I read something today in a magazine referring to a dish as not “Comfort Food”, but “Therapy Food.”

Pasta would fall under that category in my kitchen.

A bowl of noodles with yummy meat sauce? Topped with cheese? I feel better just writing that, much less nestling in for a bowl.

“Pasta” isn’t particularly French or Southern, but I love, love, love pasta. Who doesn’t? Every culture under the sun has some kind of noodle dish simply made from flour and water. Down South we just call it dumplings.

My family grew up eating spaghetti with a traditional meat sauce. Well, sort of. . . . The meat was ground venison from a deer Daddy shot, and Mama always added Dede’s homemade scuppernong wine. She also used a McCormick’s seasoning packet, still does. This was one of those rare meals mama didn’t make completely from scratch. Her brand of choice was Mueller’s — kind of funny, German pasta, but it was good. And, I am not sure why, but she always broke the spaghetti noodles in half and cooked them far, far past al dente, more like “all done.”

When I worked with Epicurious TV on the Discovery channel we once went to Abruzzo and made pasta at Rusticella D’Abruzzo. It was really astonishing. They extrude the pasta out of bronze, not teflon, molds, then slowly dry the pasta. The antique bronze plates create tiny nicks and channels in the dough. This allows the sauce to adhere better to the pasta. Shape and texture of the pasta makes a difference in the final dish. (For more about that see here.) And, as artisan pasta makers, they choose to dry it slowly to maintain the flavor, so it takes them 50 hours to produce what the larger companies produce in a mere 5. You can taste the difference.

Now, I still love my mama’s spaghetti – you know how it is with food memories – but those folks at Rusticella know how to make pasta.

So does my friend and colleague Domenica Marchetti. She has a new cookbook out called The Glorious Pasta of Italy.

It’s therapy food abbondanza.

Giuliano Hazan, author of Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta says, “In The Glorious Pasta of Italy, Domenica Marchetti shares her passion with you. Her recipes for my favorite food — pasta — are unpretentious, genuine, and mouthwatering. Brava!”

I’ve enjoyed some time in the kitchen with Guiliano, too. Once I got over the fact that I was cooking pasta for him and the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. You can read more about that here.

Domenica’s book is so beautiful and Guiliano is right — she’s sharing her passion. It’s one of those cookbooks that makes you hungry, makes you want to eat, makes you want to cook. It’s an absolute winner.

So, I’m at IACP in Austin, but Domenica shared a couple of recipes with me to share with you and I developed a simple vegetarian pasta I served last weekend, as well. Hers are more authentic than mine, but I’ve got you covered with a meat, fish, and vegetarian pasta.

You’re good to go for a couple of sessions of therapy.

Buon appetito, y’all!

PS Here’s a list of the award winners from last night! 2011 IACP Award Winners.

Domenica’s Fettuccine with Sausage, Mascarpone, and Sottocenere al Tartufo

Who says you can’t have luxury on a Monday night? Sottocenere al tartufo, a semisoft cow’s milk cheese flecked with shavings of black truffle, dresses up a classic cream sauce, infusing it with truffle aroma and flavor. If you are unable to find sottocenere, substitute Fontina Val d’Aosta and, if you like, a drop or two of truffle oil.

Makes 4 servings

1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sweet Italian sausages, 8 oz/225 g total weight
1/4 cup/60 ml dry white wine
1/4 cup/60 ml heavy/double cream
8 oz/225 g mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
Kosher or fine sea salt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb/455 g dried fettuccine
3 oz/85 g sottocenere al tartufo cheese
1/2 cup/55g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.

While the water is heating, put the butter in a large frying pan placed over medium heat. Remove the sausages from their casings and pick them apart over the frying pan, allowing the chunks of sausage to drop directly into the pan. Sauté, using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to break up the large pieces of sausage, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until no trace of pink remains and the meat is cooked through. The sausage should still be moist and only very lightly browned. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for about a minute, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream and then the mascarpone. Continue to stir until the mascarpone is melted. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if necessary. This will depend on how salty the sausages are. Add a generous grind of pepper. Cover and keep the sauce over very low heat while you cook the fettuccine.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until not quite al dente; it should be slightly underdone. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup/240 ml of the cooking water.

Pour a little of the cooking water into the cream sauce to thin it out a bit, and then add the cooked pasta to the frying pan over low heat. Gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle the sottocenere al tartufo and half of the Parmigiano over the sauced pasta and toss again, making sure the cheeses melt into the sauce and are well incorporated and the pasta is al dente. Add a splash more water if necessary to thin out the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed shallow individual bowls and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.

Domenica’s Spaghetti al Farouk

This is a unique dish, and one that is near and dear to my heart. When I was a girl, my family owned a beach house on Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast. I have many wonderful memories of whiling away summer days on the beach with friends and enjoying late-night marathon meals that featured freshly caught local seafood. One of our favorite restaurants was right on the beach. My memory says it was on the outskirts of the port city of Pescara, but my mother swears it was in nearby Francavilla. Since she is originally from the region, I will defer to her on that detail. Neither of us remembers the name of the restaurant, but we do remember that it was a casual place with a reputation for impeccable fish and seafood. One of its signature dishes was Spaghetti al Farouk, a fanciful curried pasta dish that brimmed with fresh mussels, shrimp, and pannocchie (something like crayfish or tiny lobsters). The dish was named for the deposed Egyptian king who fled to Italy in 1952, and the sauce was spicy, silky, and a deep gold. My mother re-created the recipe in her own kitchen in the 1970s, and I still have a typed copy that she gave me. I’ve tinkered with the sauce over the years, lightening it a bit and trying different quantities of the various spices. In all honesty, I can’t tell you whether it is anything like the original—it’s been some thirty years—but I can tell you that it is a sauce like no other.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
Large pinch of saffron threads, pounded to a powder
1 tbsp curry powder (preferably spicy)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup/180 ml dry white wine
1 cup/240 ml heavy/double cream
1 lb/455 g dried spaghetti
12 mussels, well scrubbed and debearded if necessary (see Cook’s Note)
16 large shrimp/prawns, peeled and deveined
6 oz/170 g frozen shelled cooked langoustine tails (see Cook’s Note)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.

In a frying pan large enough to hold all of the seafood, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the onion and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes, or until the onion is softened but not browned. Stir in the saffron, curry powder, ginger, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and a generous grind of pepper, taking care to incorporate all of the herbs and spices. Stir in the lemon juice, raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Let the sauce simmer briskly for about 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cream. Bring the sauce back to a very gentle simmer. If the pasta water is not yet boiling, reduce the heat under the sauce to low and wait until the pasta water boils.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Once the pasta is in the water, proceed with finishing the sauce.

Add the mussels, shrimp, and langoustine tails to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mussels open, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the langoustine tails are heated through. Discard any mussels that failed to open.

Drain the pasta into a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup/240 ml of the cooking water. If the frying pan is large enough to contain both the pasta and the sauce, add the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. If the frying pan is not large enough, return the pasta to the pot, add about two-thirds of the sauce, toss to combine thoroughly, and then top with the remaining sauce when serving. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl or shallow individual bowls. If you are preparing individual servings, be sure to divide the seafood evenly among them. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Note: Much of the shellfish available these days is farm raised and therefore contains less dirt and grit than shellfish harvested from the wild. To clean mussels, scrub their shells with a stiff brush under cold running water. Discard any that do not close tightly when handled. If the mussels have beards, the fibrous tufts they use to hold on to pilings and rocks, you need to remove them. Using a towel or just bare fingers, grasp the beard gently but firmly and yank it toward the shell’s hinge. This will remove the fibers without tearing the mussel meat.

Frozen langoustine tails lack the flavor of fresh ones, but they are much more readily available and they have a nice, meaty texture that captures the sauce and absorbs its flavor.

Virginia’s Penne with Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 6

1 pound penne pasta
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups oven roasted tomatoes
1 cup mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, parsley, and basil, chopped
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water to al dente – not all done – about 10 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. (Do not rinse under running water.) Immediately add the olive oil and toss to coat. (This will prevent the pasta from sticking together.) Add the tomatoes, herbs, pecans, and stir to combine. Add freshly grated cheese. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature.

Domenica’s photography was done by France Ruffencach.
My veggie pasta snap was taken by me.

The Glorious Pasta of Italy (June 2011) Reprinted with permission of Chronicle Books.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.