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Jesse Kornbluth

Jesse Kornbluth

Posted: May 4, 2010 07:35 PM

After Marcella Hazan, Does Any Italian Cookbook Matter? Yes, Patricia Wells' Simple 'Trattoria'

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I have been using Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells' book of simple French recipes, for several decades now.

So what stopped me from buying her book of Italian trattoria cooking?

Two words: Marcella Hazan.

I am addicted to Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It's clear. It produces restaurant-quality meals that take only modest effort. And "fancy" is the last thing it is.

I thought I just didn't need another Italian cookbook.

But now, fourteen years after it was first published, Trattoria: Simple and Robust Fare Inspired by the Small Family Restaurants of Italy -- a bargain at $13.59 -- is finally in the house. And, more to the point, in the kitchen. And I am chastened.

You want simple? This is it. Easy? Forget about it. Organized? Buying the book could be the last time you'll ever need to think about an Italian menu.

Why? Because the fact is, you really don't want rich and fancy. You want a meal fit for a trattoria -- an uncomplicated, modestly decorated, family-run establishment featuring traditional regional fare. You drink the house wine. You tend to order whatever special is being pushed. And you are likely to leave satisfied though not sated.

Wells begins with a large selection of antipasti, moves on to grilled vegetables and hearty soups. Then she reaches pasta. There are 17 pasta recipes -- and that's just the dried pasta. (I'm under the impression that Italians have no affection for fresh pasta; in any event, there are 15 recipes for fresh.).

There are lovely recipes for entrees. But I'm feeling in the mood for a bargain dinner that rips the torpor from my taste buds. That means spices -- garlic and red-pepper flakes. And what Wells calls "a young Italian red table wine."

PENNE ALL'ARRABBIATA

Serves 6

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 plump fresh garlic cloves, skinned and minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
sea salt
28-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes or a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
1 pound tubular pasta
1 cup flat leaf parsley, snipped with scissors

In a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat with oil. Cook over moderate heat. Remove from heat when garlic turns gold, but not brown.

If you're using whole canned tomatoes, chop them before adding to skillet. If using pureed tomatoes, just pour into skillet. Stir, then simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

In a large pot, boil 6 quarts of water. Add three tablespoons of salt and the pasta, cook until tender but firm. Drain.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet. Toss, cover, cook over low heat for 1-2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Add the snipped parsley, serve in soup bowls.

"Traditionally, cheese is not served with this dish," Wells notes. Gotcha.

Start the water and the sauce at the same time, dinner is on the table in 30 minutes, Wells advises. A very well-spent 30 minutes, say I.

Cross-posted from HeadButler.com