Blizzard Antidote: Cook Pasta With Francine Segan

All images courtesy Stewart, Tabori & Chang.
Zucchini glazed pasta

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy

By Francine Segan, 208 pages, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $35

If ever there was a season made for pasta, it's winter. Nothing comforts like a warm, savory bowl of noodles, and in her new book, food historian and New York native Francine Segan takes us through the Italian canon in an archeological study of pasta cookery. Segan's research for Pasta Modern took her all over Italy, through countless dried pasta factories, and into homes and restaurants in search of the best and brightest pasta dishes available.

Here, we chat with the author about semolina domes, dinner on the cheap, and the allure of zucchini water.

What is the oldest (oldest in history, or oldest to you, whatever) recipe in your book and where did it come from?
One of the oldest is the bucatini dome -- it's this really showy pasta dome. I went to a lot of pasta factories when I was in Italy, in Gragnano, which is the pasta-making center in Italy for dried pasta, and it has been for centuries. I told them I was looking for recipes that were new and cutting-edge, but also something that's old, that you still make in Italy, but that we don't know in America. And they showed me this gorgeous thing that looks so showy and Martha Stewart, but it was so simple, and we did it in their office kitchen. And it dates from the early 1800s when Naples was just full of so many wealthy people; it was this very important center there and there were all these fancy chefs and everyone was just trying to outdo the other. So that's just really one of the oldest. But it looks so modern!

If you could give one piece of cooking advice to home cooks, what would it be?
The biggest thing I learned from visiting the Italian pasta makers is this: Pasta matters. You're wasting your time, dirtying a pot, and making all these great ingredients for a sauce, and if you pick a cheap brand of pasta -- it really matters. The way that it's dried, the flour they use -- it will make it taste 100 times better. And then when you're boiling it, boil it in enough water. It has to be able to move around.

Who is one chef that you really admire and why?
There's a chef in Italy named Davide Scabin, and he has a Michelin-starred restaurant called Combal Zero of Rivoli in Piedmont, and even though he's all fancy, he does such whimsical, creative things, but he keeps that old-fashioned Italian sensibility. He just makes me laugh and inspires me -- I just think he's so creative. And he introduced me to one of my favorite pasta discoveries this year, which is this pasta that's made in the North, and it's made with farro flour. The boiled pasta is just good plain.

What is your favorite winter seasonal ingredient and one recipe you like to use it in?
In the wintertime, I love to make that cheapskate pasta [that's in the book]. I make it all the time, because it's this winter dish -- it's called cheapskate because nothing is fresh because it's winter. My husband's vegan, so I'm always on the lookout for dishes that work for him -- but this just comes out so nice, and in the winter, when it's cold out, and I can't get fresh things, I always think, well what can I make that's just here. It's garlic and oil and tomatoes and capers and olives and then the trick is, add a handful of dried fruit, like raisins, and then a big handful of chopped toasted nuts; you can use any kind. And somehow that all mixes in your mouth, all those different flavors, and it's so good with the canned tomatoes; it's really amazing.

What is one approachable, quick recipe you can make at home without a whole lot of prep or trouble?
One that's really healthy that we make often from the book -- I learned all of this in Italy, these aren't my own recipes -- is you take two zucchinis and you grate them on a cheese grater. Zucchinis are soft, so they grate in like a second. And you just put them in a bowl, and the water comes out of them, and you use that water...You boil the pasta most of the way, and then you put it back in the pot with the grated zucchini and that water from the zucchini. It sounds so crazy, but that zucchini juice kind of creates this nice glaze, and then the little pieces of raw zucchini -- after all the water absorbs -- you just toss them in with the pasta, and they're not really raw anymore because they're so thinly grated, and it's just this magical flavor. You can top it with grated cheese or you can top it with toasted nuts, if you want. Or put in garlic -- just raw garlic, you don't even have to sauté it, because the heat of the pasta does a lot of cooking.

Click to the next page for a recipe.

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