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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
I met Erica De Mane, author of the just-released Pasta Improvvisata, at an in-store book signing where she had, in true Italian fashion, fed a crowd of book buyers, well-wishers, and on-lookers with platter upon platter of an absolutely delicious spur-of-the-moment pasta. What made our introduction more interesting was the fact that I had seen her, earlier in the day, buying the makings for the pasta in New York City's Union Square Greenmarket. So I could truly attest that Erica was a practitioner of the premise of her new cookbook — improvising a pasta meal from whatever is particularly good in the marketplace or whatever you happen to have on hand. The crowd at the book-signing was so enthusiastic that she didn't have time to chat, so we scheduled a get-together for the next day.
As we got to know one another, I asked Erica De Mane why she had written her cookbook. "I have a very different style of cooking — I play around in the kitchen," she answered. "I've found that so many cookbooks are very rigid and don't give home cooks the sense of joy that cooking should bring. I wanted my cookbook to be relaxed and to reflect the way that I cook, and I do think that I accomplished this." But just how relaxed can a cook be?, I wondered but didn't say. "Whenever I am cooking," Erica continued, "I am always thinking of other ways to do the recipe that I am making. In my book, each recipe has a section called 'Ideas' that, I hope, will encourage readers to do the same thing. If they like the way a recipe turns out, the ideas that go along with it can expand the tastesandtextures in other ways. I want cooks to understand that recipes are not set in stone — that they are living, breathing entities that can continue to grow and change." With this further explanation, I had to agree that her relaxed approach to cooking held enormous appeal.
Although Erica De Mane explains basic cooking techniques, sauces, and essential equipment required to become a well-seasoned pasta cook, she primarily concentrates on expanding the home cook's horizons so that one can break down and reinvent her recipes giving each one its own personal stamp. Her clear-cut instructions and free-wheeling enthusiasm for her subject lead the way to customized recipes that are authentically Italian in flavor and texture but totally American in approach and simplicity.
"What do you want your readers to take away from cooking with Pasta Improvvisata?" I inquired. "I absolutely want cooks to have fun and loosen up in the kitchen. I want them to feel that it is okay to make mistakes — to not have every recipe be perfect," answered Erica. "You know, even when you follow a recipe to the nth degree, it may not taste good," she emphasized. "Hasn't that happened to you?" she queried. I nodded my agreement. "That's why I tell cooks to taste, and taste, and taste some more. Just keep tasting all the while you are cooking. Tasting will tell you where a recipe is heading and if you have well-seasoned taste buds, you'll learn how to adjust as you go so that you can avoid disasters."
Since we are in the midst of summer's bounty, I asked Erica if she had any recommendations about using garden-fresh ingredients in a pasta dish. "Definitely," she answered. "The quality of your ingredients are reflected in the finished dish. Italians really understand cooking with superb raw ingredients. I can't imagine a better time to experiment with Pasta Improvvisata since most vegetables are at their prime. I find the greenmarkets to be truly inspirational, and my kitchen resonates with this inspiration."
I couldn't get Erica De Mane to give us a favorite recipe from the book. I think that this is because it is her greatest desire that readers create their own favorite recipe using her recipes and ideas as guidelines. "You must learn to respect and trust your own palate and take responsibility for your tastes," she says. "Along the way, you'll find that the flavors you create will honestly reflect you."
I've already begun to perfect the Italian style of Erica De Mane's Pasta Improvvisata . I frequent the greenmarkets. I'm using my tastebuds to lead the way at the stove. I'm tasting, tasting, tasting. And I'm sitting down to delicious bowls of wonderfully aromatic pasta with friends and family. It's working so well that I'm even beginning to love opera! Get your copy of this easy-to-use and easy-to-expand-from cookbook and join us as our taste buds sing from the joy of learning Pasta Improvvisata. —Judith Choate