Tag Archives: pasta

The Secret’s In The Sauce


It’s easy to ignore things that have been overdone. So, do so at your own risk.

Spaghetti Sauces: Authentic Italian Recipes from Biba Caggiano

If you lined up all of the pasta/spaghetti sauce recipes that are currently in print there’s a good chance it would stretch to Genoa and back again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, let’s be honest about it, that space in the culinary world is pretty darn crowded.

When you pick up most Italian style cookbooks you can expect the expected. Some pasta recipes, roast chicken recipes, some fish, meats and of course the many amazing desserts of Italy. This broad brush approach to most cookbooks of that region is what sets this effort apart.

Born and raised in the northern Italian city of Bologna, Biba Caggiano, takes a more defined approach to the subject. The title of her book, Spaghetti Sauces: Authentic Italian Recipes from Biba Caggiano, says it all. Nothing more needs to be added. If you’re looking for a recipe for Bistecca Fiorentina, you’ve opened the wrong book.

Here’s the good news, if you are in search of an authentic, easy to produce, yet elegant pasta dish, then Biba’s got what you’re looking for. This book defines great, simple pasta and sauces. Enough said.

Broken down into it’s component parts, the book makes it easy to choose a style that suits your mood and taste. Cheese, Pesto, Quick Tomato, Vegetable, Seafood and Ragu. There’s no searching through indexes or page after page of recipes that all seem to run together. Simple is the theme of this cookbook.

Enough talk. How about some authentic Italian pasta (and sauce).

Proscuitto, Tomatoes and Peas

It was hard to choose, trust me. There are lots of great food images in this book. On one hand, it makes coming to a decision easier, but on another, those photos will make you second guess yourself.

Ah, the humble ham. I just love prosciutto. It makes anything you add it to just sing.

Sliced Prosciutto

I chose this particular dish because the ingredients and directions were so basic and simple that I just had to see what kind of flavor it would yield.


I ended up with a couple of nice pea shots, so you get to see both.

Peas Again

Here’s How To Do It

1 10 oz. package frozen peas, thawed (or 1½ lbs. unshelled fresh peas)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, minced
salt and fresh ground pepper
¼ lb. sliced prosciutto, diced
1 lb. spaghetti
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

If you are using fresh peas, shell them and cook in a medium saucepan of salted boiling water until they are tender, but, still firm. About 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Start cooking your pasta according to the package directions.

While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they reach a light golden brown and are soft. Add the garlic, stir once or twice. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook until tomatoes begin to soften. About 4 to 5 minutes. Add the prosciutto. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes then add in the peas. Stir until contents of the pan is heated through. Remove from heat.

When pasta is almost done remove ½ cup of the cooking liquid and reserve. When the pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet. Add butter and mix it quickly over low heat until all of the ingredients are well combined. Add some of the cooking liquid as necessary. Adjust the seasoning and sprinkle with some of the cheese.

Serves 4


Recipe adapted from Prosciutto, Tomatoes and Peas, Biba Caggiano, Spaghetti Sauces: Authentic Italian Recipes from Biba Caggiano, Gibbs-Smith

TIP: This dish really comes together quickly and easily. Since there are so few components in this dish, it’s important to use the freshest possible ingredients you can find. You’ll thank me later.

The Bottom Line: This is the type of cookbook that will get used time and time again in most every home kitchen. The recipes and equipment needed are within easy reach of any home cook/chef. You won’t have to embark on a treasure hunt for any exotic and hard to find ingredients. So, that means there is a reasonable chance that you can execute many of these dishes with things you may already have in your fridge or pantry.

If you happen to live in the Sacramento California area, you can get some of Biba’s food at her namesake restaurant.

Spaghetti Sauces: Authentic Italian Recipes from Biba Caggiano

BUY IT! - Spaghetti Sauces: Authentic Italian Recipes from Biba Caggiano

Author: Biba Caggiano
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
ISBN-10: 1423606884

Who The Heck Is Poppy Cannon Anyway?

What happens when a 1950’s shopping list collides with 2011 reality?

The Can Opener Cookbook by Poppy Cannon

A friend of mine owns a used book store. When he sees an old cookbook cross his counter he may set it aside or give me a call. One day I’m there, wandering around, looking for some out of the ordinary cookbook treasurers. I ask the question, “anything interesting come in?”. With that, out comes The Can-Opener Cookbook. Success!

First published back in 1951 by MacFadden Books, The Can-Opener Cookbook, was too great a find to pass up. Written by Poppy Cannon, this book has recipes for the “quick gourmet meal”. We are talking about “gourmet” food made with ingredients straight out of a can, box or bag. These recipes have some creative and enticing names that roll off your tongue. Eggs Benedict Chasseur, Lobster Bisque De luxe, Chicken Flambé with Black Cherries and Lamb Chops aux Fines Herbs, just to rattle off a few.

This is a pretty bold attempt to upgrade the average “canned macaroni in crème sauce with cheese”. Frankly, it’s a tall order. We’re all used to using some shortcuts in our daily cooking routines, but, recipes that are based on pre-packed food, is something totally different.

The Author, Poppy Cannon, was something of a fifties foodie. She was at times the food editor of Ladies Home Journal and House Beautiful. She was an early adopter of the convenience food movement (aka pre-packaged, ready to eat meals). And, last but not least, she was a cookbook Author.

She created quite a stir back in 1949 when she married Walter Francis White who at the time was the leader of the NAACP. He was black, she wasn’t. In 1949 that’s an issue. Poppy later penned a biography of her husband titled, A Gentle Knight that was published in 1956.

That’s Poppy White. All super interesting stuff. But, what I really wanted to know was, can a recipe created back in the early fifties using these type of ingredients be satisfying and edible using today’s measures. I was going to find out (and so are you!).

Our test, Green Noodles with Meat Sauce

Green Noodles with Meat Sauce

One of the crazy quirks about Poppy’s recipes is that they have no real amounts for most ingredients. I guess she was known for that (what?).

I used some fresh basil (probably a no-no).

Fresh basil

To keep this pure, I was thinking about going for one of those little herb packs from the produce section of my grocery store. But, I have an herb garden full of the stuff. I hope this doesn’t screw things up too much.

Here are the rest of the ingredients.

The rest of the ingredients

That’s it, honestly. The directions are equally is abbreviated.

Here’s How To Do It

green noodles
prepared spaghetti sauce (with or without meat)
basil, oregano, Worcestershire sauce or red wine
parsley (optional)

Cook 2 cups of dried noodles according to package directions. Don’t overcook. When al dente, drain (the recipe mentions rinsing in cold water to separate the strands, I didn’t).

In a medium saucepan heat the spaghetti sauce. Add a little of the basil or oregano or Worcestershire to “perk it up”. I used basil.

Here’s where the garlic comes in. Rub the garlic (I’m assuming you cut the clove) on the serving dish, holding with a piece of waxed paper. Pile noodles in center of platter. Make a well and pour in the sauce. Sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (not included in ingredients list). Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, red wine and a fruit dessert. This will comprise a “glorious meal”.

Green Noodles with Meat Sauce

OK, all joking aside. It really wasn’t bad. Actually, if you were working a full time job and had to whip up a quick meal for your hungry family, this would be great. And, to be honest unless you’re making your own pasta and spending hours simmering our own Bolognese, this is a suitable substitute with a couple of easy modifications.

I can think of a few 2011 refinements. Obviously, there is no need for the pasta rinsing. If you have a large skillet, heat it with a little olive oil, toss in the cooked pasta with a small amount of the cooking liquid and give it a quick sauté. You can even throw a little minced garlic into that pan. Or, a splash of the sauce. Just a couple of quick fixes would make this dish a lot better.

Here’s another look at my finished product. Would Poppy be proud? I want to say YES.

Green Noodles with Meat Sauce

The Bottom Line

Poppy had a style all her own. You can easily tell that by the way in which she wrote these recipes. It shows her attempt to make “elegant” food more accessible to the masses. This book was written at a time when the term foodie was yet to be uttered and the medium which brings us all of the food TV we can digest was in its infancy. Without too much trouble, I can easily picture her sitting at the Top Chef Judge’s Table, next to Tom Colicchio doling out culinary justice. I think Poppy would have liked that.

BUY -The Can-Opener Cookbook

Author: Poppy Cannon
Publisher: Macfadden – Paperback (1951)
Pages: 253
ASIN: B000K0B14O