From strong, bold lines to long and short curves, fresh and dried pasta is an edible tool for creative expression. Each form is unique to others, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of variations, each with their own story and sauce accompaniment. But where did all of these forms come from and for what purpose were they created?
Agnolotti. Bigoli. Casarecce. Fusili. Pizzoccheri. Quadretti. Spaccatelle. With gorgeous black and white designs, pastas are listed in alphabetical order with descriptions on their shape, size, origin, and accompanied by their ideal sauce in The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand, award-winning graphic designer and Chef Jacob Kenedy, the co-owner of Bocca di Lupo in London (2010, Quirkbooks).
Why does any of this matter?
According to Caz Hildebrand, “The idea for this book began when I was thinking about the Italians’ preoccupation with choosing the right pasta shape to go with the right sauce. As they will tell you, this makes the difference between pasta dishes that are merely ordinary and truly sublime.”
Home cooks and chefs know that you cannot pair just any sauce with any pasta. Have you ever ordered pasta at a restaurant and found it difficult for the pasta to assist in scooping up the sauce that was poured on top of it? Sadly, you were left with a belly full of pasta and a plate with all the sauce. Disappointing, to say the least. This is why rigatoni is paired with heavy, hearty bolognese that can weave it’s way inside the cylindrical pasta shape, or with tagliatelle or paparadelle, two thick noodles that will not be lost in the thick sauce.
Hildebrand and Kenedy explained in an NPR interview that they found at least 1,200 pasta names while researching information for this book. For example, lasagne, the rectangular sheets of pasta dough, has a name “that may be derived from laganum, a Greco-Roman word for an unleavened cake of dough that would have been baked on hot stones or fried, then used as a dumpling in soups. It has also been attributed to the Latin lasanum or Greeklasonon, a tripod-like cooking vessel.” Imagining the amount of research that went into this book makes me even more excited to spend days and evenings reading through it’s pages.
My world is made of color. Sight and smell go hand in hand when you are enjoying any dish, and I find that cookbooks are no exception. Come on, if they can make a Yankee Candle scratch and sniff catalog, then they can make a scratch and sniff cookbook, right? But none of that is necessary in The Geometry of Pasta.
Each pasta entry has characteristics listed: dimensions, similar forms, and a historical description or story of where the pasta emerged from. Pasta in Italy is different depending on which region you are in. “In the poorer south, pastes of semolina and water and shaped by hand into chunky peasant forms. In south-central Italy, the same semolina dough is extruded by machine into simple long shapes and complex short ones, then dried, packaged and sold. The properties of each type of dough, the mechanics of each shape, and the tastes and traditions of each region have determined also that an equal panoply of sauces exists, to match the requirements of the pasta and the people’s palates.”
Below is an image of fusilli, a triple helix, industrial semolina pasta, like an elongated propeller or fan blade. Broccoli rabe, green olives and tomato, pesto Genovese, sausage, squid and tuna belly are a few suggested pairings when thinking of sauces, considering that the pasta holds sauce fairly well.
In almost 300 pages between the covers you will find over 100 authentic recipes from chef Jacob Kennedy and information about pastas from all over Italy, many of which can be found in your local grocery store or fresh pasta grocery (like Nicole Taylor’s Pasta Market on 54th street in Indianapolis).
The Geometry of Pasta is the perfect book for any home cook who loves pasta and either makes it at home or cooks it a lot. Impress your friends while serving them a plate of ravioli by explaining how stuffed pastas have trickled down from the kitchens of royal courts since medieval times and are eaten especially on special feasts and celebratory days. It will make them feel even more special than they already are. Purchase The Geometry of Pasta from its publisher Quirkbooks or Amazon.