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‘Sauces and Shapes’: Yes, you do need one more pasta cookbook

“Sauces and Shapes” by Oretta Zanini de Vita and Maureen B. Fant.
(W.W. Norton)

Why in the world at this point in our culinary evolution would we need another pasta cookbook? Surely, everything that possibly could be said about such a simple subject has been covered to death by now. Well, pick up “Sauces and Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way” by Oretta Zanini de Vita and Maureen B. Fant and find out just how wrong you are.

“Sauces and Shapes” is the companion piece to 2009’s “Encyclopedia of Pasta” by the same authors. One of the most delightfully nerdy books around, “Encyclopedia” was more than 350 pages of everything you could possibly want to know about pasta history, geography, literature and, yes, cooking -- without a single recipe.

This new book fills that gap, thoroughly, admirably and entertainingly.

It is doubtful anyone has so thoroughly explored the ramifications of the different methods of draining and saucing pasta (hint: add the cheese before the sauce and it will make the dish creamy), to say nothing of serving and eating, and even pairing pasta shapes with clothing (“In general, it would be good of you to serve a short pasta to guests who have honored you by wearing clean shirts” to avoid slurping stains.)

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Yet the book is anything but dogmatic. “The truth is that almost any kind of pasta goes reasonably well with almost any kind of sauce, and people who get all serious and talk about the importance of correct sauce pairing are probably overthinking,” the authors write. “And yet, just try and pair spaghetti with, say, cauliflower, and everybody will recognize you for the foreigner, or aberrant, that you are.”

Then there’s the recipes -- more than 150 of them, for pastas with sauces, pastas in soups and, yes, 80 pages on noodles themselves. There are pastas that are rolled and cut, pastas that are stuffed, pastas that are pinched and even pastas that aren’t really pastas at all -- made from bread crumbs like canederli or potatoes like gnocchi.

Indeed, spend a little time with “Sauces and Shapes” and instead of asking why anyone might need yet another pasta cookbook, you might find yourself wondering why you would keep all those others.

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