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A tasty treat in 'The Geometry of Pasta'

"The Geometry of Pasta" by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy (Quirk Press, $24.95) covers all sorts of exotic Italian pastas and the sauces that suit them best.
"The Geometry of Pasta" by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy (Quirk Press, $24.95) covers all sorts of exotic Italian pastas and the sauces that suit them best. MCT

Most cookbooks are replete with photographs to whet the appetite. Sauces drip from pasta-laden forks, and you can feed a squad of hungry soldiers with a single spaghetti recipe.

"The Geometry of Pasta," by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy, is the antithesis of this. This unassuming book has no photographs. The cover design and black-and-white illustrations of pasta — from shells to spaghetti to egg noodles — are by Hildebrand, an award-winning British graphic designer.

Turns out the book doesn't need mouthwatering pictures and huge portions to be extremely tasty.

"People have been making pasta for thousands of years ... and they've had a long time to get it right. There have been a lot of learning and practice. Lots of people have done the legwork," Kenedy says in a phone interview. "There's a lot more value to be looking back before deciding how to step forward with cuisine than just trying to step ahead in the future."

Kenedy spent several years going through Italy, collecting pasta recipes from dozens of cooks, mastering them and now serving them at Bocca Di Lupo, a restaurant in London's Soho district where he is the owner and chef.

"Geometry" starts very basic - such as how to create three basic tomato sauces from scratch - then dives into more exotic recipes. While most of the ingredients can be found at the local grocery, Whole Foods or a gourmet market is your friend when you're searching out buffalo milk mozzarella for the Penne al Forno.

The recipes can appear unhealthy, but Kenedy points out "the quantities of butter, oil and cream can be halved to produce a healthier more domestic version of any of the dishes," and, he adds, that applies to the amount of salt as well.

The book stemmed from Hildebrand's fascination with different shapes and sizes of pasta and how they suited various sauces and recipes.

"What's so lovely about pasta is that a lot of the shapes do echo things that have influenced the pasta makers, whether they are shells or indeed crankshafts. They really are food imitating life," said Hildebrand, who has designed best-selling cookbooks. "What we found when we researched is that they really are products of their time. You can date their provenance to what was happening in industrial advances or natural things, which seems like a crazy thing to say about pasta."

For example, dischi volanti, or "flying saucers," was designed in 1947 after a reported UFO sighting in the U.S. skies.

Finally, if you want to learn Italian, this is a place to start. Bigoli, cappelletti, gramigne, canederli, lumache and orecchiette are names that might not come tripping off the tongue of a casual eater of pasta more used to spaghetti, lasagna and tortellini, but don't worry — "The Geometry of Pasta" covers them too.


Capelli D'Angelo al Burro e Limone

{ pound capelli d'angelo (angel's hair) pasta1/3 cup butterGrated zest of 1 lemonA grating of nutmegA few drops of lemon juiceA little grated Parmesan, to serveA few basil leaves (optional)

While the capelli d'angelo (angel hair pasta) is cooking, pour about 1 cup of the cooking water into a pan and boil, swirling in the butter. Add the lemon zest, nutmeg and a little pepper and salt if needed. Allow to reduce to the consistency of light cream (add water if it goes too far), then add the pasta (drained and, as ever, slightly on the undercooked side.) Stir in and add a very few drops of lemon juice to taste.

Serve with a little Parmesan. A few basil leaves, stirred in at the same time as the lemon juice, are a pleasant addition. Roughly four servings. (I recommend adding the basil.)


"The Geometry of Pasta"By Caz Hildebrand and Jacob KenedyQuirk Books, Philadelphia$24.95, 256 pages