Examining a book on pasta can be likened to exploring a work of art. A book on pasta examines some aspects of a very large ingredient, whereas artwork examines an object for a brief moment in time. The same pasta recipe can be interpreted several different ways by various authors, as can the object in a painting by the artist. A particular pasta book may contain pleasant surprises or unexpected variations the same as a painting upon the wall. To the contrary, some pasta books may contain recipes that smack against all that is familiar and anticipated and, again, could a painting. My latest read Pasta, a Passion by the trio of Nina Dryer Hensley, Jim Hensley and Paul Lowe combines the elements of examining a culinary giant with some honest interpretation of classics and some unexpected recipes, all splashed with plenty of color.
Admittedly, taking on the gargantuan ingredient of pasta is certainly a David and Goliath task. Everybody knows how to make pasta. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pasta ranks with apple pie and pot roast as traditional fare. So the cantankerous cook opens up the sleek spiral-bound Pasta, a Passion with some hesitation. Immediately, it appears the Hensleys and Mr. Lowe are merely flirting with tradition in this account where is the endless listing of pasta types and their Italian origins? There are, of course, the requisite pictures of some various pastas, but these are no ordinary clip-art-cut-and-pastes. There are 160 pages of corner to corner and top-to-bottom plate presentations, ingredients, and everyday folk that, more than likely, share the same passion for pasta in us all. A brief introduction on fresh versus dry pastas is succinct, but adequate, and leads into a few vignettes on fresh herbs, and the recipes.
The first recipe that the author-team throws at us is Asian Noodle salad. Most unexpected, I was sure that I was in for a lesson on multi-ethnicity and embracing every single culture's influence on pasta, or vice versa. A tasty recipe, nonetheless, just not anticipated. The next recipe caused my trepidation to wane a pleasing approach to Eggplant Lasagna followed our stop on the Pacific Rim. So, as the painters brush strokes the canvas and draws us into the painting, I paged through, startled by the Hot and Sour Shrimp Pasta, but repeatedly reassured by the classic Panzanella, Linguine with mussels in white wine and the five(!) accounts of Pasta Salad. But, we do not stop there. This roller coaster of Pasta emotion-interplay is not done. We come to rest with the master recipes. The Hensley's and Mr. Lowe allay our tumult with presenting arguably, the most concise and best tasting recipes for honest-to-goodness tomato sauce, both cooked and uncooked, as well as tortellini, for those adventurous enough to endeavor into making their own. There are also notable recipes for pesto, alfredo and vegetable sauces. Some 71 recipes in all, the trio contends with Sir Pasta most honorably and with flair there is not a lot that these guys and gal have missed. Let's face it, penning a recipe book on such a topic is an ardent task. Embracing this ingredient and presenting it so well is notable. An easy book to follow and crystal clear in procedure, it is worthy of your perusal and respect it so well deserves.