For our December spotlight, we sat down with Colu Henry, the author of the highly anticipated Back Pocket Pasta cookbook (available in February 2017). We asked Colu all about her inspiration for this cookbook, her holiday plans, and what she recommends for anyone to pull together quick, back pocket pasta. Read on for all she had to say!
1. We are so excited about your upcoming cookbook, Back Pocket Pasta! What inspired you to create a cookbook devoted to pasta?
Both of my great-grandparents came over from Italy at the turn of the century. My nonni lived with us growing up, and culturally, we were raised very Italian. Meat sauce on Sundays, the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, you get what I’m saying… From a young age, pasta was a food that meant comfort. It was also something I felt confident making early on and the freedom to be creative with.
Years later, I was working in food publishing (cooking all the while) and coming home after long office days and exhausted. The simplest and most comforting thing for me to do was to put a pot of water on to boil and rummage around my kitchen for odds and ends. I started the hashtag #backpocketpasta on Instagram to encourage others to do the same — and, here we are.
I hope the main takeaway from this book is to have fun and be flexible. Learn what flavors work together and let your spirit be your guide.
2. We know that your book is about utilizing the ingredients you have to make a delicious meal. Do you have recommendations for which “pantry staples” we should always have on hand for whipping up a quick pasta meal?
I sure do! Without fail, I always have a few cans of San Marzano tomatoes around. I like the whole and diced variety. I find the crushed a little too thick for most sauces. I also keep nuts, and anchovies and tinned fished such as tuna and anchovies in the pantry. In the fridge, I tend to have wilt-able greens like baby arugula, kale, etc. as well as plenty of citrus and fresh herbs. Oh, and Pecorino, always Pecorino!
3. Our Pasta Shape Dictionary shows us that there are so many unique pasta shapes to use. How do you utilize or determine which shapes to use in your recipes?
I like to be playful about pasta’s shapes and sizes. See below for a quick reference guide!
Long and Lean:
Pastas like linguine, spaghetti, and linguine fini are best with non-tomato–based sauces that cling to the noodle without drowning it. Thicker long pasta like tagliatelle, fusilli lunghi, and fettuccine have the real estate to handle richer ragùs and cream sauces.
Short and Curvy:
Fusilli, gemelli, campanelle, and others are the most versatile—perfect for catching bits of vegetables, meat, and seafood in their nooks. They also work well with a simple marinara or just plain butter and cheese.
Pastas such as rigatoni, paccheri, and penne can stand up to heavier, chunkier sauces. Think sauces that incorporate beans and ones that are meat-driven. The middle of the pasta will capture bits of sauce, allowing you to construct the ultimate bite.
4. We also know from your bio that you used to work for the Oregon Wine Board. Do you have recommendations for wine pairings with different sauce types?
I did, and I’m still a huge fan of Oregon wines. In my opinion, they make the best Pinot Noirs in the country.
My first rule of wine pairing is to have fun! Look for high-acid reds and mineral-driven whites, they are pretty foolproof when it comes to food.
If a dish is delicate in flavor, look for a light or medium-bodied wine, such as bottles from Beaujolais or the Gamay varietal. The same goes for heavier sauces, which can stand up to more tannic and fuller-bodied reds like wines from Rioja and Piedmont.
Truth be told, some of my best friends work in the wine industry, so I ask them most of the time. Also, befriend your local wine shop owner! They are a wealth of knowledge and love imparting wisdom. I’ve learned a lot that way. You shouldn’t have to spend over $20 to find something that you love.
5. It’s finally the holiday season! What are some of your favorite holiday meals to prepare?
I love spending the holidays with my family. I also love the week between Christmas and New Years when friends from all over are in town and there are long lunches to host and fires to be had. I adore braising this time of year. It’s such a simple and hands-off way to cook, but like pasta, it can be a blank canvas for lots of flavors.
This year for New Years our friends are coming up to Hudson and we’re going to be making a full-on Chinese feast. Peking duck, dumplings, noodles – you name it. We’ll also likely start the day with champagne and caviar, because why not.
It’s been really hard last few months with everything going on politically. I’m hoping the holidays will provide some solace and I’ll be surrounding myself with loved ones for sure. We all need lots of hugs these days.
6. Finally, can you share one of your favorite recipes with us?
It would be my pleasure! One of my favorite recipes is a fun take on the retro Italian-American Alla Vodka sauce called Smoky Garganelli alla Vodka. I upped the ante by adding ‘nduja, a spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria. It takes the dish to a whole new level of awesome.
About Colu Henry:
COLU HENRY is a food and lifestyle influencer who created the Instagram hashtag #backpocketpasta, which has been embraced by magazine editors and tastemakers. Previously, she was the Director of Public Relations and then the Director of Special Projects at Bon Appétit. Her writing has appeared in Refinery29, Cherry Bombe, and Wine Enthusiast. She lives with her husband in Hudson, New York.
*Photo credit: Peden + Munk