Donatella Cooks…Really Well!

My company publishes a lot of good cookbooks, so many I can’t really keep up with them all. But the other week one crossed my desk that I decided to open up immediately. It was a picture of “Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe” that caught my eye. It’s a classic combination that’s so easy to make, but I wanted to see if the author, Donatella Arpaia, had any new twists on it. Before I knew it, I was reading through the cookbook and salivating with hunger. It’s good, classic Italian food the way real Italians make it.

I’ve been learning to cook Italian from my in-laws for the past 20 years. But I knew Donatella Cooks was good when I learned something new that I can use no matter what I’m cooking: She says that rather than drain the pasta into a colander (a “schkulapasta” as my in-laws call it) you have to “marry” the pasta to the sauce by taking the pasta out of the water with a pasta fork and putting it right into the pan the sauce is cooking in. I’ve always seen recipes that call for a little bit of pasta water in the sauce, but never quite understood why. I like her technique better (plus, it saves a step and a dish to clean afterwards).

So, I made her recipe, substituting whole wheat pasta of a different shape, and skipping the hot peppers because they would make the kids cry. A minute into the meal all I heard was the sound of forks scraping the bowls. And then the comments started: “This is really good, Mom!” Music to a mother’s ears!

Then, later as I paged through the book I had a moment of supreme happiness. What caught my eye was the name of a woman I know, Anya Fernald (who is one of the smartest, most down-to-earth, and talented people I have met). But what really excited me was that Anya and Donatella had made something I had eaten decades ago in the South of France and never been able to find a recipe for.

I was in the Nice farmer’s market as part of a course on landscape design I was taking with John Brookes. In the market, there was a man with a rusty barrel that had a wood fire in it and what looked like a pizza tray on top. He was making a chickpea-flour pancake with olive oil. When it was done he put salt and fresh ground pepper on it and wrapped it in paper and…oh, my heavens, it was totally yummy. Now, thanks to Donatella and Anya, I know it’s called Farinata. The recipe is in the book.

It probably won’t taste the same as it did that day long ago in France, when the morels and alpine strawberries were ripe, the wisteria was in full bloom, and the scent of fresh lavender was everywhere (mixed with the sea). But I will make it again, and remember.

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8 Responses to Donatella Cooks…Really Well!

  1. Peter April 16, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Jeez. It seems like a long time until lunch, now.

  2. Kimi April 16, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Okay, I’m getting hungry after reading about Farinata. Sounds delicious! One of my dream trips is to Italy. The cuisines are exceptionallly fantastic. I own a book “The Olives Table” by Todd English and it provides great Italian recipes. Cooking is an art and a science–it takes practice like anything else. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cyndie April 16, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    …I’m half Italian and had the great honor of watching my ‘Nona’ do the exact same thing with some of her pasta dishes!

    and thanks for the tasty & fragrant visit to France… 🙂

  4. Cathy April 16, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Wonderful and evocative writing, Maria. I liked the whole piece, but *loved* that last paragraph.

  5. Mariska April 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm #


  6. Anita McLean April 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Maria, I see you gave that Italian colander a German accent, as I remember it it was close to being called a Scolla-Macarone~~~~~~~

  7. Kathleen Fortier April 18, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I enjoyed reading your article about the farinata. I am recuperating from a complicated foot surgery and passing time with gardening and travel books. My husband will be speaking at a conference in Venice in July and we will enjoy Northern Italy. I was just telling him yesterday about these pancakes farinata, that they make with chickpea flour and put it on my list of recipies to try. Looking foward to the real thing in my travels!

  8. Anita McLean April 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Farinata can also be made with Farina!!!!

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