Seasonality and Pasta in ‘The Four Seasons of Pasta’

Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins share their pasta expertise
Seasonal Pasta with Sara Jenkins Pt1

Chef Sara Jenkins comes to The Daily Meal to demo one of her dishes from her and mom's new cook book The Four Seasons of Pasta.

Seasonality and Pasta in ‘The Four Seasons of Pasta’

Ravi Bangaroo

The Four Seasons of Pasta highlights how easy making pasta can be.

Italians have a saying, “butta la pasta,” explains Nancy Harmon Jenkins, which roughly translates to “drop the pasta in the water.” Pasta plays a central role in Italian cuisine, but Jenkins, a food writer and authority on Mediterranean cuisine and her daughter Sara, an accomplished chef and owner of the restaurant Porsena in New York City, realized that what Americans didn’t understand about pasta was how simple, elegant, and seasonal pasta dishes could be made at home — the right way.

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Their cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pasta, focuses on the ease of cooking pasta, which is why most of the pasta recipes included in this book call for dried pasta, which Nancy assures us is authentically Italian. But, the book also shows the range of pasta with a sprinkling of more complex recipes that call for homemade, fresh pastas.

While making truly great pasta is a skill that takes practice, this mother-daughter duo shares tips, tricks, and step-by-step instructions to make that journey as transparent and seamless as possible.

This is a cookbook that begs to used and enjoyed in the kitchen as much as you will enjoy these finessed pasta dishes at the table.

We had the opportunity to chat with Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins about the seasonality of pasta and how to cook it.

The Daily Meal: Can you tell us a little bit about your cooking philosophy and inspiration for this book?

Nancy Harmon Jenkins: I would have to say Italy… Italy, Italy, Italy.

Sara Jenkins: Sure, I would say Italy, but what was our inspiration for the book? I kind of wanted to show people how easy pasta is really, and what an easy pantry ingredient. Also, we wanted to show how pasta could be used as a seasonal ingredient.

Nancy: When you talk about our cooking philosophy, I think we would both agree, that our philosophy comes right out of the Mediterranean.

How did those influences affect the recipes you chose to include?

Sara: Pasta is a huge topic, and there are a lot of different choices, but what we are really trying to stress is the ease and simplicity of pasta. So that applies to the majority of the [recipes] we chose. As far as specialties go, I love to make fresh pastas, and I wanted to include some of that as a celebratory element.

What advice do you have for cooks who are intimidated by fresh pastas?

Sara: Well, it is a skill and technique that you have to practice at. Making fresh lasagna is probably the easiest thing to do, and the first step toward learning the skill. If you have never made fresh pasta before, I wouldn’t start out making ravioli, but I think the lasagna and potato gnocchi are both fairly easy [for a beginner].

In the introduction of the book, Nancy, you mention moving to Italy and experiencing the difference between Italian and American pasta. Can you elaborate on that a little?

Nancy: Sara grew up there so she had real Italian pasta from the start, but I grew up on my mother’s American chop suey. It really is an Italian dish, I don’t know why it was called chop suey, but it is made of elbow macaroni, mixed in tomato, and ground meat sauce cooked up on the stove and served to a hungry family – it wasn’t very interesting at all. It was boxed American pasta.

When I got to Italy, it was an incredible revelation. First of all, to see all of the different pastas that were readily available, and then to discover the difference between freshly made pasta and dried. There were lots of little shops that sold freshly made pasta in our neighborhood in Rome. So, I never really [had to make fresh pasta].

My first newspaper assignment was for the Herald Tribune in Paris, and they asked me if I had ever made pasta before, and I said, “of course, I make it everyday.” Then, I realized what they meant. They wanted freshly made pasta, and I had never done that. So, I got out Marcella Hazan – thank God for her – and I made up some fresh pasta, and I wrote about it.

You didn’t need to know about fresh pasta because it was everywhere, and the fact is that most Italians really do rely on boxed pasta. That is the be all and end all of pasta in Italy.

How do you hope readers will use this book?

Nancy: I hope they will use it every day, and that [the readers] will understand that pasta is infinitely adaptable to whatever is in season, and that even meats and fish have a season. We don’t always think of it that way, we think of tomatoes in the summer, squash in the fall, and I don’t know what in the winter, because I live in Maine where we don’t have much of anything, maybe cabbage in the winter. Meats have their season and so do fish. You should know that based on where you live and respect that, and use a pasta recipe that respects it.

I hope that people who have “finicky eaters” in their family will realize that it is one way to get a finicky eater to eat more vegetables. Almost every picky eater really likes pasta, even pasta with butter or olive oil on it, but if you can get them into the tomato sauce area, then you can fill them with something that is good for them. From there you can add chopped green vegetables or mushrooms or a little bit of meat or whatever. Then you start to develop a real spread of taste in your picky eaters.

How do you prepare pasta as a main course?

Nancy: As a main course, I really like to use pastas that go in the oven like pasta al forno, a lasagna, or something like that because you can put it together ahead of time. You can even, with many of these, bake them off ahead of time. They don’t suffer from standing on the counter for half an hour next to stove, waiting to be served. If I am serving lasagna or a pasta al forno, I don’t serve anything really but maybe a green salad in addition, and I serve the salad separately – the pasta is served on its own.

What are some of your favorite pasta cooking tips?

Nancy: Well, boiling up a lot of water. You would be surprised at how much water it takes to cook pasta. For close to a pound of pasta, you will need six quarts of boiling water, and really brought to a rolling boil, not just a few bubbles coming up. Salted, quite heavily, and then the pasta added, and then you cook according to the directions, but you really want to start testing about a minute and a half before the package directions say it will be done. Just to make sure you don’t overcook it.

Then, turn it out immediately into a colander, and turn it into a heated bowl that you previously heated with the pasta water. Sauce it immediately, stir it up, and serve it immediately. Don’t ever put olive oil in the water when you are boiling it. Don’t ever run water over it when it is in the colander. Those are both [instructions] that you see occasionally in old-fashioned American cookbooks, but you would never see that in Italy.

Want to try a recipe?

Anelloni with Spicy Lamb and Greens

Anelloni with Spicy Lamb and Greens

Michael Harlan Turkell

This annelloni with spicy lamb and greens is a delicious winter pasta dish.

This anelloni recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pasta, made with a warm spice mix of Moroccan harissa, oregano, cumin, and coriander, balances the flavors of the lamb and bitter greens. 

For the Annelloni with Spicy Lamb and Greens recipe, click here.

Mezze Rigatoni with Swordfish and Black Olives

Mezze Rigatoni with Swordfish and Black Olives

Michael Harlan Turkell

This Mezze Rigatoni with Swordfish and Black Olives dish is perfect for winter.

This light and refreshing mezze rigatoni recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pasta, includes fresh swordfish, olive oil, tomatoes, and olives. 

For the Mezze Rigatoni with Swordfish and Black Olives Recipe, click here.

Pasta with Oven-Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower

Pasta with Oven-Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower

Michael Harlan Turkell

This Pasta with Oven-Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower dish is perfect for autumn.

This pasta with cauliflower recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pasta, is made with Romanesco cauliflower, freshly ground black pepper, and anchovies for a deeply flavorful, textured pasta.

For the Pasta with Oven-Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower recipe, click here.

Pennette with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

Pennette with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

Michael Harlan Turkell

This Pennette with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta dish is perfect for autumn.

This pennette recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pastais made with fresh Brussels sprouts, crunchy bread crumbs, and pancetta for a balanced and delicious bite.

For the Pennette with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta recipe, click here.

Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seed Maccheroncini

Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seed Maccheroncini

Michael Harlan Turkell

This Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seed Maccheroncini dish is perfect for fall.

This maccheroncini recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pastais made with fresh pumpkin, herbaceous sage, and garlic for a delicious fall pasta dish.

For the Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seed Maccheroncini recipe, click here.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

Michael Harlan Turkell

This Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage dish is a delicious fall pasta.

This gnocchi recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ and Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pastais made with rich fall flavors — sweet potato, brown butter, and fresh sage.

For the Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage recipe, click here.
 


Angela Carlos is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter and tweet @angelaccarlos.

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