IT'S REWARDING to come across a cookbook filled with uncomplicated, easy-to-follow recipes that result in food that actually tastes good. Considering the number of cookbooks that cross a food writer's desk these days, really good cookbooks--the kind one can actually cook from--are rare. Now, pasta fans can take heart, however, because "Pasta Fresca," a new cookbook assembled by Evan Kleiman and Viana La Place, (Wm. Morrow & Co.: $19.95) provides a worthy collection of simple, delicious, pasta-based recipes that fit neatly into today's life style and its "no time to cook" approach.
Kleiman and La Place are eminently qualified to write such a book. Kleiman is executive chef and co-proprietor of the popular Los Angeles restaurants, Angeli Caffe and Trattoria Angeli, while La Place, formerly a chef at several of L.A.'s more inventive Italian restaurants, is now a cooking teacher, author and food consultant. "Pasta Fresca" is a sequel to their first book, "Cucina Fresca."
The authors have started with traditional recipes and adapted them to modern, locally available ingredients without losing track of either the Italian heritage or the flavor of the foods. Kleiman and La Place have an enthusiasm for fresh flavors and ease of preparation that is evident throughout the book.
SALSA CREMOSA DI MASCARPONE E PANCETTA AFFUMICATA
(Creamy Sauce With Bacon)
1 small onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound meaty smoked pancetta, or thickly-sliced bacon, cut into thin strips
8 canned imported tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cups), seeded and pureed
1 pound fresh fettuccine
3/4 cup mascarpone
12 fresh basil leaves, cut julienne
Cook onion in oil over low heat in large saute pan until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add pancetta , raise heat slightly and cook until pancetta colors but does not become crisp. Add pureed tomatoes and season to taste with salt. Let mixture simmer until moisture evaporates.
Meanwhile, cook fettuccine in large pot of boiling salted water until considerably al dente . Drain, allowing some moisture to remain on pasta strands. Immediately add pasta to sauce in pan. Toss over low heat to coat well. Add mascarpone and basil and toss again to blend well. Serves 4 to 6.
FETTUCCINE AL FINOCCHIO
(Pasta with Fennel)
2 bulbs fennel
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
8 Italian (Roma) tomatoes, peeled
10 to 15 fresh basil leaves
6 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped
1 pound fresh fettuccine
Grated Parmesan cheese
Trim fibrous stems from fennel bulbs. If outer layers of bulbs are extremely tough, peel bulbs until more-tender inner portions are exposed. Cut fennel into thin crosswise slices. Cook onion and fennel together in oil in deep skillet. When halfway cooked, add tomatoes and basil and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until onions and fennel are wilted and translucent.
Cook pancetta in separate pan until it renders its fat but is not crispy. Add pancetta and its fat to fennel mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook fettucine in abundant boiling salted water until al dente . Drain quickly and place in shallow serving bowl. Add fennel mixture and toss gently to mix well. Serve Parmesan cheese on side. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Photograph styled by Robin Tucker; food styling by Stephanie Puddy.