A Review of Pasta e Sugo by Maria Ponte

If you are a beginning cook, and looking for a no-frills, easy to use cookbook with a number of well known pasta dishes, Pasta e Sugo might not be a bad choice, otherwise serious pasta lovers may be disappointed with the lack of information, the poor quality photos and the familiarity of the dishes in this book, which could have providing significantly more depth on the wonderfully promising topic of pasta.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Pasta e Sugo:
a tavolo nostra
by Maria F Ponte
Brolga Publishing
2002, hb, 136pgs
ISBN 0909608903

Who doesn’t love pasta? Soul satisfying, comforting, healthy and rustic, it is also one of the easiest dishes to make. It is the one food everyone in my house (even the fussy 3 year old) eats, and makes it onto the menu more frequently (and with a sigh of relief) more than any other food. Maria Ponte’s Pasta e Sugo is a cookbook dedicated solely to the art of eating, cooking and saucing pasta dishes. Most of the dishes in this book are old traditional ones, and will probably be very familiar – Putanesca, Pesto, Genovese, Bolonaise, Carbonara, Napoli, Alfredo and Arrabiata sit amongst a few baked favourites like stuffed shells (“conchilliloni”), lasagne and eggplant/aubergine parmesan. It is very likely that you will already have recipes for many of these dishes, although it is handy to have them all in one place. The few less well known dishes, “family favourites,” contain some odd combinatinoa that are somewhat unappetising to my own traditional palate, including things like pasta with potatoes (the ultimate starch hit), pasta with avocado, pasta omelette, green lentils and spaghettini or spaghetti large pieces of sliced calamari.

The book also contains a brief history of pasta, the “rules” of correct pasta eating (don’t put into your mouth more pasta at a time than you can fit, and keep your mouth closed while chewing…just kidding, although they are the rules I have to repeat endlessly to my children), purchasing, measuring, cooking (lots of boiling water…), and draining pasta (pour the water out…), along with a recipe for fresh pasta. These sections were interesting where they weren’t a bit facile, but too brief. I don’t really need to know that pasta is never eaten with a spoon, but I do want to know more about the history, the types of pasta, and information about quality, such as the use of bronze rollers, different flour types (why, for example, if semolina is the best, is durum most often used, and plain flour called for in the fresh pasta recipe?) and so on – most of which is missing or just hinted at. I also would have liked much more information about the differences in regions of Italy (eg butter in one and olive oil in another, the use of certain herbs, etc), which Ponte should have been able to provide, having lived in Italy herself, along with suggestions for variations, substitutions, personal background to the dish, etc, but none of this is provided. Each recipe stands on its own, without extra text or explanation.

Of course not everyone will be as hungry for words as they are for the final dish – I just happen to like to read my cookbooks as well as cook from them, and Ponte is not a food writer. That said, the 61 recipes are simple enough, and easy to create, with a single recipe per page and large photo for each one. There is something wrong with the photos though, either some technical fault or overexposure has occurred in many of the photos so that the parmesan cheese looks corrupted and very unappealing. In addition, the colours and patterns of the plates seems to have been chosen specifically to clash with the dish they are displaying. Vivid blue, green and brown ceramics seem to fight with the colour of the pasta and sauces and since these photos take up half of the book, and may be the most important key to whether a dish is made or not, this is a fairly critical fault.

If you are a beginning cook, and looking for a no-frills, easy to use cookbook with a number of well known pasta dishes, Pasta e Sugo might not be a bad choice, otherwise serious pasta lovers may be disappointed with the lack of information, the poor quality photos and the familiarity of the dishes in this book, which could have providing significantly more depth on the wonderfully promising topic of pasta.

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