Review of My Kitchen Year with Painless Pasta

Once I find an author I love, I read absolutely everything she/he has written.   Such was the case when I discovered Barbara Kingsolver in the early 90s.  (Animal Dreams still remains one of my favorites).  After I heard David Sedaris on “This American Life,” I had to read everything he ever wrote (and I’ve seen him in person twice).  And of course, Bourdain is a passion (who I also shelled out big bucks to meet).  I would so run away with him if the chance ever presented itself.

I fully admit that I have a stalker-like mentality when it comes to my favorite authors.

Then there’s Ruth Reichl.  I started my obsessive reading quest with Ruth about eight years ago when she appeared on “Top Chef Masters.”  (I also read works by her co-judges, Gael Green and and Jay Raynor, but Ruth won my heart).  I just felt like Ruth and I could be friends, sharing cups of coffee with homemade pastries every morning as we discussed world events.  (Again, that stalker personality could easily manifest in me.)

She was also the esteemed editor-in-chief of Gourmet, but she may have the infamous distinction of being known as the last editor of this classical, culinary, sixty-nine year old publication.

Her latest work, My Kitchen Year:  136 Recipes That Saved My Life (September 2015), deals with that unexpected demise of Gourmet and how she found herself unemployed and drifting.

That she felt a little unmoored is  an understatement.

Her kitchen saved her:  “And so I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened:  I disappeared into the kitchen.”

As I perused through My Kitchen Year, I realized I was reading more than just a mere cookbook.  I was experiencing all the blood, sweat and tears (and confusion, and loneliness and fright) that Reichl had balanced and overcome.  My Kitchen Year is beyond a cookbook.  It’s a memoir about her driven and fast paced career life slashed short and her regaining of confidence through cooking.

In between her plain spoken narrative are poetic tweets from this same time of her life.  The poetry doesn’t stop there and in the recipes proper are glimpses of Reichl’s more lyrical language:  “Peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins”  (from “Apple Crisp”).

The book is divided into seasons and starts with the early fall, as soon as Reichl is called to the Conde Nast offices and told of Gourmet‘s immediate dissolution.  As fall turns into a harsh winter, her food reflects her need to cook and feed.   The comfort that Reichl needed for herself is echoed in the food of these seasons—soups, stews, hearty desserts, roasted shanks of meat, bowls of noodles, gratins, pasta…

But, since it is now the growing season, I was drawn to her spring and summer menus and musings.  I did notice, though, as spring arrives and she finds a new life direction (writing said cookbook), her prose becomes more succinct and sometimes are mere recipe hednotes for her new cookbook dream.   I was drawn to her Lemon Pudding Cake (165), Cochinita Pibil (200), Three Day Short Ribs (214) and her Painless Pasta for Three (276).

As you read, you will feel like Reichl is speaking directly to you and she writes that she wanted the book and the recipes to be written in a “relaxed tone, as if we were standing in the kitchen, cooking together.”

Remember my fantasy of having coffee with her?






Here’s my take on her “Painless Pasta for Three.”

Painless Pasta

Based on Ruth Reichl’s “Painless Pasta for Three”

I’ve taken a few liberties with the ingredients, but Reichl maintains that you need to seek out the very best mozzarella di bufala and olive oil.


  • 1/2 c. quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil (or as much as you like)
  • 1 lb.  cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls
  • salt and pepper to taste


    1. Place olive oil in a large serving bowl. Slice the garlic and shred a handful of basil leaves into it.Cut the tomatoes in half. Add to the olive oil mixture and let set at room temperature for an hour.
    2. Cook the spaghetti according to directions. When it’s al dente, drain and toss it with the olive oil mixture in the serving bowl. Add cheese and toss until its melted. Salt and pepper to taste.
    3. Serve

Yields: 3-4

I was so excited I got to use fresh basil from the garden.  I used a mixture of Asian, large leaf, and variegated basils.


This is a versatile dish and in my opinion it’s certainly more than servings for three.  (Four or five in our household.)   I am sure that if I could have found real mozzarella di bufala this would have been more delicious.   We did enjoy it but I might use goat cheese next time.   I like the bruschetta feel to this pasta.

It’s a great summer dish.  I can’t wait to use home grown tomatoes!  (The leftovers are just as good cold as a summer salad.)

I certainly will be making that Lemon Pudding Cake as well.  Perhaps, I will invite her over for coffee and to discuss world events.

For another homage to Reichl, click here.

I am linking up with Simona’s Novel Food












…and Foodies Read.














Aside: I just finished Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, a compilation of his personal diaries from 1977-2002.   Of course as with any Sedaris work, it’s pee-in-your-pants funny, but along with the hilarity comes honest introspective musings on his addiction and his relationships.

14 comments to Review of My Kitchen Year with Painless Pasta

  • My kitchen year seems like a cookbook I need to have too! A great review, Deb. That pasta salad looks fresh and so tasty!

  • Pam

    I get you with the stalker personality, I’ve been that way also with some authors, namely Peter Robinson. And I love Barbara Kingsolver’s books also and thought I had read them all. So was surprised with “Animal Dreams” and just ordered it on Kindle, it sounds like a great read. I’m a fan of RR’s also and your pasta salad looks delicious! Thanks for the book review and info!

  • I can imagine what an earthquake it was for her. I am not surprised writing and the kitchen helped her. I have bought two baskets of cherry tomatoes so far this season and neither made it past the colander in which I rinsed them 😉 I hope that will change soon so I can make some recipes with them, like your pasta. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.

  • I have loved her books, especially Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires, so will have to catch up with this one. This is such a great idea, letting the herbs, tomatoes and olive oil meld for a bit at room temperature before simply adding the pasta.

  • Ali

    That pasta is lovely! I have this book – but it’s still packed. I need to dig out that box and spend some more time with it – I flipped through when I first got it, but never actually read what she wrote.

  • I adore Ruth Reichl and would happily join you in stalking her. 😉 I checked this book out from the library but think I am going to have to succumb to buying it. Her Avogolemono Soup from it is simple and full of lemony goodness. I’ll have to try this pasta next–it looks so good and perfect for summer.

  • I love Ruth, however I do not have any of her cookbooks. I will remedy that soon. Another writer Edna Lewis is like that too. I could read her books over and over again.

    • Thanks, Vonnie. I will check out Lewis. I read a fiction book that had a character loosely based on Lewis, A Place at the Table for an old CTB round.