The Arts and Sciences of Pasta

There are many things in life that are wonderful in a literal sense. A properly and freshly baked croissant is full of wonder (if you like them): its taste, texture and aroma. It has those many micro layers of pastry that are the result of the interactions of proteins, fats and temperature in a complex structure of folds. One can understand and analyze the how and why of the croissant through chemical and other sciences. Indeed, formal baking courses indeed teach the underlying science of the baking process. Yet one can also appreciate the croissant simply as a little piece of artistry.

This duality of food — the artistry of cooking and baking and the underlying scientific explanation of why certain things work — is present in even the most humble of foods. My grandmother had no idea how to communicate scientifically why she prepared sushi rice in a certain way, but she knew how to make great sushi rice in a way that, if analyzed by a scientist, is explainable through scientific principles.

So this brings me to a couple of books that I thought were fascinating. The first is called Pasta By Design (http://www.pastabydesign.net/index.htm), by George L. Legendre, that is a mathematical analysis of all the known pastas. It models their complex shapes using 3-D modelling software and translates these patterns into the language of mathematics. Even if most of us cannot fathom any of the math, the book is beautifully and elegantly designed.

The second book is called The Geometry of Pasta (http://www.geometryofpasta.co.uk/) which, in the words from the website “pairs over 100 authentic recipes from critically acclaimed chef, Jacob Kenedy, with award-winning designer Caz Hildebrand’s stunning black-and-white designs to reveal the science, history and philosophy behind spectacular pasta dishes from all over Italy.”

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