Pasta Veloce: Irresistibly Fast Recipes from Under the Tuscan Sun
“This lush book is beautiful to look at but also very easy to use.”
Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes’ memoir about restoring an abandoned 300-year-old villa in Cortona, Italy, hit the New York Times bestseller list when first published in 1996 where it would remain for more than two years and ultimately be made into a movie starring Diane Ladd. At the time, Mayes was director of The Poetry Center, and Chair of the Department of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and her lyrical style of writing was so charming and evocative that it lead to a slew of other memoirs of the same ilk including Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, another bestseller.
It also was said to have brought millions of tourists to the region. Though it was a memoir, Mayes included recipes throughout the book that she and her husband Ed, another poet and writer, learned to make.
Now Mayes takes us back to Italy with her cookbook Pasta Veloce: Irresistibly Fast Recipes from Under the Tuscan Sun written with food editor Susan Wyler, in the same poetic and entrancing way.
Years of cooking with Tuscans made Mayes an admirer of their intrinsic instinct for spontaneity and ability to improvise when cooking quick delicious dinners. And whether it’s simple or elaborate, Mayes describes pasta as the most versatile food on earth.
“Pasta’s cardinal virtue? Many tasty dinners can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the water, throw in the salt and cook the pasta to pleasing perfection,” she writes in her introduction to the book. “Butta la pasta! That’s the cry often heard in Italian kitchens. Throw in the pasta; time to eat!”
Veloce means fast in Italian and all the dishes in this book were created to be ready to serve in 30 minutes or less. But though they may be simple and quick, there’s nothing boring or pedestrian about the recipes. Some are simply elegant as their accompanying photos attest such as Tagliatelle with Truffles, Butter, and Cream, a three-step recipe with only six ingredients, and Glittering Angel Hair with Golden Caviar—three steps and nine ingredients.
The authors encourage home chefs to go beyond the pastas most of us typically use over and over by providing a chart showing the names, shapes, and descriptions and uses of 40 different lesser known types. Among those are sedanini which translates as little celery stalk, a ridged tube that pairs perfectly with light vegetable sauces, torchietti (small torches), similar to the better known fusilli, is for when you want a pasta with lots of surfaces to adhere to, and “paccheri” (packages) are big, hollow tubular pasta for catching the heartiest of sauces.
Using what was in season or easily at hand, the Tuscans who taught Mayes showed her how to make pasta dishes with common ingredients we might never think of when making pasta at home—think raisins, cauliflower, charred carrots, green beans, lime, butternut squash, cannellini beans, breadcrumbs, potatoes, and walnuts.
Indeed, it was a lemon and pistachio pasta that was the inspiration for writing Pasta Veloce.
“This book was conceived one night over a rich and irresistible lemon and pistachio linguine served by my coauthor Susan at her house,” writes Mayes in the book’s introduction. “We marveled over how simple it is to make, despite such a luxurious effect. Everyone at the table asked Susan for the recipe. Before we poured the last drop of wine, we’d decided to write this book.”
The recipe is on page 79 and like the authors do in all the intros to each recipe they add tips. For this, because of the richness of the sauce, they recommend serving it as a first course; their Penne with Vodka Sauce (three steps of instructions and six ingredients) can be dressed up—though it’s not necessary—with peas, strips of prosciutto, sauteed prosciutto, or mushrooms.
This lush book is beautiful to look at but also very easy to use.