Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone

Spring Pasta with Red Onions & Leeks 
may 8, 2014

Handpicked from Omnivore Books by my husband, I received this book for my forty-first birthday. It is a 1984 first edition, published long before I had heard of Chez Panisse or ever eaten there. On the back cover are the usual sort of "praise for" quotes, one from M.F.K. Fisher and one from Richard Olney. Both writers now long dead, it gives me a thrill to own something that I know they read.

The real beauty of this edition is that some of its illustrations, by Martine Labro, are in color and capture what I like to think is the feel of Chez Panisse in the early 1980s, something I will never be able to experience first hand. There is The Pasta Garden, complete with a cat, some sort of funky lawn mowing hand machine, and every vegetable included in the book. And then one color plate for each season: a banquet of seasonal delights at the table for spring, a beautifully overgrown garden (including the cat) for summer, a harvest scene with a pumpkin rivalling those of Rubeus Hagrid's garden for fall and the quiet of a well stocked pantry for winter.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all about this book is that its designer, not illustrator, is the one now recognized as the artist who illustrated Chez Panisse's menus and books, Patricia Curtan. Her linoleum block prints have long graced the daily menus at the downstairs restaurant and illustrated many of Alice Waters' most well known books: Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Fruit, The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II. Plus Curtan's own book, Menus for Chez Panisse, which celebrates her hand printed works of art.

I have never encountered a Curtan designed menu for this particular dinner: Pasta with Spring Shallots, Red Onions, Leeks and Pappardelle. But as beautiful as the meal was, I knew from the start that my kids probably wouldn't eat it (whole onions? quartered garlic? No way!). So they had pan fried chicken with noodles and snap peas while my husband and I feasted on this deliciously brothy pasta, which is almost like french onion soup with noodles. The recipe is on p. 43. Yum.

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