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The Pasta Bible
By Christian Teuber, Silvio Rizzi, and Tan Lee Leng
Reviewed by Adam Hiller
On a warm January night in Baltimore, we decided to test out the cookbook The Pasta Bible, by Christian Teuber, Silvio Rizzi, and Tan Lee Leng. My wife Tammy and I hosted a many-course Italian dinner, and to round out the study, we invited several friends and family members. Those present and accounted for had various degrees of “cooking sophistication,” ranging from 5-star chef (Tammy) to . . . well, let’s just say, less. (See footnote below.)
The first notable thing about The Pasta Bible is that it nicely serves three purposes. First, it is a fine cookbook, with a selection of more than 150 recipes, including pasta and/or pasta sauces from many regions of the world (not just from one half of Italy, which seems to be a trend among pasta cookbooks). The book contains recipes for pasta soups, pasta with vegetables, pasta with seafood, pasta with stuffings, dessert pastas, and pretty much anything you can think of having to do with pasta (and then some).
Second, it is an excellent resource for generic tips on making pasta and sauces, including reasonably good step-by-step photographic instructions for making noodles from scratch and variations on sauces.
Third, measuring 9” x 12” with 233 pages of recipes and “over 1,000 specially commissioned color photographs,” The Pasta Bible makes a very nice coffee table book, as well. (Needless to say, I didn’t spend too much time counting to confirm that there were indeed at least 1,001 photographs.)
Our dinner consisted of (variations on) the following recipes:
Moroccan vegetable soup w/ vermicelli (very good)
Taste-wise, there was nothing at this meal that anyone did not particularly like. The soup was, perhaps, the most popular. It took a long time to prepare and a lot of attention. Nevertheless, the results were worth the wait. It created a mellow-flavored delight that could easily have pleased the crowd as a meal unto itself. Those of you who require sharp taste in your food (like me) will definitely need to add some sort of pepper sauce (I added about a quarter cup of a popular pepper red sauce whose name begins with a “T”).
The pasta and sauces were definitely a hit, too, although this may be in part due to the fact that we left the kitchen uncleaned during the meal so everybody could see how much work goes into making pasta. Having recently been educated in the amount of effort that goes into making a tiny little pasta noodle, I now have a new-found respect for mill-workers at a toothpick factory. Nevertheless, the instructions were clear and there is good interaction between the directions and instructional photographs. There were a couple of gaps (no recipe can be absolutely perfect), so the pasta recipes are more suitable for cooks of intermediate level or higher who are comfortable improvising. However, the critics were unanimous that the sauces were uniformly excellent. If you have them, we recommend using only non-stick pots.
The canelloni recipe turned out well, but this is attributable more to its chef than to its recipe. I am told there were serious holes, such as when to add certain ingredients. Nevertheless, for an intermediate or expert cook, this should not pose much of a problem. Again, the group was unanimous that this dish was quite fine.
The conchiglie dish looked (and certainly tasted) nothing like the recipe in the book. The person assigned to this recipe was a basic kitchen beginner and found the recipe difficult to follow. We simplified the recipe for her a bit, however, and it was still delicious–hats off! However, we should stress that the recipes in this book are not for someone without at least basic kitchen experience.
With the pappardelle recipe, the only problem we had was finding porcini mushrooms. Even the more upscale gourmet grocers in the Baltimore area did not carry this type of mushroom in January, so we used ordinary mushrooms instead. This no doubt changed the entire nature of the dish but we didn’t get any complaints! The recipe for this dish was easy to follow and yielded excellent results even with normal ‘shrooms.
We should point out that the pasta section of the book is probably the most comprehensive and extends far beyond the culinary culture of Italy. Although we did not explore this in greater detail (recognizing that our kitchen capacity could not accommodate more), there are extensive descriptions, from the Japanese soba noodle to the German spatzle.
For the intermediate (or higher) chef looking to expand your horizons
in Italian techniques and ethnic dishes, we strongly recommend The Pasta
Bible as a resource and general use cookbook. For the beginning
chef, we strongly recommend The Pasta Bible as a basic resource
for general hints and archive of some recipes, but with the admonition
not to bite off more than you can chew. For all, The Pasta Bible
also makes an attractive adornment to any coffee table.
The “footnote below”: To give the reader some idea of the
level of sophistication of our critics for this meal, concurrently with
our testing of this cookbook we held a cheese and olive-oil tasting.
The eight participants sampled 10 unidentified varieties of cheeses and
5 varieties of olive oil. Our shining star sampler (a visitor from
the U.K.go figure) was able to identify, with reasonable particularity,
approximately 7 of the 10 cheeses. However, two others, our red dwarves,
were not suspicious when, among the fine camembert and parmigiano reggiano,
they were handed a sample of longhorn cheddar and a sample of a “popular
processed artificial cheese food product whose name starts with a ‘V’.”
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