Noodles Express

by Dana McCauley

published by Random House Canada

1999, 160 pages



Making Nice With Noodles

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

Let's face it: pasta has gotten a bad reputation in recent years. Too many people serving supermarket "fresh" pasta and boil-in-the-bag sauces. Maybe some pre-grated Parmesan thrown over the top to make it more swellegant. It's almost enough to make you want to head for the nearest burger joint.

There is a new trend in noodles bubblin': and it has very little to do with meatballs. After all, there is much about pasta to recommend it to the modern after-work chef. Noodles are, by their very nature, inexpensive. They're also easy to prepare, and they combine well with a large variety of other ingredients. Dinner in 15 minutes? Look for the noodles in the larder.

Dana McCauley has written a book very much in keeping with this "marvelous in minutes" idea for noodles. Noodles Express is more than a cookbook: it's a celebration of meals you can make with noodles. And though McCauley has not aimed Noodles Express at vegetarians, all of the 80-plus recipes in the book are cheerfully sans meat.

In the good old days when meat, potatoes and two veg reigned over the North American dinner table, vegetarians were the weird neighbors down the street who listened to sitar music and slouched around the block looking pale and wan in their Birkenstock sandals.

Today's vegetarians are harder to spot; they're wearing cross-trainers, patent leather pumps, army boots and even Gucci slip-ons. For in the quarter century since Frances Moore Lappé wrote her breakthrough vegetarian book
Diet for a Small Planet, our society's views regarding diet and health have changed significantly. We've become conscious eaters who care not only about how the food we eat tastes but also about how it affects our well-being.

Unconscious eaters aside, McCauley's writing is as clear and easy-to-follow as her recipe for Tagliatelle with Wasabi Cream Sauce. Though many of the recipes sound pleasantly exotic, McCauley has a nice knack for bringing the esoteric home to your dinner table. For instance, she spends time explaining where some of the more exotic ingredients might be found, as well as suitable replacements for would-be chefs who live in small and out-of-the-way towns where there might be limited selections for the larder. And though I'm not sure I could live with spaghettini as a replacement for rice noodles as in her Malaysian Coconut Salad, it would probably be perfectly acceptable for some palates.

The book's design is au courant yet works entirely. Very hip-looking cookbooks often make for a bit of a mess in the design department, but in Noodles Express the late-90s elements make the recipes easier to follow rather than more difficult, as can often be the case. Sadly, there are no interior photographs but this isn't a total loss. After all, a plate of noodles looks pretty much like a plate of noodles and clever tonal copy warmers, interesting colors and arresting typography keep the book looking anything but boring.

The thing I like least about the book might well be the thing you like best. Subtitled Fast and Easy Meals in 15 to 45 Minutes, rather than being broken into chapters on soups and salads and appetizers, Noodles Express ' recipe chapters are parceled into the time it takes to make them. So, the first recipe chapter is titled 15 Minutes, the second is 30 Minutes and so on. However, the contents page is followed immediately by a recipe listing and this is supplemented by a really excellent rear-of-the-book index, so finding a particular recipe made with a particular pasta isn't a challenge. | March 1999

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.