Cookbook Reviews

The Geometry of Pasta and Eggplant Lasagne

When I first received a copy of The Geometry of Pasta in the mail (thank you kind publisher!) my initial reaction was a bit less than impressed. For me, cookbooks should have bright and colorful photographs preferably accompanying as many recipes as possible, but this book contained a simple, rather restrained layout of text that used only black and white to accent the pages. However, as I examined the book more closely it became evident why you should never judge a book by its cover.

Inside The Geometry of Pasta you’ll find a wonderful array of authentic recipes that focus on the pairing of the perfect pasta shape with the perfect pasta sauce. Many of the recipes feature personal anecdotes from Jacob Kennedy detailing the history and science behind the dish. The instructions are detailed yet easy to follow, but the show stopping element of this cookbook happens to be the gorgeous black and white designs created by Caz Hildebrand. They’re simply stunning! In fact, it reminded me of Marion Bataille’s equally phenomenal ABC3D pop-up book. In that same interactive vain, the dust jacket of The Geometry of Pasta unfolds to reveal a poster of pasta shapes and patterns.

Flipping through the pages on my initial pass-through I definitely felt myself getting a touch uptight. Did the authors actually expect me to be able to make all of the pasta myself because I seriously did not think that was ever going to happen especially since my past ravioli ridiculousness had really left me weary of making pasta at home. Thankfully they saw fit to give home cooks a slight reprieve by stating the following:

It isn’t worth making extruded pasta shapes yourself (rigatoni, spaghetti, and the like): Their thinner section actually benefits from drying beforehand, so the packaged products are ideal.

Feel better? Me too. Of course, Kennedy goes on to state that making pasta at home especially the “peasant shapes” is time consuming but amazing and worth the effort. I decided to take his word for it and after debating between several recipes I choose to make Melansagna Napoligiana with All’arrabbiata (Eggplant Lasagne with Spicy Tomato Sauce) and took a trip to Dave’s Fresh Pasta for lasagna sheets and Wilson Farm for fresh tomatoes.

This concoction of fresh mozerella, basil, fried eggplant and spicy sauce sounded like the perfect dish to serve at my first dinner party in our new apartment especially as some of my guests were vegetarians and I always struggle a bit with what to feed a mixed group of diners.

Making the sauce for this recipe was serious a snap thanks to my food processor. I did have a little trouble slicing my eggplant thin enough by hand and my oil didn’t seem to want to come to temperature but in the end all of the elements came together wonderfully. When I took that first cheesy ruby red bite it became abundantly clear that all of the extra effort was absolutely worth it. Next time though I’ve vowed to make my own pasta too!

Melansagna Napoligiana with All’arrabbiata (Eggplant Lasagne with Spicy Tomato Sauce)
Originally published in The Geometry of Pasta
Serves 6

3/4-1 pound lasagne
2 medium eggplants, sliced no more than 5 mm thick
Flour for dusting
Oil for frying
2 cups arrabbiata sauce (see below)
1 small (3/4 to 1 ounce) bunch basil, roughly chopped
1/2 pound buffalo mozzarella, chopped or torn
2 1/3 cups grated Parmesan

Preheat the over to 425F (or 390F for convection ovens).

Blanch the pasta until quire flexible but still pretty raw in the middle, refresh in cold water, and blot dry. Salt the eggplant slices with a sprinkling of fine sea salt (not so much to remove bitterness as excess water), stack them up, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry. Set your widest pan over a high heat with a half-centimeter depth of oil. As it just starts to smoke, flour the eggplant slices lightly, and fry in batches, as a single layer in the pan, for a minute on each side until a light golden brown. Drain well.

Take a suitable baking pan (around 8 by 12 inches) and smear the base with a little of the tomato sauce. Cover with a scant layer of eggplant, then one of pasta. Top this with a generous sprinkling of basil, mozzarella, and Parmesan, then drizzle with more sauce and cover with a sheet of pasta followed by eggplant. Continue to stack in this order (pasta, eggplant, cheese, basil, and sauce) so your finished dish has eggplant on both the bottom and top layers. On the uppermost layer you should aim to have no basil, but extra Parmesan. Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling and well browned.

Penne All’arrabbiata (Spicy Tomato Sauce)

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes, pureed (seeds and all)
10 basil leaves, torn

Fry the garlic in the olive oil for a few moments until cooked, but not yet coloured. Add the red pepper flakes followed by the tomatoes and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Boil fairly briskly until the sauce has a little body (you will see the bubbles get a bit bigger) but is by no measure thick. The tomatoes should taste fresh, but no longer raw. Season with more salt to taste, remove from the heat, and stir in the basil.