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Saturday, December 26, 2009

No like no boil

  TJ's, the fancy grocery chain, just happened to have a box of lasagna noodles on one of the pasta shelves the very day I was shopping for lasagna ingredients. So I bought them reflexively, thinking that all lasagna noodles are alike.

I have learned my lesson. Actually, three lessons. The first is that TJ's lasagna noodles are the "no boil" kind, which means that you put the dry, brittle, uncooked noodles in the lasagna pan between the fillings and sauce, and so long as your fillings are moist enough, the pasta will absorb liquid and cook in about 45 minutes.

The second lesson is that these noodles contain eggs. I do not approve of this. I do not want or need eggs in my diet, and prefer my pasta cholestrol-free, thanks.

The third is that I don't like the texture of no boil noodles. They are not just al dente, they are also chewier when fully cooked. I don't need that.

So these get a thumbs down from me, and I will resume cooking egg-free lasagna noodles for my delicious, vegan lasagnas.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not all flat pasta is fettuccini. Except for when it is.

  After a local jazz show, I stopped by a market to pick up dinner, and bought some fresh, whole wheat, vegan tagliarini ( I was certain that the folks up in Sonoma who made this pasta made that name up. It looked like fettuccini (also spelled fettuccine) to me.

But it is legit. According to, tagliarini is narrower than taglitelle, which I have heard of.

How did I not know this?

Fettuccini isn't as popular here as I would like, but it seems that flat pastas locally run from lasagna (also spelled lasagne), to pappardelle, to fettuccini, to linguini. The idea that there are many more widths in between is... pleasant, but perhaps frivolous. Though I might not think so if I knew people who could show me what dishes were PERFECT for showing off these other widths.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, February 16, 2008



My long commute is cramping my cooking style. I leave the office between 5:30 and 6 p.m., and sometimes don't drag into the house until 7; if I am lucky enough to run errands before the local stores close, I'm likely to get home at 7:40 or 8. This doesn't leave much time to make dinner. I've been trying to buy things that don't require much cooking, but my preference for food made 'from scratch' makes this difficult.

To cheat, I recently purchased packaged gnocchi. I've tried several brands of these with varying degrees of satisfaction, but the best of the lot so far is De Cecco (, which has some promising, strangely translated recipes). The ingredients are generally recognizeable, though there are some chemistry items there to keep the pasta shelf-stable. (These gnocchi contain both wheat and rice flour.) The gnocchi cook in just two minutes, and are well suited to simple, smooth, rich sauces. The high potato content make the gnocchi quite filling and satisfying. With a salad and a glass of wine, they are a simple, pleasant meal.


I've made gnocchi by hand in the past, and the labor intensive results were great... Although the 'too many cooks spoil the broth' cliche was demonstrated rather painfully. I was living with three roommates in an apartment in the Castro, and came home with a very simple and straightforward recipe for gnocchi. It was basically just:

-boil potatoes
-mash them with water and olive oil
-mix in some wheat flour to give the dough more body (with proportions provided)
-shape them by rolling out snakes, cutting them into segments, and patterning them with a fork
-bake them briefly on a cookie sheet to firm them up
-boil briefly in salted water.

Two of my roommates had science degrees, so I figured they could handle the recipe. But they jointly decided that the dough did not have enough body, and claimed the gnocchi would fall apart if we followed the recipe. I disagreed hotly. So we divided the dough: they doubled the flour in their half of the dough, and I did not. We continued with the process separately, until they sabotaged me by mixing their gnocchi in with mine during cooking.

The result: half the gnocchi were too tough to eat, because they had too much flour in them. The rest were soft, smooth, and tender. There are a variety of obvious lessons there about modifying an unfamiliar recipe for a food you've never made before, but I think the main lesson for me was that I should NOT jointly cook anything with them.

[This was a warning to me about what Thanksgiving would be like, actually: the same pair were responsible for the turkey (which I had no interest in), and they wound up delaying the meal by four hours due to lack of advance preparation, while the rest of us, whose contributions to the meal were ready on time, had to remain hungry and wait.]


I would like to thank all of the remarkably talented cooks that I party with now, who bring dishes that impress and fill me every time, and who have mellowed my fear of cooking with others. Thank you, talented people! If any of you talented people have a favorite vegetarian or vegan sauce that you serve with gnocchi, send me an e-mail.


Incidentally, the best gnocchi I enjoy in San Francisco is served at Caffe Museo ( at SFMoMA ( They sometimes serve a remarkably tender gnocchi with ricotta and a sweet pepper sauce as a special. It is delightful. Caffe Museo is a great place to eat, drink coffee, and chat before, during, and after visiting the museum.


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:06 PM

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