (14oz) sheep’s ricotta
75g (2½oz) candied orange and lemon peel, chopped
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional)

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and add the butter, icing (confectioner’s) sugar and salt. Run your hands under the cold tap for a minute to make sure they are really cold, then dry them and, using your fingertips, work everything together until the mixture is almost like breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, along with the milk, honey and lemon and orange zests. Mix well to combine, bringing the dough together into a smooth ball. Flatten the ball into a disc about 2cm (¾in) thick with the palm of your hand. Wrap the disc in cling film (plastic wrap) and leave it in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/325°F/Gas 3.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the rice in a large saucepan with the milk and lemon zest. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, then pour the mixture out over a large, clean baking tray to cool down.

In a large bowl, ideally with an electric hand whisk, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks with the caster (superfine) sugar until pale in colour. In another bowl, again using the electric hand whisk if you have one, whisk the ricotta for about 4 minutes so it is light and fluffy. Fold the ricotta into the beaten eggs. Add the cold cooked rice mixture, candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla seeds and orange blossom water (if using). Gently fold everything together so all the ingredients are well combined. Leave to one side.

Dust your work surface with icing (confectioner’s) sugar and remove the pastry from the fridge. Roll out the pastry to a disc about 5mm (¼in) thick, then transfer the disc to a loose-bottomed cake tin and press the pastry into the tin, leaving an overhang. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry and shape these trimmings into a ball. Roll out the ball of trimmings to a rectangle about 5mm (¼in) thick and, using a pasta ravioli cutter, cut strips from the rectangle of dough. Leave to one side.

Pour the filling mixture into the raw pastry case, then cover it with the strips of pastry and trim any overhang (see photograph). Bake the torta for 80 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the torta in the tin to a wire rack and leave it to cool completely. You can eat it on the day you bake it, but Italians tend to eat it at least one day after baking, as the flavour just gets better. Dust with icing (confectioner’s) sugar before serving.

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Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall

20220110_TheoPantry_Prosciutto_Di_Parma_035

I first had a leek pasta dish at a restaurant called Da Cesare in Monforte D’Alba back in the mid-90s. It was probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The fresh pappardelle was almost orange in colour as it had so much egg yolk in the dough. The leeks had been very slowly cooked and were so sweet in flavour – a great example of how a single ingredient cooked carefully can turn into something amazing.

In this recipe I have used paccheri pasta, which is lovely as the sauce gets stuck inside the tubes. I think it has the best texture of all dried pastas. The addition of cream brings out the salty prosciutto di Parma flavour. If you prefer, you can use butter. 

Serves 4 

6 slices of prosciutto di Parma, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, cut into 1cm (½in) pieces and thoroughly washed
100ml (3½fl oz) double (heavy) cream 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
500g (1lb 2oz) dried paccheri
100g (3½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced prosciutto di Parma and cook it for a couple of minutes until crispy, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Add the olive oil to the frying pan, then add the leeks, and cook them for 20 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. When the leeks are soft and sticky, add the cream, parsley, garlic and crispy prosciutto. Stir and keep everything over a low heat while you cook the paccheri.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the paccheri one piece at a time so that the pasta doesn’t stick together. Stir well (paccheri is a heavy pasta so can stick to the bottom of the pan if you’re not careful) and cook the pasta for 3 minutes less than the packet suggests. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water and add it to the frying pan. Add 2 ladlefuls of pasta cooking water to the sauce and cook the pasta and sauce together for a further 2 minutes, stirring all the time.

Sprinkle in the parmesan and toss the pasta so the sauce emulsifies and coats the tubes. Add a little more pasta water if you need to. Serve in warmed bowls with extra parmesan and black pepper sprinkled on top.

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Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

20220215_TheoPantry_Aubergine_Lasagne_053

My mother used to make the most delicious lasagne – I used to get so excited when I knew it was coming. She was brilliant at making the béchamel sauce – it was always perfectly creamy but never thick and floury. The trick to this was to cook it very slowly and use equal quantities of flour and butter.

This is a vegetable lasagne, but it has as much flavour as the traditional meaty offering because you roast the aubergines (eggplant) first. Try to use egg-based lasagne sheets as they tend to have more flavour and are not as brittle when you cook them (or, better still, make your own sheets of pasta).

Serves 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) courgettes (zucchini), cut into 1cm (½in) rounds
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) tomato passata
8 basil leaves, roughly torn
3 aubergines (eggplants), sliced into 2cm (¾in) rounds
300g (10½oz) egg-based dried lasagne
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the béchamel
75g (2½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
500ml (17fl oz) whole milk, warmed to just below boiling point
150g (5½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, courgettes (zucchini) and a good seasoning of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the onion and courgettes are soft. 

Heat another tablespoon of the olive oil in a separate saucepan, then add the garlic. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the passata and cook the mixture gently for 20 minutes, until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper, then stir through the basil.

Brush both sides of the aubergine (eggplant) slices with olive oil and season them with salt. Place the aubergines in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake them for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake them for a further 15 minutes. Remove the slices from the oven and, when they are cool enough to handle, cut them into halfmoons. Set them aside and leave the oven on.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and cook it out for a couple of minutes, stirring to combine. Next, add the hot milk and stir continuously to avoid any lumps forming. Cook the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring all the while, until smooth and thickened, then mix in the parmesan and check the seasoning. Leave to one side.

Mix the aubergines, courgettes, onions and tomato sauce together in a large bowl and check that everything is seasoned well. 

Use the remaining olive oil to oil a baking dish, then place a layer of lasagne sheets in the base of the dish. Add one-third of the vegetable mixture in an even layer, then top this with one-quarter of the béchamel sauce. Repeat this twice more, then finish with a layer of lasagne sheets and a final layer of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with some more parmesan, then bake the lasagne for 35 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the top is golden. Serve with a little extra grated parmesan on top, if you like.

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The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

The Italian Pantry Theo Randall

It’s always a delight to get a new book by Theo Randall. Head chef and proprietor of his eponymous restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane since 2006, and before that, famously head chef of The River Cafe, Randall knows his way around an Italian recipe. His fourth collection is dedicated to his late mother and is inspired by her pantry that was stocked with produce from vineyards and markets collected on family holiday camping trips to Italy. 

The book is divided into ten chapters, each themed around what Randall considers ‘essential Italian ingredients’ including tomatoes, polenta, parmesan, pine nuts, porcini and ricotta, as well as things that are less instantly recognisable as Italian such as breadcrumbs, lemons and leafy greens. All however are used to fine effect in delicious sounding dishes you’ll want to cook and eat. The book errs on the side of comfort food with warming oven baked dishes including aubergine and courgette lasagne and slow cooked chicken thighs with porcini mushrooms and marsala but there are lighter options too including a quinoa and charred vegetable salad. 

Whether writing about familiar dishes like pork shoulder cooked in milk (a version of a River Cafe classic) or some less well-known Italian specialities that he’s unearthed such as torta pastiera (a pie from Sorrento filled with grano cotto – cooked wheat –  rice, eggs and ricotta) Randall is always informative and engaging.  

In the introduction to the recipe for a simple Meyer lemon cake, he reminisces about his time working at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters in California where the thin-skinned fruit that Randall says taste like a cross between mandarin and lemon ‘grew in people’s back gardens, just like apples trees do in the UK, and are so plentiful you can barely give them away when they are in season’. It’s evocative stuff and the book is full of similarly inspirational anecdotes and musings that will have you raiding the Italian larder as enthusiastically as Randall himself.

This review was originally published in The Caterer. 

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

Cook from this book
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia by Ben Tish

Sicilia is a gastronomic tour of Sicily in recipes and essays courtesy of one of London’s top chefs.

The author is Ben Tish, chef director of the London-based Cubitt House group of upmarket gastropubs. His CV also included opening the Sicilian-Moorish influenced restaurant Norma, and the position of chef director of the acclaimed Salt Yard restaurant group, both in London. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, contributes to a number of newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on TV.

You should buy Sicilia for the tomato sauce and pasta all norma recipes alone, but also if you want to understand more about the diverse culinary heritage of Sicily. A regular visitor to the island and its satellites, Tish’s introduction takes a brief look at various aspects of the cuisine and food culture, from the influences from the Moors and the Berbers to the food markets and a hidden restaurant gem,  Terra Mia on the slopes of Mount Etna. The main body of the book contained in nine chapters covers recipes for bread, fritti, pasta and rice, vegetables, fish, meat, sweets, granita and ice creams and sauces and basics.  Other must-cook recipes include bignolati (Sicilian sausage bread ring); baked conchiglioni (pasta shells) with pumpkin and rosemary; grilled quid with peas, mint, tomato and sweet vinegar; stuffed and braised lamb’s hearts with broad beans and lemon, and iris (chocolate and ricotta-filled doughnuts), among many others.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Sicilia by Ben Tish
£26, Absolute

A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens Sophie Grigson

A Curious Absence of Chickens is ‘a journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, renowned British food writer Sophie Grigson made the life-changing decision to relocate permanently from her home in Oxford to the small town of Candela in Puglia in southern Italy. In 10 chapters, the book covers a period of just over a year from June 2019 to Autumn 2020 and explores the culture, history and geography of the region all through the prism of food, documented in short essays and recipes.  And that title? Grigson says you won’t find chicken on a restaurant menu in Puglia which she attributes to the fact that, traditionally in the region ‘a laying chicken was just too precious to kill off’.

The author is Sophie Grigson (daughter of legendary food writer Jane Grigson) who has written more than 20 books and has presented nine TV series for various British broadcasters.

You should buy A Curious Absence of Chickens for the carefully collated and curated collection of mostly traditional Puglian recipes (none of which are pictures, the only illustrations in the book are Kavel Rafferty’s charming drawings) including polpette di carne (meatballs);  bombette (thinly sliced pork shoulder rolled with pancetta, parsley and cheese; ciambotto (fish stew with squid, chillies and tomatoes) and ciceri e tria (a dish from Salento in the south of Puglia of  chickpeas cooked with cherry tomatoes and pasta and topped with fried pasta strips).

Although the book stems from a personal life choice, don’t expect Grigson to give too much away about herself in the book, which is more a journalist exploration of the regions food culture (and an excellent one at that) than traditional memoir.  

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
A Curious Absence of Chickens by Sophie Grigson
£20, Headline Home

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is a food-centric memoir with recipes.

The author is Stanley Tucci, the much loved American actor, writer, film producer and director, most noted for his performances in The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games. However, foodies will know him best for the films Big Night and Julie and Julia and his excellent food and travel TV series Searching for Italy. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.  

You should buy Taste: My Life Through Food first and foremost if you are a fan of Tucci. The handful of recipes are for very familiar Italian dishes such as pasta alla Norma or are so simple, like a tomato salad or lamb chops, as to hardly warrant a recipe at all. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

However, you do get the recipe for Timpano, the spectacular centrepiece dish featured in Big Night that Tucci describes as ‘a baked drum of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragu, salami, various cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and meatballs’. There’s also some of Tucci’s favourite cocktails (including his now notorious shaken not stirred negroni), his wife’s recipe for roast potatoes and American BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang’s chimichurri sauce among other things.

But Tucci is an engaging writer and you will have fun discovering his childhood in upstate New York (as well as a year in Florence), his time working as a nineteen year old bar man in Alfredo’s restaurant in Manhattan and anecdotes from his life in the movie business.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
£20, Fig Tree

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Spring lamb ragu with anchovies and pea shoots by Colu Henry

SpringLambRagu_p143a_ColuCooks
I originally made this dish for an intimate Buona Pasqua dinner. Intimate meaning for myself and Chad. Usually for Easter, we get together with Jenn, Steve, and their daughter Brynn and grill some cut of lamb over open fire, but that particular year was very different due to sheltering in place. Determined not to let it dampen my spirits, I made Chad drive all over town in hunt of forsythia to cut down, to bring some spring into the house and make our dinner feel celebratory—crankily (him) and sadly (me), we came home empty handed. Moments later and completely unprompted, Jenn texted to ask if we’d like some forsythia from her yard and I couldn’t believe my luck. Her husband Steve arrived on our porch an hour later, arms full of branches. I quickly put them in water in a big vase on the dining room table and Chad and I sat down to a late-afternoon spring supper of thick egg noodles tossed with lamb, the season’s first pea shoots, and lots of butter and herbs. Celebrate we did.

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed, rinsed of grit, then thinly sliced (about 1½ cups/125 g) or 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 oil-packed anchovies
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound (455 g) ground lamb
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (120 ml) white wine
1½ to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) chicken stock
12 ounces (340 g) pappardelle or tagliatelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces (85 g) pea shoots, arugula, or other baby greens
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon), plus lemon juice for finishing
½ cup (25 g) loosely packed fresh herbs, such as flatleaf parsley leaves, mint leaves, and snipped chives
Freshly grated pecorino, for serving

SERVES 4
TIME 35 minutes

METHOD
Heat the olive oil in a deep-sided 12-inch (30.5 cm) skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and cook until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt. Stir in the garlic, anchovies, rosemary, and tomato paste and cook until the anchovies have melted and the tomato paste has toasted slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, pressing the meat firmly into the bottom of the pan until it begins to crisp up and stirring until it is browned through, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 minutes or so. Pour in 1½ cups (360 ml) of the chicken stock and allow the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally, while you make the pasta. If it looks like it’s drying out, stir in the remaining ½ cup (60 ml) stock.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, just shy of al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet with the lamb along with the butter and pea shoots. Toss together, adding in a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water if needed, until the pasta is glossy with sauce, the pea shoots have wilted, and the butter has melted. Add half the herbs, the lemon zest, and a good squeeze of lemon juice and toss again. Plate in bowls and top with the remaining herbs.

Serve with some grated cheese.

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£25, Abrams Books

Read the review
Coming soon

Let’s Eat Italy by François-Régis Gaudry and Friends

Lets Eat Italy
What’s the USP? A deep dive on Italian food culture in an ‘oversized, obsessively complete, visual feast of a book’. And the marketing folk at publisher Artisan really do mean over-sized. This is the sort of coffee table book that might be better suited to artful placement on a picnic bench. Never mind doorstop tomes, this book is the size of an actual door. You get the idea: woe betide anyone looking to fit this onto an Ikea bookshelf.

Who wrote it? Credited to ‘François-Régis Gaudry and friends’, this is a collaborative effort from the team behind 2018’s similarly massive Let’s Eat France. A popular restaurant critic across the Channel, Gaudry has compiled a team that includes well over seventy contributors, including pieces by regulars from his radio show On va deguster.

Is it good bedtime reading? In so many ways, Let’s Eat Italy is perfect bedtime reading – each section offers a stand-alone deep dive into a single facet of Italian cooking. They are beautifully designed, as indebted to a Wes Andersonian sense of style as they are Italy’s own innate relationship with design. It makes for a book that one can pore over, page by page, or simply dip into as they like.

There are in-depth looks at different ingredients, from a ‘Spotlight on Capers’ to sumptuous photographic spreads on artichokes, Italian citrus fruits, tomatoes and more. Perhaps you are more interested in exploring the terroir of the nation’s cuisine, exploring the impact Venice’s lagoon has on its food. There are, of course, plenty of recipes too – regional specialties uncovered and offered up for home cooks to discover on their own turf.

All told, it’s rare to open Let’s Eat Italy and not find yourself at least briefly enamoured by its contents. Amongst the three hundred or so topics there are remarkably few duds – an occasional look at Italian food in American pop culture sheds no new light, but elsewhere even those sections without any immediate obvious use (charts of native cattle breeds) or beautiful enough to distract the reader for a moment.

The only real problem, then, is the sheer size of it, which simultaneously renders it readable only on a large table, or propped up on one’s knees whilst sitting on the sofa. But equally with the design so lovingly attended to, it’d be a crime to print it any smaller than it already is.

How good is it as a cookbook? Oh, absolutely useless. The recipes are tempting, sure – but who has room on their counter for a cookbook the size of a tabloid newspaper? I have enough difficulty sourcing real estate for the toaster. Recipes also tend to form only a small percentage of the page they are on, with the vibrant photography and elaborate histories of each dish taking priority to Gaudry and his pals. Better, then, to explore the dishes that tempt you most and then seek them out elsewhere – a decent Italian cookbook like Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy or, more recently, Rachel Roddy’s A to Z of Pasta will cover most of the bases here.

Should I buy it? Let’s Eat Italy is surplus to almost any cook’s actual needs – but then, that’s also true of all the best cookbooks. This is a luxury, to be treasured and perhaps even revered a little. The sort of book that sits in a home like an alternative religious text – an illustrated Bible of Italian food culture that will have as many devotees as it does naysayers. But here’s the kicker: the real Bible doesn’t have a three page illustrated spread dedicated to salumi.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks, and hungry folk who have no intention of cooking but do fancy lusting over authentic local specialties.
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Let’s Eat Italy!: Everything You Want to Know About Your Favorite Cuisine
£45, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

An A-Z of Pasta by Rachel Roddy

An A-Z of Pasta Rachel Roddy
What’s the USP? A very satisfying premise indeed, and more or less what it says on the box: An A-Z of Pasta takes readers through the pasta world via an alphabetical exploration of pasta shapes.

Not all pasta shapes, though – depending on who you speak to, there are anywhere between 350 and 600 varieties out there, and that’s a bit much even those of us who can shovel away pasta like our bodies have mistaken gluten for oxygen. So instead we have an A-Z of (50 shapes of) Pasta, and that’ll do for now.

Who wrote it? Rachel Roddy, who is fast making her name as one of the finer food writers out there. Roddy moved to Rome in 2005 and has been writing about her experiences with food ever since – from blogs to Guardian columns to cookbooks. Five Quarters, her first book, won a couple of awards. She could well be on track for some more with this, her third.

Is it good bedtime reading? Here’s the thing: An A-Z of Pasta is more or less the perfect cookbook. I’m going to get that out of the way now so that we can just sit back and enjoy the rest of this review without anybody stressing about anything. It’s a bloody brilliant book filled with bloody brilliant recipes and it makes for such good bedtime reading I’m half tempted to put up a food-writing shelf in my bedroom specifically for those times when I’m sleepy and I want to think about tomorrow’s dinner. Besides Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus and perhaps Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat I cannot think of a cookbook that reads more satisfyingly than this.

Roddy’s smartest trick here has been fitting a narrative around the pasta shapes she describes. Whilst the alphabetised form of the book allows for readers to readily dip in and out, to find the recipes they want for the shapes they desire, the reward for those who start at the beginning and work their way through all the way from A-Z is a full and rich understanding not just of the making and cooking of pasta, but also the fascinating culture that surrounds it.

We are introduced in turn to the six categories of pasta shapes, from the tiny pastine that are cooked and served in broth, to the strascinati that are formed by being dragged along a surface. Pastas we have already visited are called upon to help explain those we are yet to discover, and history unfurls and repeats itself in different forms and different regions and, most importantly, different delicious dishes.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? One of the best things about pasta is that it is an incredibly simple dish to create – or better still on a Wednesday night, to buy in. Roddy is very aware of this, and it’s to her credit that a book filled with such love that her reverence never gets in the way of simplicity. There is no judgement to be found for those who prefer to buy dried pasta over making their own – no silly gate-keeping over what is and is not allowed in the world of pasta. Break your spaghetti in half if you find it easier, goddammit.

The recipes themselves echo this simplicity. Measurements and instructions are clear, with timings a little more forgiving to take into account the varying needs of different pasta types.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Even post-Brexit Italian food is European food is British food, and the overwhelming majority of ingredients are easily sourced from your local supermarket or even the cornershop over the road in many cases. Occasionally a more traditional Italian ingredient will pop up – guanciale makes a few appearances – but Roddy offers simple and accessible alternatives in these cases.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you eat pasta? For me the answer to both these questions looks to be set for the foreseeable future as ‘two to three times a week’. We love pasta in the UK. As one of the quickest and most satisfying midweek dinner options we let it fill our diets, and I can’t be the only person who looks at his meal plans for the week and thinks ‘right, maybe not quite so much pasta, though’.

The biggest problem with pasta, in fact, is that it’s so easy to turn into a meal that we tend to fall into repetitive patterns, or allow ourselves to be satisfied with a jar of Dolmio dumped over some penne and a few cut up sausages. Which is silly, really, because so many fantastic and flavoursome dishes can be knocked together in more or less as much time as it takes for the pasta to boil.

An A-Z of Pasta is the perfect solution to this. There are quick and delicious dishes to suit every season here, from the cosy alfabeto Chicken Broth that will see us through the long winter ahead to Fresh Capelli d’Angelo with Prawns and Lemon that’ll take less than five minutes to cook and offer a bright burst of flavour on a summer’s day.

Killer recipes: All of it. Damn near every single thing. I cooked the Bucatini all’Amatriciana for my visiting parents and I think they finally believe that I, their married 33 year-old son, will be able to survive in the world. There’s a Fregula with clams or arselle that looks so good I’m convinced you could make a living by starting a restaurant and serving nothing else. The Tagliolini with chanterelles and datterini tomatoes would guarantee a marriage proposal on a second date, and the Pappardelle with duck is enough to have you call the wedding off just so you never have to share your food again.

It’s impossible to narrow down the best dishes here, simply because there is so much variety, and so much temptation that your favourites might vary from day to day, and mood to mood. Today the ultimate comfort food that is roast chicken served atop orzo that has been cooked in its juices, tomorrow the lightness of farfalle served with smoked salmon and mascarpone.

Should I buy it? It’s very rare that a cookbook offers such universally loveable dishes that it can, without hesitation, be suggested to one and all. And… well, this isn’t an exception. Look, if you have problems with gluten, An A-Z of Pasta is not going to be a big priority for you. But for everyone else, this book is a solution to a thousand different questions. What can I have for dinner if I want to be eating in twenty minutes time? What can I serve guests at my dinner party that looks and tastes impressive, but won’t cause me to have a nervous breakdown whilst I prepare it? What can I ask for this Christmas whilst simultaneously gifting to every single family member I’ve ever seen consume even a single strand of spaghetti? Here you go. Your answer is here.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
An A-Z of Pasta: Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes
£25, Fig Tree

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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