Pasta Vongola

Last year, I bought How To Eat, a cookbook by Nigella Lawson with GREAT anticipation. It is probably the most expensive and pretty cookbook that I own and it has some lovely, art-sy photos in it. It was purchased because it was the subject of one of my bookclub meetings, as kind of a variation on our usual theme of modern literature. I was really looking forward to sifting through this heavy volume of recipes, advice and prose but it has proved to be quite exasperating.

The recipes are kind of sorted according to course (i.e. Appetizers, Dinners, Lunches) but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consistency between sections. Some, like the Lunches section, offer several lunch menus, referencing recipes, or parts of recipes from previous sections, like the Cooking-for-One section. And not every section is laid out as a series of menus, it’s kind of all over the place. Anyway, it gets worse because the recipes are quite often buried in the prose so that instead of instructions like, “Soak clams in cold water for 30 minutes”, it reads something along the lines of “If you bought vongole clams or some other large variety, soak them in cold water for awhile. If you bought a smaller variety of clam, add a little sodium bicarbonate to the water; if you are unsure of the species, ask your fishmonger.” How long is “awhile”? How do I know what kind of species I bought? Umm, “sodium bicarbonate”? That’s, like, baking soda, right? How much do I add? Who uses the term “fishmonger” anymore?!

Obviously, this book was geared towards the British, including all its references to 200g of this and 14g of that. And that’s fine, I can adjust to different terms and measurements but the prose style of writing a recipe has got to go. Marc and I actually had to reference one particular section of our Linguine with Clams instructions more than four times, and each time yeilded a slightly different interpretation. Nigella, dude– literature is for interpretation; recipes require clarity. My idea of a great recipe is a list of ingredients, with both metric and imperial measurements and bullet-point instructions. I give her props for the pictures though; totally classy.

At any rate, the pasta did turn out quite well. The clams, after soaking, were steamed with a little olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and white wine (gee, darn, we had to then finish that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc) before being tossed with cooked linguine and parsley. In the end, it was a perfectly straight-forward affair but you wouldn’t know it from the directions! It tasted pleasantly mild, something I might consider making again as a light first course or an entrée for a lunch. Though next time, perhaps an audacious salad next to it might make for a more boldly flavoured meal.

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