The Silver Spoon Pasta book by Phaidon is a monster of a cookery book! With over 50 shapes of pasta and 360 individual recipes it’s a real tome of reference for traditional Italian pasta recipes. And just like so many of our friends, we find pasta a wonderfully delicious, yet quick and simple, option for a weekday dinner – just what you’re looking for when you don’t want to compromise on taste and quality but don’t necessarily want to spend too long cooking either!
You can see from the veritable hula skirt of post-it strips marking the recipes that stood out for me on my first “flick” through that this book should keep me busy for a while!
However, this also brings to immediate attention a key weakness of the book for me and that’s the way the recipes are grouped into chapters by pasta shape. I know that many Italians adhere quite strictly to tradition when it comes to matching pasta sauce to pasta shape but, for those of us who don’t have that mental table in our minds – by some kind of delightful national genetic memory – this ordering of recipes makes it more difficult to find and compare similar recipes. If I fancy something with a meat sauce, or maybe a pesto or perhaps something lemony or cheesy I have to either flick through the whole book or search the ingredients-based index in the back of the book.
Maybe my mistake is that I don’t decide on pasta first and look for a traditional sauce to go with it second? I don’t know about you but, I usually have a flavour, texture and even main ingredient in mind when I have a yearning for pasta! If I’m craving a ragu then a pesto just won’t do!
There’s also a fair bit of repetitiveness. All in all there are seven pesto recipes and I lost count of the mushroom ones… which meant flicking back and forth to compare them all and trying to pin down which one to cook.
Still. Putting these little gripes aside, there are many tempting ideas to shake us out of our pasta rut for the foreseeable future. Many of the recipes are very simple and therefore just right for a weekday night.
The recipes are succinctly written; there are two or three per page. These are interspersed with appealing full page colour photographs, though only one or two per chapter. I would prefer pictures of more of the recipes, even if this means reducing the size of the pictures to show two or even four dishes per photo page.
The first recipe we followed was the very simple sauce for spaghetti with gorgonzola and pancetta (page 60). The recipe resembles very closely a sauce we once made reasonably regularly, but hadn’t made for ages. Amounts of cream, gorgonzola cheese and bacon cubes were adjusted according to Waitrose’s nearest pack sizes and we switched the pasta from spaghetti to fusilli lunghi bucati, which is one of my favourites! Quick, simple and absolutely delicious – for us this recipe was more of a reminder about a sauce we’ve made before than an introduction to something new (which is no bad thing!)
Next up we made pennette and mozzarella gratin (page 136). Again, this reminded us of a faux macaroni cheese recipe we used to make many years ago. Instead of a white sauce the recipe uses an egg to create a kind of egg flan when baked. To be honest, we found this a bit bland, and should have trusted our instincts to either significantly increase the cooking time or pop under a hot grill to better brown the surface cheese. I think our almost-forgotten egg, cheese and sour cream version works better.
The third dish we made from the book was rigatoni with meatballs (page 147). This was a nice dish, and straightforward to make, though a little more time consuming that the other two recipes. We both enjoyed it but we’d definitely tweak it next time as the tomato sauce could do with more depth and complexity of flavours. I think it’s a great starting point for those who’ve never made their own meatball and tomato pasta sauce from scratch and it’s really not difficult at all.
Thus far we’ve only followed recipes from the first half of the book – focusing on recipes for dried pasta.
The second half of the book provides recipes for fresh pasta including making your own – though the instructions are scant, with no useful illustrations on forming some of the more complex shapes. We’ve not made our own pasta before, so I’m going to search out some more detailed instructions elsewhere before returning to this book for dough recipes and ideas on dishes featuring the pasta.
It’s a hefty compendium and, for those of you with space on your cookery book shelves, it’s a nice reference to have, if only to jolt you out of making the same old pasta sauce time and time again.
Thanks to Phaidon for the review copy of The Silver Spoon: Pasta.