dsc04096from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe, p. 83.

This recipe I just don’t get. The combination of ingredients engaged me immediately, but it didn’t work — for me. I don’t know if the problem lies in the character of the recipe or in my execution of it. Admittedly, when I cut down recipes to proportions for one person, the balance is thrown off, but not usually this much. I would really like help here. Someone else should take on this job and see if he or she can make this delectable-sounding recipe sing. It’s worth the try. I certainly didn’t have a bad dinner. But I’m not sure what the point was of bringing these particular ingredients together.

Gray and Rogers enticed me thusly:

Rigatoni 16 oz

Savoy cabbage 1/2

Fontina 5 oz

Potatoes 7 oz

Garlic cloves 2

Anchovy fillets 6

Dried chiles 2

Parmesan 2 oz

Nutmeg 1/2

Unsalted butter 1 stick

Peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick disks. Peel and slice the garlic. Rinse the anchovies, crumble the chiles, and grate the cheeses and nutmeg.

Remove and discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut into eighths and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, then chop.

Melt half the butter in a thick-bottomed pan, add the garlic, and fry until soft. Add the anchovies and stir to “melt.” Add the chiles, grated nutmeg, and the cabbage.

Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until al dente, adding the potatoes after 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 3 Tblsp of the water. Add the pasta and potatoes to the cabbage and stir in the remaining butter. Add the fontina and a little of the pasta water. Cover for 1 minute to allow the cheese to melt into the sauce. Serve with Parmesan.

Now that I’ve cooked and typed this recipe in…

I’m convinced someone was utterly asleep at the wheel when they wrote and edited this book. Odd, because the sloppiness of this recipe is not typical of the other recipes in this volume. First of all, the imprecision of the amounts is maddening. I find it hard to believe that savoy cabbages in the UK are of uniform size. Here in the U.S., the size of cabbages vary widely. Why do I even have to make that point, it seems so obvious? So, just how much is enough? In the end, half of the small globe I bought at my co-op was too small.

Next. “Nutmeg  1/2.” What does that mean? Can they seriously mean I should grate half a nutmeg into this dish? I have to assume this is a typo. But even if this means half a teaspoon, that’s a hell of a lot more nutmeg than most recipes call for. Therefore, I decided to eyeball it. For two portions, 1/8 tsp maximum.

Dried chili flakes worked fine. I intend to add more next time — if there is a next time.

Like the other recipes in this book, the directions include instructions to prep the ingredients before cooking. I like that, although I usually organize myself in that way whether the instructions include prep or not. I wish, however, that the list of ingredients was in the order of execution. Parmesan comes before nutmeg, but not in the instructions. I re-read them a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Don’t pour the water out with the cabbage. Use a wire-mesh “spider” to fish the cabbage out of the water. It might have occurred to the authors that the pasta would have benefited from cooking in the cabbage water.

If the pasta you use calls for 12 minutes cooking, drain it and the potatoes (which you’ve added after 6 minutes) at 10-11 minutes. Then let it cook to completion during the one minute it’s simmering with the cheese and pasta water.

You’re going to need salt. No two ways about it. This is a seriously underseasoned recipe.

IF I made this again…

I would use more cabbage, anchovies (completely lost), chilies and salt. Odd that the fontina in the end stood out more than the anchovies.

And, finally, CRUCIAL: warm the bowls you’re serving the pasta in in the oven. It makes a big difference to all food, but especially this dish.

I DO NOT understand the potatoes. They added nothing.

Now that I’ve written this, I think this is a recipe that requires a high-wire act of balance. Maybe if I got the proportions exactly right — and left out the potatoes — this might produce the interesting combination of flavors that my first hunch told me it would be. But it will certainly take a bit of tweaking.

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