SWEET! A mention in the Washington Post about that great Camprianese red wine! Come grab a bottle or two! http://ow.ly/5xX7Q

The original article. http://ow.ly/3RoTY

This past weekend I had the honor of outfitting a home in Easton with the finest groceries so that the kitchen would not look naked on the Talbot County Kitchen & Garden Tour.  Mrs. Schoeb asked me to make a display that would imply that she was hosting a dinner party.  I think that we did a nice job but the real work was done by the Schoebs who talked up the store all day.

On view were wines, dessert wine, all kinds of cookies, coffee, dried beans, peppers, olives, pasta, cheese, salami, crackers, rice, books, olive oils, vinegars, fennel pollen, espresso cups, our plastic cow…  just a little bit of everything!!

Well, this seems to be the winter to remember!  A historic December snow storm left a whopping 17 inches here in Easton and this weekend, Superbowl weekend no less, we got blasted again!  I measured about 18 or 19 inches of total snowfall here in Easton.  This makes last weekend’s storm seem like a drop in the bucket.  Personally, I don’t mind the snow, but as a business owner I hate it.  The bad weather has resulted in worse than usual sales during our slow season.  It’s beginning to feel like it only ever snows on the weekend!  I have to tighten our ordering and  scheduling to compensate for the decreased cash flow.  So please forgive me if we are out of your favorite obscure pasta shape.  It will return in due time, just like warm weather and sunny days.

This past spring CHOW.com published an article aimed at showing readers how to pair pasta shapes with sauces.  The Washington Post did the same thing with a big diagram.  The bottom line in the CHOW article is that “delicate noodles are for delicate sauces while heartier noodles are for heartier sauces.”  Then CHOW says “it’s not always that simple”, so let’s take a closer look.

Every one agrees that there are no hard and fast rules about what sauce goes with what pasta shape.  I think that personal taste should always come first when making food choices.  However, in the world of pasta there are some guidelines that are just too old to mess with.  For example, it is always fettucine alfredo, and parmesan does not belong on fish pasta.  There are good reasons behind these two traditions; fettucine was used by the chef who invented that dish.  The flavor of cheese can overpower seafood.  Then there are some ‘rules’ that have no logical explanation–why should you make tomato sauce with a wooden spoon?  Because that is just the way it is done.  And by the way, don’t add the salt until the end.  I’m just saying.

Let’s get the other ‘MUSTS’ out of the way; spaghetti goes with bolognese sauce, bucatini is the pasta for al’amatriciana, pesto matches trofie and linguine goes with vongole.  Those combinations have regional histories, an important factor to consider when matching sauce to pasta.  Only Ligurians eat trofie.  Basil pesto is from Liguria.  So, I recommend you trust the Ligurian tradition of pairing a little twisty pasta with pesto.  Trofie can be hard to find; fusilli, gigli, rotini, or gemelli are fine substitutions.  And really, if you like linguine then make linguine, but know that in Liguria they prefer trofie.  Another super-regional pasta shape is orecchiette, it is only eaten in Puglia.  The same goes for malloreddus from Sardinia.  The Setaro pasta brand from outside Naples doesn’t make either of those shapes.  They just don’t eat them.

Pesto, like butter and sage, oil and garlic are thin sauces, these are very flexible because they cling to any shape.  Pasta with a hole in it, like rigatoni, would be superfluous for a thin sauce.  Pasta with a hole in it is more suited to thicker cheese sauces and sauces with small diced vegetables or meat because the pasta can catch those pieces.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but thin sauces with peas or a small amount of chunks like prosciutto and peas, shrimp and peas, or al’amatriciana are best with long pastas.  It is easier to eat the little pieces of peas or whatever if you fork them after twisting up the pasta.  That is the idea, anyway.

Wide, flat pasta is good with thicker meat ragus because the braised, raggedy pieces cling to the face of the pasta.  By the same token, thick cheesy sauces do a nice job coating the pasta surface.  Wide flat pastas include pappardelle, tagliatelle, and  fettucine.  To me, the thicker the sauce is, the wider the pasta should be.  But again, some people like to have maccheroni or rotini with this type of sauce.  I think it is some kind of “mac and cheese” habit but I prefer maccheroni only when the sauce is really chunky or if the whole thing is baked.  [Again, some things can’t be explained!  Where did mac and cheese come from??]

Very short pasta like tubetti, ditali, stelle, riso, orzo or acini di pepe are good for soups (thick or thin) and pasta salads.  The main reason for this is that the little pieces can easily fit into your spoon.  So if you are making soup and you only have spaghetti, break it into bite-sized pieces.

Generally, I believe that when a recipe calls for a certain shape of pasta you should think more broadly about it.  Is it short, long or tiny?  What do I like/have on hand?  Unless you are making one of those specific dishes, deciding what shape goes with what sauce doesn’t matter too much.  I think that the Italians enjoy playing with their pasta and you should too.  After all, they make pasta in the shape of butterflies, shells, pens, hats, ears, stars, little mouths, radiators, and hair!!  So play with your food too, it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy it.  Just don’t serve it to any Italians.  [Remember when Anthony Bourdain served Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti carbonara with meatballs to the Italians?  They said it was disgusting! Go to the 2:00 minute mark.]

This IS organized

Sometimes when I am upstairs at the desk a customer will try to open the door next to my desk because they are looking for the bathroom. The door is not marked and we keep it locked because it is really not for customers. The bathroom is downstairs.  You may be curious about what is behind that door. Well, until last Monday it was not that exciting. Embarassing, even. It is a storage closet.  Now it is a wonder of organization!  A week ago Sandy, Steph and I put together five sets of beautiful steel shelves.  Where there once was an annoying pallet there is now a designated shelf for our 50 # bags of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, extra tote bags, plastic containers and light bulbs. Christmas has come early to Piazza! We are all so so thrilled that we can walk inside that space instead of tripping.

This past Friday my family went to meet Lidia Bastianich in Virginia!  She is on tour promoting her new book, Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy.  Unlike the Sarah Palin book tour, we did not have to camp out the night before but we did have to wait in a line for an hour.  Lidia looked great and it was really fun.  I brought a Piazza canvas bag for her, filled with some of our more unusual items; pistachio paste, tropea onion spread, and a Scrumptious Pantry cantuccione among other things.  She was happy to take the bag and since she was traveling with her assistant, book rep, and the executive chef of her Kansas City restaurant I’m sure those provisions won’t last long.  Her new book is great, it is all about the foods of lesser known regions of Italy, Liguria, Val d’Aosta, Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Molise, etc.  At this time of year, I am thrilled to find good recipes for celery root and she has two!  I was also very glad to find a ‘white bolognese’ sauce in the Emilia-Romagna section.  I don’t know exactly when but about eight years ago the New York Times Sunday magazine printed a similar recipe that my mom made.  I think of it often.  Another great find is a recipe for Cima alla Genovese, something that I seen but haven’t been able to try.  I saw slices of it in Torino at a shop called Baita Formaggio.  It is a boiled veal roast stuffed with vegetables and hard boiled eggs.  She says that hers is the home-version, I imagine the deli version I saw might be made from ground meat more like mortadella.  I didn’t think to ask her!