Rustic food with a glamorous life

The central message of Donatella Cooks is that even pizza can be party-worthy if you make it while wearing heels.

Cavatelli alla crudiloa. This dish from Donatella Cooks

Cavatelli alla crudiloa. This dish from Donatella Cooks

The central message of Donatella Cooks is that even pizza can be party-worthy if you make it while wearing heels.

The unabashedly attractive Donatella Arpaia — whose restaurants include New York’s Mia Dona and Anthos — offers a glimpse of what it might look like if Vogue published a cookbook. Gauzy silk clings to her legs, posed near a canister of tongs and a mound of cast-off heels. On the cover, she “cooks” in a sexy orange shift and metallic belt.

But don’t be fooled by the husky-breathed photos. The recipes are refreshingly rustic, with simple steps and few ingredients, which means the focus is on quality.

An appetizer of pecorino fonduta accented with hazelnuts and lavender honey offers an unexpected twist on tired old baked brie. Tomato-and-olive cavatelli studded with green and purple basil promises an easy yet bracing summer supper.

Even halibut in phyllo is spectacularly simple: butter up some phyllo, stick a piece of fish in the centre, top with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and other yummies. Bake.

Tips on what to pour, what to play and — of course — what to wear mingle with good cooking advice and useful information about online ingredient sources. Even if you ignore the cleavage — or don’t — this first cookbook from the restaurateur and Iron Chef judge is a handy little guide for whipping up a satisfying yet elegant party. Or even just a supper in your blue jeans.

Cavatelli Alla Crudiola

Start to finish: 20 minutes

500 ml (2 cups/1 pint) pear or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

125 ml (1/2 cup) Gaeta or kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

30 small baby green and purple basil leaves, plus several sprigs to garnish

50 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

500 g (1 lb) cavatelli pasta

140 g (5 oz) ricotta salata, shredded on the large holes of a box grater

In a large serving bowl, combine tomatoes, olives, garlic, basil and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat tomatoes evenly and set aside at room temperature.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.

Remove garlic cloves from the tomato mixture and, using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer pasta to serving bowl, allowing pasta water drippings to fall in.

Add half of the cheese and 50 ml (1/4 cup) of the pasta cooking water. Toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and garnish with basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number, calculated on 6 servings): 462 calories; 163 calories from fat; 18 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 21 mg cholesterol; 60 g carbohydrate; 15 g protein; 3 g fibre; 554 mg sodium.

Source: Donatella Cooks by Donatella Arpaia (Rodale, 2010).