Cookbook review: La dolce vita through pasta

‘Simple Pasta: Pasta Made Easy. Life Made Better.’ by Odette Williams (Ten Speed, $28.99)

Odette Williams was all set to take her kids to Italy a few summers ago until the pandemic derailed those plans.

Instead, she and a friend retreated with their collective families to the shores of Fire Island, New York, and created their own version of the good life, or “la dolce vita” as they say in Italian. They swam, listened to music, drank wine, and rolled pasta day and night. And she took lots of notes for her next book already in progress.

Williams is a widely published Australian food writer who now lives in Brooklyn, and whose previous book, “Simple Cake,” was named a best baking book of 2019 by The New York Times. I still turn to it when I want to rustle up an impressive dessert without a hassle; it never let’s me down.

That minimalist mindset underlies “Simple Pasta: Pasta Made Easy. Life Made Better.” (Ten Speed, $28.99). Williams traces her long-standing love affair with homemade pasta to a neighborhood restaurant she frequented as a child growing up in a coastal steel town near Sydney. Only in recent years did she learn how easy it was to make from scratch. Now, she’s practically evangelical in convincing others to follow her lead.

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She walks us through three basic doughs — egg, gnocchi, semolina — with pictorials on how to shape and fill them. Then she offers a selection of classic and contemporary sauces for mixing and matching (Nonna’s Homemade Passata; Charred Broccoli, Cashew, and Pecorino Pesto) and “crunchy bits” (basic bread crumbs, garlic bread).

Next come four chapters broken into “seasonal blackboard menus” with pasta — fresh or dried — in the starring role, and a supporting cast that includes starters, salads, drinks and dessert. For example, autumn’s nine pasta options include Luxe Mac & Cheese and Midnight Fettuccine with Seared Scallops — any of which may be supplemented with Arugula Salad, Superior Schnitzel, and Sesame and Honey Panna Cotta.

Not every recipe is a piece of cake. But there’s plenty of inspiration here to help you channel la dolce vida wherever you are in life and in pasta-making.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com

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