Whether you’re entertaining guests or simply cooking for 1, pasta is sure to delight. The ultimate comfort food, it can be found in the cuisines of nearly every culture. James Beard, heralded by the New York Times as “the dean of American cookery” enriches our understanding of this culinary staple with his collection of recipes and commentary on store-bought versus homemade pasta, wine pairings, choosing the perfect cheese, and other insights.
From familiar spaghetti entrées to more adventurous fare, such as udon noodle soup and spätzle, Beard brings meals from all over the globe into the home chef’s kitchen. Under the guidance of America’s original gastronomic genius, the basic noodle is elevated in dishes such as basil lasagna, Portuguese fish stew with orzo, and cheddar angel hair soufflé. Beard on Pasta is full of easy-to-follow recipes, along with tips on preparation, sauce, and serving that you’ll be eager to try. This comprehensive cookbook provides all the tools you need to make delectable and unforgettable pasta for any occasion.
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About the Author
James Beard (1903–1985) was an American cookbook author, syndicated columnist, teacher, and television personality. Designated the “dean of American cookery” by the New York Times, Beard laid the foundations for generations of amateur and professional food enthusiasts. After publishing his first cookbook in 1940, Beard went on to host the NBC cooking show I Love to Eat. In 1955 he founded the James Beard Cooking School, where he taught for many years. Over the course of his career, Beard wrote countless cookbooks, including several seminal works, and he inspired and influenced chefs throughout the world. His legacy lives on through the James Beard Foundation, established in his honor to provide scholarships and awards recognizing excellence in the culinary arts.
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Beard on Pasta
By James Beard
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 James Beard
All rights reserved.
Commercial Dried Pastas
(Italian and domestic egg noodles
Chinese dried noodles specialty noodles)
Store-Bought Fresh Pasta
Flour for Homemade Pasta
Equipment for Making and Saucing Pasta
(mixing rolling shaping extrusion machines)
(tomatoes olive oil cheese)
What to Drink with Pasta
Commercial Dried Pastas
ITALIAN AND DOMESTIC
I'm a great fan of good commercial pasta made with durum wheat. It has a mellow flavor and strong texture that are standards for what good pasta should be.
The clue is in the words "durum wheat" or, on the Italian package, "pura semolina." You have to read the ingredients on the package, and buy only pasta that is made with durum-wheat flour. I recently had both American and Italian dried shells, and I could find no difference between the two.
Most, although by no means all, of the Italian commercial brands are pretty good. De Cecco maintains a tremendously high quality and produces hundreds of different shapes. But I've also had Italian dried pasta that was no good at all.
Among American dried pastas, I've always found that Buitoni makes a damned good product. It's not fair, however, to name one brand, because there are so many small pasta manufacturers all over the country, wherever there is an Italian population. Every so often I am invited to the Macaroni Luncheon in New York City (and I go with pleasure, because you get a first-rate meal there). All the small local factory owners are introduced and asked to say a few words, and I can tell you that these introductions last throughout the whole meal. With American dried pastas, as with the Italian, you just have to become ingredient conscious, and choose only brands made with durum flour.
Just now, we are in the midst of a kind of snobbery: people think that any fresh pasta is better than any dried pasta. That just isn't so. There is nothing wrong with good commercial pasta; in many cases it is better than the fresh pasta you can buy.
Your supermarket probably has several brands of home-style egg noodles in boxes and cellophane bags, many of them with German or Pennsylvania Dutch names. Some of them are pretty good, as long as you use them for the dishes they were designed for. Use them for noodle pudding, for Pork with Sauerkraut Noodles, or for Alsatian chicken and noodles. You'll be disappointed if you try to use them in an Italian dish.
CHINESE AND JAPANESE DRIED NOODLES
In recent years, New York has become studded with hundreds of tiny produce stores run by Korean immigrants. In addition to selling broccoli and oranges, most of them stock a few Asian specialties, such as udon, buckwheat, rice, and mung- bean noodles. I've found all the brands to be quite reliable, although perhaps I don't bring to them the educated palate that I do to Western pastas. Just be sure to use them properly.
Rice noodles, made from ground rice, are more fragile than wheat noodles. They need a brief soaking before you cook them. Mung-bean noodles are made from powdered mung beans. They too have to be soaked, after which they are gelatinous and springy. They don't actually need any cooking at all after their soaking, but can be briefly stir-fried, the way you do bean sprouts. Udon and buckwheat noodles act like American wheat noodles.
I buy dried whole-wheat pasta in health-food stores, and I just love it. It's not only the color but the special nearly meaty chewiness that I find appealing. And for many years I have enjoyed De Boles artichoke pasta, which is not made, as you might suspect, from globe artichokes, but from Jerusalem artichokes. It's quite delicious, and it's good for people who can't eat wheat for one reason or another. De Boles also makes a corn pasta that is delicious, but both are very hard to come by.
Store-Bought Fresh Pasta
The best fresh commercial noodles I've ever had are the ones I buy in New York's Chinatown. They are made with flour and water, and come in just a few shapes. You buy them soft, packed in plastic bags, and should store them in the refrigerator. They are well worth going out of your way for.
In certain cities one can now find several grades of fresh pasta. In New York for several years we have had a standard, a wonderful pasta from a maker called Raffetto. Now Marcella Hazan is overseeing the production of some topnotch pasta that is sold fresh at Bloomingdale's. She is very particular about using only durum wheat and fresh eggs, and her pasta couldn't be better.
But just because pasta is fresh doesn't guarantee that it's going to be good. There is now so-called fresh pasta that is sold in cardboard trays in supermarkets far inferior to good dried pasta. This is one occasion when freshness does not ensure quality. I believe it's far better to use a first-rate dried pasta made of durum- wheat flour than a trendy, mushy brand that dissolves in the water like a dumpling.
Flour for Homemade Pasta
All the recipes in this book were tested with all-purpose flour, because that's the kind you can buy in your supermarket. But it isn't the best flour for making pasta by any means. The best you can get is hard-wheat flour, sometimes called durum flour, pasta flour, or, in England, strong wheat flour.
All wheat flour contains a protein called gluten. It's the gluten in the wheat that gives tension and elasticity to dough. Durum-wheat flour has more gluten than ordinary flour, and it makes not only the best pasta, but also the best bread. A dough made with durum flour will be noticeably easier to knead and to roll out than one made with all-purpose flour.
It's not easy to find hard-wheat flour, although we're beginning to see it sold in large cities. You may find it in health-food stores or order it from mail-order houses. It's worth looking out for, because there is really no comparison between pasta that is made with supermarket all-purpose flour and the firm, flavorful high- quality pasta made with hard-wheat flour.
(Semolina in the United States is coarsely ground hard wheat, less fine and more granular in texture than hard-wheat flour. One doesn't usually find semolina here except in Italian markets, usually in bags imported from Italy. I use it mostly for dishes such as gnocchi and spätzle and sometimes to make bread. I have made pasta with it, but don't try using it in an extrusion machine — it will clog up the works.)
But don't worry if you can't get durum flour, because the recipes in the book were designed to work with ordinary all-purpose flour, which is actually a blend of soft and hard wheats. Just remember that you can't count on flour having a standard quality. For a while, General Mills was selling an all-purpose flour that was supposed to be the same all over the country. Even so, it varied with age and with the temperature in the market and in home kitchens. That's why you may sometimes have to add a little extra oil or a tablespoonful or two of flour to get your dough to the proper consistency.
Equipment for Making and Saucing Pasta
You can get a good dough every time using either an electric mixer or the food processor. But it isn't difficult to mix by hand: it's the kneading that takes all the work. For hand mixing, you just need a work space and a fork.
Dough scrapers are useful for cleaning off the board after you've combined the flour and eggs to make the dough.
If there is one piece of pasta-making equipment I wouldn't want to be without, it is my Bialetti pasta-rolling machine. It works on the principle of the wringer, squeezing the dough between two cylindrical plastic rollers until it is paper thin. I have the motor-driven machine, which makes an infernal racket but produces good noodles, and I just love it. I know people who own the hand- cranked rolling machine and like the sense of control they get with it. The hand machine is a lot cheaper and infinitely quieter than the motor-driven machine, and as far as I can tell, one is as good as the other when it comes to rolling and cutting the dough. If you're going to spend any money on this business of making pasta, this is where you will want to do it.
If you're rolling by hand, you should know about the special long rolling pinmade for pasta. It's about three feet long, and is the same width all the way down. (My guess is that it was modeled after the broomsticks that people have used for years to roll pasta.) According to Marcella Hazan, this pin should be hung vertically for storage so that it doesn't warp. I brought one home from Italy years ago. It's thinner than the classic wooden pin — about 1½ to 2 inches in diameter — and I have trouble using it because my hands are too big.
When you roll the dough by hand, you'll need a good work space. Marble is perfect for it, but of course wood works very well, and is the traditional surface in Italy. Many people like to use a pastry cloth as a kind of security blanket against sticky dough, but I've never felt the need of one.
When you're rolling the pasta, you might want to have a big soft brush on hand for dusting it with flour, just as you would when you make puff pastry.
And, while we're talking of rolling by hand, let me say that good, strong stomach muscles are a help, so that you can lean your tummy against one end of the sheet of pasta while you're rolling and stretching the other end. And arm muscles, too, are helpful for dealing with a properly stiff dough!
You can cut out the noodles with your small rolling machine, simply by changing from the smooth rollers to the cutting rollers. Or you can fold up the sheets of dough and then cut them with a sharp knife. But it's helpful to have a rolling blade, straight-edged or wavy, of the sort that is used to cut out ravioli, pastry strips, and pizza slices.
It was inevitable that the manufacturers would copy the pasta industry and produce small extrusion machines for the home kitchen. By extrusion, we mean machines that push the dough through a die so that it comes out with a shape.
There are two kinds. With the first, you still mix your dough in the traditional manner, either in the electric mixer or the food processor. Then you put it into a container, from which it is pushed through shaping dies. This is the method used in the Kitchen Aid, Cuisinart, and Robot-Coupe extrusion machines.
In the other machines, such as the Simac, Bialetti, and Osrow (and there may be more on the market by the time this is printed), you simply put flour and eggs in the opening at the top of the machine and, after a suitable amount of time has passed for kneading and processing, the pasta comes out the other end.
The one thing these machines give you that few people have ever had before is absolutely fresh round and tubular pasta. That's because, even in Italy, pasta that is formed by extrusion is always made in factories and sold dried.
I suppose that we have to take it for granted that these machines are going to be part of our lives, and to hope that they will at least introduce homemade pasta to people who would never dare to make it in any other way. They turn out a reliable product, and they do their job in less than five minutes.
I have a few reservations about them, nonetheless. I'm not sure that they produce as flavorful a pasta, or pasta with as good a texture as we can get by traditional methods, owing to the fact that the manufacturers recommend that you use soft-wheat or cake flour. While the product looks and acts the same, you just aren't going to get the flavor from cake flour that you will get from good hard- wheat flour. But hard-wheat flour tends to clog the dies of the machines.
And, although the machines are time-savers in one sense, they eat up time later on. If you use a small die, it takes a great deal of time to get it spotlessly clean. You have to poke out every crumb of dried dough from the die, or it won't work properly the next time you use it. When I tried one of the machines, it took me nearly an hour to worry out all the caked-up dough left in the dies. The manufacturer had even provided a little double-edged toothpick for the job!
As I write this, we're just in the beginning of the development of the new machines. Who knows how they will be improved once thousands of pasta makers get to working with them? But at the moment my opinion is that you can't do better than to mix the dough in the mixer or food processor and then put it through a small rolling machine. You'll have a beautiful pasta with superior texture and taste.
For making ravioli, I have a marked rolling pin. You roll it over a sheet of dough and it marks squares on the sheet. You put dabs of filling in the squares on half the dough, fold the other marked half over it, and then cut along the lines with a knife or rolling blade.
I've also used ravioli trays, metal trays with shallow indentations in them. You lay the dough over the tray, and drop bits of filling into the hollows. Cover them with a second sheet of dough, and run a rolling pin over it all.
You can buy round or square tortellini stamps that work like cookie cutters. As a matter of fact, if you have a round cookie cutter, use that instead.
I own two spätzle-making machines. Both work by passing a blade over large holes in the bottom of a round or rectangular container. You put the dough into the container, and it is cut off by the blade at regular intervals and falls into boiling water.
Although I've been cooking pasta nearly all my life, the one thing I can't begin to tell you is how long it is going to take. The time varies too much, depending on the heat of the day, the amount of water in the pot, the kind of flour used, the proportion of flour to liquid in the dough, the shape of the noodles, and how long the pasta has sat in the warehouse and on your shelf.
All I can say is that fresh pasta cooks quickly, and that you should start testing it as soon as the water in the pot returns to the boil. Dried American pasta made with all-purpose flour cooks in far less time than the instruction on its box recommends, and should be tested after 3 or 4 minutes: it can become mushy very quickly. And I've had dried durum-wheat pasta from Italy that was supposed to be done in 8 minutes, and that I had to cook for a full 15 minutes before it lost the final core of uncooked dough in the center. I just had to keep fishing out strands with a fork and biting them until the noodles were at the point I wanted.
You start with a big potful of furiously boiling water. Your pot should be really big, holding 8 to 10 quarts. Buy one with high sides so that it sits right over your burner.
I've seen pots that had strainers or steamers that fit right into them, so that when it was time to take out the noodles you simply lifted out the strainer and the excess water ran back into the pot. This is especially good for making lasagne, when you cook only a few strips at a time, and want to save the boiling water.
For stirring, many people like to use wooden paddles that look like flattened spoons with 1-inch-long wooden sticks protruding from them. They're pretty good because they don't tear the pasta, but I've always used a big fork and spoon or a set of tongs instead. The point of using wood rather than metal is that wood doesn't conduct the heat from the boiling water to your hand.
A flat skimmer, like a gigantic tea strainer, is useful for removing the first batch of wontons or kreplach from the water before you drop in the second batch.
And you'll need a big colander for draining the pasta. Be sure that you've got one that's large enough, and that it stands steadily on a circular base and not on three rickety feet. Otherwise, one day you'll pour in the noodles and boiling water and see the colander tip over and dump your noodles down the drain.
As for rinsing, I know that some books tell you to rinse the drained pasta under cold water to get rid of the starch. All that does is cool off your noodles, and I think it's a damned silly idea. Should you rinse with hot tap water? Frankly, I usually don't rinse the noodles at all, letting the volume of boiling water that pours over them from the pot carry away anything that shouldn't be there. But, if they should stick, then go ahead and rinse. Just use very hot water.
One important point: Don't let the pasta sit in the colander while you prepare a sauce — even a quick sauce. Pasta should be tossed as soon as it has drained. After it's drained, the pasta should go into a heated bowl and be mixed immediately with some or all of the sauce. However, if you want the noodles to cool for a salad, then add some butter or oil and toss gently, to keep the strands from sticking together as they cool.
Sometimes it's a good idea to add the noodles to the pot that holds the simmering sauce, give it a good stir, and let it warm over a very low flame for 1 or 2 minutes while you get the warm plates for serving.
Excerpted from Beard on Pasta by James Beard. Copyright © 1983 James Beard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PASTAS IN BROTH,
FISH AND SEAFOOD,
EGGS AND CHEESE,
I never meant to read this, I was just looking for ideas for dinner. In the end, thouigh, I read pretty much the whole thing. Some of the recipes seemed likely, many would require far more time and attention than I'm willing to devote to cooking. I'm quite certain, for instance, that I'll never make my own pasta from scratch, but Spinach-Anchovy Sauce or Pasta Primavera are easily within my means. Beard writes in a friendly, down to earth way that makes the reading enjoyable.