Rao’s cookbook: over 100 years of Italian home cooking, 183pp.
by Frank Pellegrino
Random House, New York, 1998
Cooking on page 32
According to the book’s dustcover, Rao’s is ‘one of the most sought-after restaurants in all of Manhattan’, and an article on the grubstreet website confirms the claim. Some tables (there are only 10) are reserved by the year, usually by the rich and famous.
Obviously, my chances of eating at Rao’s are nil, but I can own the cookbook written by one of the restaurant’s owner.
I’m feeling pretty smug about the purchase itself. The second-hand bookstore in the Benson area of Omaha Nebraska had two copies—one at US$20, the other at US$10. No visible differences, both hardbacks, both in excellent condition. I didn’t point out the price variation and you know which one I bought. Today I checked online and saw copies priced as high as US$62. Oh, I am smiling.
Pasta and chickpeas
1 cup diced pancetta
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup diced, canned, imported San Marzano Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups cooked chickpeas with 1 cup or their cooking liquid or 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas and their liquid
6 cups chicken broth or water
3/4 pound small, tubular macaroni or broken-up pieces of spaghetti or fedelini, cooked al dente
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, optional
Sauté pancetta in a large saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until just crisp. Add garlic and sauté until lightly golden. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Add chickpeas and their liquid and return to a boil. Add broth and macaroni and return to a boil. Lower heat and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes or until flavors are well combined. If desired, remove garlic cloves before serving.
Serve hot, sprinkled with cheese, if desired.
How it played out
Sometimes the biggest challenge with a recipe is finding all the ingredients.
Pancetta was my bugbear. I went to three supermarkets and two delis before I found it at the greengrocer/deli in the Jamison Centre.
I didn’t look for San Marzano tomatoes. They are a variety rather than a brand, and I couldn’t find evidence that they are sold in Australia, but I’ve seen 24 labels online, so will report back if I spot them here.
I followed the rest of the recipe using canned chickpeas, a mix of elbow macaroni and spaghetti, and homemade broth (from chicken carcasses I bought from the Jamison butcher).
By the way, what’s this business about cheese being optional? Cheese is never optional and for this recipe we added lots!
I love chickpeas and Italian food, but this was a bit of a disappointment. Oh it wasn’t a bad dish, and it made for a quick and tasty-enough dinner. It’s just that I expected so much more from the famous Rao’s Restaurant cookbook. So I won’t feel bad if I never go there.
Guess that’s one of the drawbacks when I rely on page 32 only, because the book has some other great looking recipes.
And be sure to check out my travel blog.