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Theo Randall, Ebury Press, £20
As one of the original protégés of iconic Italophile duo Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Theo Randall was head chef at the River Café for more than ten years. Since 2006 he has been chef at his own restaurant at the InterContinental Park Lane, where he also holds monthly cookery classes. His first book sums up his commitment to education and simple classic food by concentrating on one thing only: pasta, in all its guises.
Theo’s single recipe for fresh pasta is an eggy one. Standard recipes often call for a ratio of one egg to 100g flour or semolina. His has extra yolks, but in our testing it came out incredibly silken, flavourful and intensely pumpkin yellow. He is quick to point out that dried pasta is an entirely acceptable substitute and in fact better suited to some dishes because of its chewier bite.
The book’s philosophy is that with pasta, the most important factors are not to overcook it and to flavour it with simple combinations of ingredients that aren’t overwhelming or fiddly. This is not a manual on how to achieve bewildering arrays of pasta origami. Theo sticks to sheets of pasta cut into varying sizes or wrapped around a filling.
The book is divided into categories of sauce: tomatoes, vegetables, meat, seafood and more. The recipes are easy to follow, most requiring no more time than it takes for the water to boil. Each dish is introduced by Theo, with a little anecdotal information about the ingredients.
Ravioli stuffed with sweet potato, fennel and mascarpone cheese, topped with a smattering of red chilli and fennel greens, was refreshingly light and clean tasting. Pappardelle with roasted cherry tomatoes was sweet and deep in flavour from mixing the pasta into the roasting juices. Spaghetti with brown shrimps, peas and pancetta had a delectable balance of umami-rich tastes and texture.
Barring a trip to Italy and a possible apprenticeship with an amenable nonna, this book is the best way to learn, from scratch, the intricacies and subtleties of a simple plate of pasta.
Zoe Kamen, Time Out London Issue 2083: July 22-28 2010