Oretta Zanini De Vita, a renowned Italian food historian and pasta authority, and Maureen B. Fant, an American who’s lived and cooked in Rome for more than 30 years, teamed up to create the ultimate Italian cookbook, Sauces & Shapes, which Cooking columnist Sybil Pratt calls "glorious."

Don't judge me, but I might spend the rest of the fall season eating this soup and only this soup. Yum!

Pasta e patate
Pasta and potato soup

It took me a while to accept the double starch concept of pasta and potatoes. But I did notice that most people would assume a look of happy nostalgia at the very mention of pasta e patate. For good reason. And even those of us in whose childhood memories it does not figure can still grasp its attraction on a cold winter’s night. It’s thick and comforting, and the flavor subtle, but never bland and boring.

As for what pasta to use, fresh quadrucci or dried cannolicchi are good, but pasta grattata (see below) is great. Spaghetti spezzati (broken spaghetti) hark back to the bad old days in Naples, when the fragments of pasta used to be scooped up from the bottom of the madia, where the pasta was stored, and tossed in the soup. Sister Attilia, Oretta’s childhood mentor in Bologna, used the odd cuttings she had put aside from making her famous tagliatelle.

paste e patate

For the soup:

  • 1 small white onion

  • 1 carrot

  • 1 clove garlic

  • 1 small rib celery

  • 10–12 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 22 ounces (600 grams) potatoes (any kind), peeled and diced quite small

  • 6 cups (1.4 liters) your favorite meat or vegetable broth (or less for a denser soup)

Before serving:

  • 7 ounces (200 grams) pasta

  • salt

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 rounded tablespoons (80 grams) grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Chop finely (in the food processor if desired) the onion, carrot, garlic, celery, and parsley and put in a small skillet with the oil. Sauté over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Bring the broth to a boil in a 6-quart (6-liter) pot and add the onion mixture and potatoes. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely falling apart. Taste for salt. The amount will depend on how salty your broth is.

Add the pasta and cook al dente.

Transfer to a heated tureen, stir in the cheese, grind on some pepper, and serve piping hot.

sauces&shapesTo make pasta grattata (“grated pasta”): Make egg dough using your favorite recipe, but if possible use durum-wheat flour, and add a pinch of salt to the dough. When the dough has rested and is quite firm, cut it into manageable pieces and grate it like cheese on a large-holed cheese grater or the grating blade of the food processor.

Spread the pasta grattata on a kitchen towel to dry, about an hour for immediate use or 3–4 hours if you plan to store it.

Reprinted with permission from Sauces & Shapes by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant, copyright © 2013. Published by Norton. Read our review of this book.

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