Pasta Cookbook is one of Jean Childress’ Country Kitchen series, which I’ve written about previously. Like other books in the series this is a small, softbound, hand-illustrated cookbook focused on “simply delicious all-American food”. There are roughly 30 recipes, all of which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. I picked up this copy on ebay, bundled with several others in the series.
As you may have surmised from the title, this entry in the series is focused on pasta. There are a handful of pasta salads and noodle casseroles, but most of the recipes are some variant on a make-a-pasta-and-top-it-with-sauce theme. There’s a strong Italian-American undercurrent, with a lot of Italian sausage and rich tomato sauces, counterbalanced with a variety of pasta primavera variants, plus a couple of Thai and Greek recipes thrown in for good measure.
I find it hard to get excited about pasta. When I dine out I gravitate towards stuffed pastas or things like gnocchi or tagliatelle which are difficult to pull off properly at home and, truth be told, if there’s an option that’s not pasta I’ll usually go that route instead. At home we eat a lot more rice and potatoes than we do pasta. There’s a carbonara recipe in our standard meal rotation, and my spouse makes a brilliant spinach lasagna for weekend meals, but most of the time when we’re eating pasta it’s because we were too lazy to go shopping.
Fortunately, Pasta Cookbook delivers in the “too lazy to go shopping” department. There’s a brilliantly simple recipe for “Herbed Spaghetti” which is no more than cooking dried herbs and a little bit of garlic and scallions in an unholy amount of olive oil and pouring it over cooked spaghetti. Top it with a little bit of freshly ground pepper and a good quality Parmesan or Asiago and you’ve got a weeknight meal fit for casual company. The “Spaghetti Sauce” is also amazing and quick: crushed tomatoes seasoned only with garlic and anise seed, and fortified with heroic amounts of tomato paste to obviate the need for a long simmer.
There are a couple of relics of a bygone era that I’m frankly afraid to try. The “Cold Scallop Fettucine Salad” has all the makings of a great pasta salad: bay scallops, bacon, and peas tossed with fettuccine and a rich mayonnaise dressing but is recommended to be served at room temperature. I’ve had too much bad sushi in my lifetime to trust room temperature seafood, much less tiny, rubbery bay scallops. There’s also a recipe for “Scrumptious Chicken”, a chicken noodle casserole made with canned cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups plus sour cream and stuffing mix. There’s an apologetic note from Ms. Childress or using canned soup, which doesn’t quite fit with her oeuvre, but she insists that the recipe receives raves whenever she makes it. Her culinary sensibilities are excellent, and I’m inclined to believe her, but I’d also like my arteries to last into my 50s.
One of my favorite recipes in Pasta Cookbook is “Hay & Straw”, which is the perfect complement to a broiled salmon fillet or simply prepared chicken breast. The Hay and Straw refer to the two different colors of pasta used in the recipe – the spinach fettuccine is hay and the regular fettuccine is straw. In practice the spinach fettuccine loses a lot of its color during cooking – for maximum effect buy a deeply colored pasta and cook the two pastas in separate pots. Done properly, this is a rich, creamy, and colorful dish.
The original recipe makes a barrel of pasta that’s more than even my overachieving family can eat. I’ve found that cutting the pasta in half and replacing the ham with pancetta makes for a satisfying side dish. I will also usually throw in a cup of frozen peas so that I can call it a side dish and a vegetable.
This pairs especially well with a simple pan-fried filet of salmon, with a squeeze of lemon over both the fish and the pasta. A grilled boneless, chicken breast would also work well.
Pasta Cookbook is no longer in print, but can be found occasionally on ebay or at Amazon here: https://amzn.to/3nqXIJW
- 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 lb fresh mushrooms, any variety, sliced
- 5 oz pancetta, diced
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 cup half and half or whipping cream
- 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
- 8 oz fettuccine or spaghetti
- 8 oz spinach fettucine or spinach spaghetti
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano, divided
- Cook pastas according to package direction in separate pans. Drain. If you want the timing to line up, I recommend starting to boil water at the same time you start to saute the onion, and adding the pasta at the same time you add the pancetta.
- Saute onion over medium heat in 3 Tbsp of melted butter until softened and translucent.
- Add mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes, until liquid is expressed. Add pancetta and garlic and cook another 3-5 minutes, until pancetta starts to crisp and mushrooms are lightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add remaining butter and cream and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened. If you're using peas add them along with the butter and cream.
- Combine pastas, cream sauce, and half of the Parmesan and mix well. Serve immediately, topped with remaining Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.