Giuliano Hazan is a member of Italian culinary royalty. His mother, Marcella Hazan, is credited with bringing authentic Italian cooking to the United States. In fact, even though I grew up eating my grandmother’s Sicilian-American food, Marcella’s cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, was one of the first Italian cookbooks I owned which talked about Italian food beyond tomato sauce. Giuliano Hazan has certainly taken to the “family business”; he is well-respected regardless of name, writing several cookbooks of his own, appearing on TV, winning awards, and running a cooking school for part of every year in Verona Italy.
His latest book, Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes is filled with simple, elegant, and appealing recipes meant to be accessible to busy cooks. Most can be assembled in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.
I like his approach to recipes which is relaxed and no-nonsense. He says, “Recipes sometimes make cooking-which should be a spontaneous and fluid activity-into a disjointed one. One of the principal culprits is the need to stop and measure.” To avoid this, most of his recipes list onions by half or quarter, rather than number of tablespoons, or garlic by the clove instead of a teaspoon. This is a method with which I heartily agree.
Many of the recipes have no more than 5 or 6 ingredients including the pasta. If you’ve ever eaten pasta in Italy, you’ll know this is how most pasta there is served; in a simple preparation showcasing the freshness of the ingredients.
The book discusses pasta in all its forms, sizes, and shapes, the difference between dried and fresh, and those made with and without egg. There’s a short discussion of the standard ingredients of the Italian pantry and a single, concise page with instructions on how to properly cook pasta. I think the best tip is the last one; “When the pasta is done, drain it, but never rinse it. Rinsing will make the pasta cold and washes away the coating of starch that allows sauces to cling to it.” He recommends the exact same method my grandmother used; toss it immediately with some of the sauce to prevent it from sticking together.
The book is lushly photographed. I admit to being someone who at times, chooses a recipe based on a picture, just like I may sometimes choose a wine based on a label. I am only human after all. Cookbooks written like a textbook are fine, and I have many like that, but when I’m looking for a meal inspiration, I like photos. I think this cookbook is perfect for someone just learning how to cook and looking for ideas and instruction. The recipes aren’t complicated and I’d recommend it to my friend who always says to me “I only know how to cook 8 things.”
When trying to decide which recipe to make first from the book, there was no shortage of choice, I picked the “Fusilli with Butternut Squash” because I had a squash my father had brought me from his garden. I made a few substitutions, but I’m hoping Giulianno with his relaxed attitude toward cooking won’t mind. I didn’t have fusilli, but I did have another “twisty” pasta called gemelli and I didn’t have the pancetta but I did have bacon so I used that instead. It wasn’t until after I finished cooking and photographing I remembered that a couple of months ago I did a butternut squash and pancetta soup. Ooops! I promise I will do another of these pastas soon. “Linguine with Crab and Arugula” anyone?
Gemelli with Butternut Squash and Bacon
(Adapted from Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta)
Course: Main Course
Keyword: bacon, butternut squash, pancetta, pasta
1/2eachmedium yellow oniondiced fine
3ozbaconor pancetta, cut into 1/4" pieces (approx. 2-3 slices of bacon)
1 3/4lbbutternut squashpeeled, seeded and diced into 1/2" cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1lbpastafusilli, gemelli, etc
3ozmedium aged pecorino cheesemedium grated
Bring a large pot of water (about 6 qts) to boil for the pasta. I find peeling and cutting the butternut squash to be the most time-consuming part of the recipe so I recommend you do that first. Cut the ends off, cut the squash in half and then peel, either with a peeler or sharp paring knife. Be careful. Cut in half again, lengthwise, remove the seeds and dice.
Dice the onion and chop up the bacon.
Add the butter to a large saute pan and add the diced onion. Cook over medium heat until golden brown. Add the bacon and cook until it starts to crisp, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the squash and season with salt and pepper. Add the 1 cup of water, stir to combine and cover with a lid for 8-10 minutes until the squash is soft. Check after 5 minutes and make sure all the water has not cooked away. If it has, and the squash is still hard, add more water in 1/4 cup increments until the squash is soft enough to mash with the back of a spoon.
When the water for the pasta comes to a rolling boil, add 2 Tbsp salt and the pound of pasta. Cook until it is al dente, and before draining, reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain.
Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the sauce, smashing the butternut squash with the back of a large spoon. If it seems too thick, add the other 1/4 cup (I did this). Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta and the grated cheese and serve.
If you'd like to garnish the pasta with some fresh herbs, I think a little sage would be nice. I would have added some if the raccoons had not dug it up out of my garden.
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I have this “small world” story to share:
I didn’t know how to cook when I went to college, but I knew I didn’t want to eat dorm food. My university had on-campus apartments so I applied to live in one. The apartment had 2 bedrooms, a living room and a tiny kitchen. I arrived at school armed with a couple of cookbooks and a small box filled with 3×5 index cards with my mom’s “easy” recipes on them. There were 4 of us in the apartment. I wish I could say that we cooked amazing food all the time, but while there was some good baking going on, and the dinners we made were certainly better than dorm food, it wasn’t gourmet. What’s my point here?
It turns out that of the four of us in that apartment, three of us went on to work in the food industry in some way, though none of us knew that would happen then. One of those roommates, a woman named Lael, later married Giuliano Hazan and now teaches, writes, and helps run the cooking school in Verona. I recently reconnected with her after almost 20 years and it’s been wonderful to see what’s she’s doing now and chat about Italy, food and the impact of social media on the culinary world. When Lael asked me if I did book reviews on my blog, I replied that I never had, but not for any specific reason. I offered to review the book but I want to make it clear to everyone I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in. That applies to any product linked on the blog, or on my Amazon store. If I don’t like it, you won’t see it here.
You can follow Lael and Giuliano Hazan on Twitter @educatedpalate (Lael) and @giulianohazan (Giuliano) and at the website http://www.giulianohazan.com/