One of the hooks for selling books by well-known people is that the authors themselves give brand recognition. Especially for celebrity cookbooks. I’m sure the publishers’ fondest hope is that the personality traits that fans think the celebrities have will shine through with the recipes. And, at least to the extent of my small celebrity cookbook collection, they do. Both Stanley Tucci’s and Dolly Parton’s books are exactly what I expected they’d be from movies and television appearances through the years.
But when I got asked to review Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino’s cookbook, Pinot, Pasta, and Parties, I realized I’d heard of the Sorvinos but didn’t know much about them or their work. I haven’t seen Goodfellas, the best-known of the dozens of Paul Sorvino’s movies. And I don’t watch much television news, where Dee Dee Sorvino appears as a political consultant/GOP strategist, after serving as an advisor in the Bush administration.
With no preconceptions, I decided to approach the book by reading just the recipes in Pinot, Pasta, and Parties first, and then reading the introductory chats with the Sorvinos that open each of the book’s chapters.
Overall, it’s a good collection. If you’re looking for a simple-to-use cookbook that gives you plenty of recipes for what we think of as classic Italian food here in America, this book does that well. If you already make your own marinara, meatballs, Carbonara, or Amatriciana, you won’t find anything out of the ordinary for those kinds of dishes, so you should look carefully before you buy it. But there are about a half-dozen recipes that go beyond the food you’d expect from standard Italian-American fare. These include a few things I thought were downright ingenious. Like using cannoli filling as a dessert dip for cookies or broken up waffle cones. Or cooking a pork shoulder roast (bone-in or boneless) with the spice mixture used for porchetta — great flavor without rolling and tying up a giant pork belly. (Not to mention finding a pork belly if you don’t have a butcher nearby.)
The book is arranged in thematic chapters, most of which include cocktails, appetizers, mains, and desserts. The Sorvinos introduce each chapter with a sort of conversation about the chapter subject, their lives, and food in general. Most of the banter is fun, in a “Celebrities are really just like us” way, and you can definitely sense their affection for one another (as well as for food). In the end, I was happy to be drawn into the Sorvinos’ world a little. You can picture them actually eating the food from these recipes, which ought to be the aim of every celebrity cookbook.
Overall, a good collection of recipes and a fun read. I had one quibble, as you’ll read with the recipe below. But there’s always at least one for me with every cookbook. What put this over the keeper category line for me was the two-pager on Italian wines in the appendix. It’s a very good primer for wine novices, just the right amount of information, well-presented. But even people who know Italian wines will learn something from it.
Now for a recipe. I was tempted to put the pork roast recipe in this post, but thought that something more versatile and less time-consuming would be better. Leeks with Wine Sauce over Penne is a recipe that caught my eye. First, because I haven’t seen leeks over pasta before, and I love leeks. Also, it’s simple and meatless, but also a perfect canvas to add chicken, sausage, or shrimp if you’d like to. I’ve added a meat-ed variation at the end.
One thing in the book that may trip up novice cooks: I noticed that while most of the pasta recipes tell you to add the pasta to the skillet/pan where the sauce is cooking, they don’t necessarily tell you to add pasta water to get the sauce to coat. This particular recipe doesn’t include pasta water in the instructions, and I found it didn’t mix in easily if I didn’t add some of the water. Adding the water and cooking the pasta in the sauce for a minute will get it to the right consistency and also helps get flavor into the pasta as well as on the outside. I always ladle some water out of the pasta pot when I’m cooking pasta in case I need it.
As the recipe hints, leeks are dirt traps. You have to rinse them really well under running water, and even then you might still end up with a little grit in the sauce. I’ve decided it’s part of the charm of cooking with leeks. But if you really want to eliminate as much grit as possible, put the rinsed, thinly-sliced leeks in a large bowl of cold water. Swish them all around for about 15 seconds, to get the dirt off them. Then let them sit for a minute. Get your hands under the leeks without disturbing the dirt at the bottom of the bowl, and move the leek pieces to a colander to drain. They don’t have to be absolutely dry – since you’re sautéing the leeks anyway the water will cook off.
Finally, you can cook the leeks ahead of time and let them sit in the skillet until you’re ready to cook the pasta and serve. They’ll lose a little of their pretty light-green color, but you can add more parsley and it’ll still look beautiful.
I used our Bodega Traslagares Sauvignon ($13) both to cook with and serve the pasta. It’s Sauvignon Blanc from Rueda in north-central Spain. Dry with good acidity, and a combination of citrus and tropical fruit. I think it makes the leeks taste sweeter. After all that leek washing, you’ll want the most flavor you can get!
Serves 6 as a first course, 4 as a main course
Adapted from Pinot, Pasta, and Parties by Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino. Recipe reprinted with permission.
5 – 6 medium-diameter leeks (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
1 pound penne
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta.
Trim and discard the dark green parts of the leaves from the leeks, but keeping the white and light green parts. Trim a thin slice from the root end of the leeks (cutting off any root pieces but not allowing the leek to fall apart) and cut each leek in half lengthwise. Wash the trimmed leeks under running water. Spread the inner layers gently to remove any trace of soil without separating the layers. If the leeks are very sandy, soak them a few times in clear water.
Put the leeks, cut side down, on a cutting board and slice crosswise into very thin strips.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until wilted, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the leeks start to brown.
Add the wine, salt, and pepper, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce thickens a bit and the scent of wine fades, about 5 minutes. (At this point, you can set the leeks aside for up to a couple of hours, see note below).
Stir in the parsley. Taste to see if additional salt and pepper are needed.
While the sauce is cooking, cook the penne according to package directions until just al dente. Ladle out a cup of the hot pasta water just before draining and have it ready. Drain the pasta and toss it immediately with the leek sauce in the skillet. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water and stir everything together, cooking over high heat for about 30 seconds to a minute, until the pasta looks a little creamy without visible water in the bottom of the skillet. Add more pasta water if you need to. Turn off the heat and stir in the grated cheese, mix well. Serve immediately.
Note: If you want to cook the leeks ahead, they’ll sit for a couple of hours at this point. The color will be a little duller in the final dish, but you can compensate by adding a total of four tablespoons of chopped parsley instead of two just before you put the pasta into the skillet.
Variation: Cut one boneless chicken breast into ½-inch dice, and remove the casings from two links of chicken Italian-style sausage (about a half pound each of chicken and chicken sausage). Cook the chicken and sausage in the olive oil, then remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, then the leeks and proceed as directed. Toss the chicken in with the pasta when it goes into the skillet.