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Monday, October 6, 2014

Make Flour + Water's Famed Pasta at Home With Its New, Much-Anticipated Cookbook

Posted By on Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 12:46 PM

click to enlarge ERIC WOLFINGER
  • Eric Wolfinger
At first glance, Flour + Water: Pasta, the new cookbook by Thomas McNaughton with Paolo Lucchesi is not for beginners. While it’s encyclopedic in its approach to pasta-making – by showing this reader just how many pasta shapes she had never heard of – it can also come off as a bit intimidating. Once I got past the gorgeous photos by Eric Wolfinger, I had to ask myself: is this a book worth getting for the pasta lover who doesn’t own a pasta machine?

After all, fresh pasta can now be found in every grocery store. It’s one of those things like bread; sure, it’s better when you bake it yourself, but with such good stuff available in stores now, most people don’t need to bother.

But if you want to take what is the equivalent of a master class in pasta-making, this is your book. Of course it tells how the beloved restaurant came to be, but more importantly, it has step-by-step instructions and photographs detailing the entire pasta-making process, beginning with how to make the dough, to rolling it and shaping it. For those wanting to learn the basics, this can serve as an excellent primer.

But there is a lot in it for those who don’t own their own pasta machine as well. For every new shape, there is a sauce to go with it: spaghetti and meatballs is upgraded to luscious recipes like Tomato Farfalle with Chicken Polpettine with Prosciutto, Roasted Peppers, and Basil; Cocoa Tajarin with Brown-Butter-Braised Giblets, Butternut Squash, and Sage; and Squid Ink Chitarra with Sea Urchin, Tomatoes, and Chiles.

After all, learning how to make pasta is not only about how to make a perfect dough and shape, but how to complete the final product by finishing it in its sauce.

Granted, most of these dishes are more suited for dinner parties than weeknights. But I scoured the book looking for a recipe that could be easily tested with no fancy ingredients and I found several.

As the book is divided by seasons, I chose a tomato-based dish from the summer section, since tomatoes are still at their peak. And while the recipe gave an option to make your own tuna confit, it also noted that a can of good-quality tuna packed in oil would suffice, so I chose that option. I also used dried spaghetti, as the recipe suggested substituting. And my Spaghetti with Albacore Confit, Pole Beans and Chile came out beautifully, and nothing was overly complicated.

One last aside, when it sometimes seems that the whole world – or maybe it’s just the Bay Area – is avoiding gluten these days, it’s refreshing to see the occasional restaurant – and now a book – celebrating it so unabashedly.

Thomas McNaughton will be celebrating the release of the book with his house-made salumi at Omnivore Books on Weds., Oct 8 at 6:30 p.m.

click to enlarge ERIC WOLFINGER
  • Eric Wolfinger

Spaghetti with Albacore Confit, Pole Beans, and Chile
When making the dish at home, high-quality canned tuna in olive oil is a good substitute for an easy weeknight dish. Use a 6-ounce can.
Serves 4

1½ cups cherry tomatoes, preferably Sungold (165 grams)
1½ cups summer pole beans (green haricots verts, yellow haricots, yellow wax beans, or all three; 115 grams)
3 tablespoons pure olive oil
½ cup red onion, diced (75 grams)
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup white wine (75 milliliters)
8 ounces homemade dried spaghetti or store-bought dried spaghetti (227 grams)
¼ cup reserved tuna cooking oil or oil from canned tuna
2 cups fresh baby spinach (55 grams)

Blend the cherry tomatoes to a smooth puree in a blender. You should get about ¾ cup of puree; set aside.

Have an ice bath ready, and blanch the pole beans by cooking in salted boiling water until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the water and immediately shock in the ice bath. When cool, remove from the ice bath, draining off any water, and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the pole beans into 2-inch segments and reserve in a bowl.

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When it’s shimmering, add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat until translucent but not browned, 4 to 5 minutes. To finish, bring a large pot of seasoned water to a boil.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the sauté pan with the onions and continue to cook until the garlic is translucent, 2 to 3 more minutes. Add the white wine and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the tomato puree and bring to a simmer. Add the pole beans and return to a simmer. Flake the albacore and add to the pan, gently tossing to warm the tuna.

Add the pasta to the boiling water.

Meanwhile, add ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to the sauté pan and return to a simmer. Once the pasta is cooked 90 percent through, until almost al dente, add it to the sauté pan and gently toss to combine. Reserve the pasta water. Increase the heat to high to finish cooking the spaghetti, about 90 seconds. Add the ¼ cup tuna cooking oil and swirl the pan to create a sauce, constantly moving the pasta in the pan so it cooks evenly. If you need to add more pasta water to thin the sauce while the pasta finishes cooking, do so in small spoonfuls.
When the pasta is tender, remove the pan from the heat, fold in the baby spinach, and toss to wilt, about 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, as needed.

To serve, divide the pasta and sauce between four plates.

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About The Author

Alix Wall

Alix Wall

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer and certified natural foods chef. Her web site is


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