ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
For some of us, this is the language of love: bucatini.
SIEGEL: And the best, pelchatelli(ph).
BLOCK: We're talking pasta in all of its wonderful shapes - tubes and spirals, shells and ribbons, and little ears. All of it celebrated in a stylish new cookbook titled "The Geometry of Pasta" with text and recipes from Chef Jacob Kennedy and dramatic black and white drawings of pasta shapes by graphic designer Caz Hildebrand, both of whom join us now from London. Welcome to the program.
Ms. CAZ HILDEBRAND (Graphic Designer, "The Geometry of Pasta"): Hello.
Mr. JACOB KENNEDY (Chef, Author, "The Geometry of Pasta"): Hi.
BLOCK: And, Caz Hildebrand, this was your idea. You're the engine behind this book. How'd you get the idea?
Ms. HILDEBRAND: Well, you know, for ages I couldn't quite work out whether the fact that there were hundreds of different pasta shapes was simply some pasta manufacturer having fun or whether it would actually make a different in why one might choose one over the other. And thinking about it, it occurred to me that there had to be a reason.
And once I started researching it, it became clear there certainly was a reason that certain shapes went with certain sauces. And that once you were let into this deep secret, you could enjoy pasta far, far more than you ever thought possible.
BLOCK: Jacob Kennedy, as the chef here, what's the basic philosophy about certain pasta shapes? Say you have something that's shaped kind of like a scoop or a cup, and there are a lot of pastas like that, that tends to go with what kind of sauce?
Mr. KENNEDY: It would tend to go with something a little bit lumpy that you can catch in the cup, and flavors have issues as well. Fish flavors tend to go with larger textured pastas, to my mind, as well as lumpier sauces or oilier sauces with different forms. Some pastas are ridged or quite rough on the outside, which makes them catch a sauce quite well.
And others are smooth and slippery and they all have a different mouth feel that works differently with a different sauce.
BLOCK: I love that you mentioned mouth feel in there, because that does seem to be such a perfect thing. And I think we know it when we taste it that certain pastas feel different in the mouth and lead you in a certain direction.
Mr. KENNEDY: It can be quite exciting sometimes, the shape of a pasta -tortellini, which I love, tiny tortelloni - they're normally filled with mortadella and prosciutto. Their shape reputedly, at least, is based on the shape of Lucretia Borgia's navel. And when you eat them, particularly in a very light sauce, in (unintelligible) broth, and so you can really feel the pasta shape, it is slightly erotic if you think about it enough.
BLOCK: I will never eat tortellini quite the same way. Thank you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: There are a whole bunch of pastas in the book whose names come from industrial words, industrial shapes - screws, eliche; spindles, fusilli; crank shaft - I didn't know that one - gumiti(ph). Fabulous, fabulous shapes and really, really fun to design I would think, Caz.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: Well, actually, I think one of the most amazing opportunities that could ever befall a designer would be to design a pasta shape. I mean, probably incredibly difficult, and I know some people have tried and failed. But I think they are very exciting. And the idea that the industrial revolution inspired pasta shapes is kind of wonderful.
BLOCK: So, let's talk about some of these shapes. I love this one: canestrini.
Mr. KENNEDY: Canestrini are tiny little baskets, and they're often used in soups. They're a bit like a deep-cupped farfalle, if you know farfalle, which are butterflies, bowtie-shaped pastas. You'll most often see them in the tiny form, the constrimus(ph) they use in broths.
BLOCK: What about this one: cappalletti, little hats.
Mr. KENNEDY: They are a filled pasta in the vein of tortelloni. I quite like them with a fairly light filling, with ricotta and chicken or something fairly light. They're also used with pumpkin.
BLOCK: Well, here's a pasta that must have a story behind the name: strozzapreti.
Mr. KENNEDY: Strozzapreti have the most wonderful name, unless you're very religious probably - priest stranglers.
BLOCK: Priest stranglers.
Mr. KENNEDY: There are a number of different theories as to why they've got their name - possibly because they're so delicious and priests stuff their faces with them or down to the intentions of the women who made them. They're handmade pasta from central Italy.
BLOCK: And they're long strips sort of rolled into two.
Mr. KENNEDY: Exactly. Many, many a priest has met his fate at the hands of strozzapreto.
BLOCK: And, Caz, as a designer, is there a pasta shape that's especially appealing for you just graphically?
Ms. HILDEBRAND: I would say the sort of nearly straight ones and what happens when you draw them and you put them side by side is the most fun because you never know what's going to happen next.
BLOCK: Well, we'll have some of these drawings up on our website, on NPR.org. And they really are stunning, especially in black and white, because you really do see all the geometry that you're talking about, the architecture kind of, of this pasta.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: That's great. I mean, we felt, I think when we were discussing the book, we imagined that it would be great to try and create a cookbook now when people are so used to full color illustrations showing every dish to see if it was possible to make a book that didn't rely on that photography. Because I think in photography it's really about making it look appetizing. So, things like the idea of a mechanical shape or something have to be slightly ignored. But we loved the idea that pasta's named after flying saucers or, you know, snails and things like that. And...
BLOCK: Yeah, that flying saucer pasta, Jacob, why don't talk about that? The name in Italian is...
Mr. KENNEDY: Dischi volanti...
BLOCK: ...dischi volanti.
Mr. KENNEDY: ...which means flying saucers.
BLOCK: And you've got a really, really high-brow recipe going along with that one.
Mr. KENNEDY: The...
BLOCK: Not for the faint of heart.
Mr. KENNEDY: I struggled with that for a long time. The pasta shape, I've actually, I've always enjoyed eating them. My dad used to cook with it a lot, but it's a fairly recent invention and it dates from the '70s. And I was looking for recipes that somehow spoke of the time they came from, and we found one from the '70s with oysters in a b�chamel.
And I made it, and I tried making it a number of times, and saying that it did come out completely disgusting every time I tried to make it. It was far too '70s. And there's a risotto I make quite often with oysters and Prosecco champagne - very light - and I adapted that to the pasta.
BLOCK: Do you ever stop and think about a pasta shape that hasn't been made that's in your brain?
Ms. HILDEBRAND: Constantly.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: Can't stop seeing them now. I feel that there's some kind of spindle shapes but with pointy ends that have never been done. Sort of fat in the middle and pointed at either end. I feel that there might be some more geometric shapes to explore. And we quite like the idea of making some very, you know, for example, hexagonal forms or octagons, things like that, where there are lots of edges. That would be fun.
BLOCK: Jacob, what about you? Do you have shapes in your mind?
Mr. KENNEDY: Quite honestly, not so much. I'm still trying to learn about all the old ones.
BLOCK: And there's a lot to learn.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: We haven't got to the end of the list yet.
Mr. KENNEDY: Yeah. No, and we haven't even begun really, I think.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: We've identified possibly more than 1,200 names of pasta - they may not all be different shapes but there are at least 1,200 names and counting.
BLOCK: Wow. Well, Jacob and Caz, thanks very much. Thanks for making us so hungry.
Ms. HILDEBRAND: Thanks, thank you.
Mr. KENNEDY: I'm getting hungry myself.
BLOCK: And buon appetito.
Mr. KENNEDY: Alle(ph).
BLOCK: Chef Jacob Kennedy and designer Caz Hildebrand talking about their book, "The Geometry of Pasta." And the recipe for Gemelli al Fagiolini with green beans and cinnamon is at our website, NPR.org.
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