January 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Al Forno – New Cookbook Has Secrets for Making Pasta and Sauce With Ease

By Gail Ciampa; Journal Food Editor

Twenty-seven years later, the passion is still intense.

If anything, Johanne Killeen and George Germon may be more committed to advancing the cause of fine cooking than when they opened their ground-breaking restaurant Al Forno 27 years ago. Time spent, not only in the kitchen, but enjoying the cooking of France and Italy, fuels their belief that there's a tangible benefit to a great meal.

They've penned their thoughts in a new cookbook, On Top of Spaghetti (William Morrow, $24.95), that was several years in the writing. During that time, they were across the pond, at their home in Provence, testing recipes and, more importantly, eating.

The book celebrates pasta, a favorite of the pair. On Top of Spaghetti delves deeply into its different shapes and textures. More importantly, it offers recipes for how to make it with vegetables, legumes, herbs, cheeses and a wide variety of sauces. Killeen and Germon offer classic preparations (spaghetti aglio-olio) and new fangled inspirations (zucchini flower lasagne). With pantry tips, you're good to grab the capers, pancetta and Pecorino Romano and take off down a tasty road.

All the recipes are easy to follow and many can be prepared simply. A baked pasta with five cheeses is already a side dish staple in my house and can be made in less than 30 minutes.

"The recipes are easy enough to prepare that you can have fun in the kitchen," noted Killeen.

But easy doesn't have to mean quick, said Germon, who doesn't like the rushed concept of a 30-minute meal. He believes there are times when it's better to savor and slow down in the kitchen.

"Cooking takes time," Killeen agreed. But her goal with the book makes her realistic. She feels that if you can convince somebody that something is easy to prepare, then they'll try it.

"We took the approach to make it accessible to everyone," she said.

Germon has perfected making pasta with ease and shares that recipe and his secret. He sends it through the roller 30 times, taking away what many see as dreary kneading time.

Midnight snacks are part of a restaurant culture and Killeen and Germon explain how they often will go home after a night at work and do what else, cook! While that might not be part of your world, the book offers 15 recipes that make it fun to prepare a dish at any hour of the day or night. Midnight Meat Sauce for Spaghetti is for those times when you crave Bolognese sauce but are short on time.

As for the couple's time, it has been well spent traveling in Italy as a recipe for Spaghetti La Bomba will attest. The pair found a gas station on the autostrada in Campania where the shelves were lined with local food stuff. They bought a jarred pasta sauce with chopped vegetables and hot peppers called La Bomba. They re- created it for the cookbook proving that great finds come in unexpected places.

This is one of their gifts. Germon said they are blessed with "a taste memory," and with that they are able to reproduce flavors they enjoy at other restaurants.

This journey of taste is what happened when they tried a restaurant called Puny in Portofino, Italy. They recalled a dish of octopus, olive oil and artichokes. It was done simply, said Killeen.

"But get those ingredients together and magic happens," she said.

Even though nobody is handing out recipes, they can't help but find themselves influenced by these dishes they enjoy.

Al Forno's 27th anniversary was yesterday, and while Killeen and Germon continue to serve the dishes that made them famous - their signature grilled pizzas, baked pastas, rustic meat dishes and amazing desserts - some change is afoot.

What's new at Al Forno is chef David Reynoso. Brian Kingsford, the longtime chef and man who held the fort while the couple wrote their cookbook, left to plan and open his own restaurant.

Reynoso worked with Killeen and Germon at their Caf Louis restaurant in Boston, so has developed a style that complements theirs.

They sit and talk around a table. He gets inspired through conversations.

"A description will move him in a new direction," Killeen said. "David will talk about a list of ingredients and he already starts to put it together in his head."

He developed a simple salad that way. With ingredients such as fava beans, shrimp, artichokes, octopus and clams, it's become his frutti di mare dish.

He also has a new rolled veal dish starting with veal brisket and served with spaetzle made with chestnut flour. Germon picked up a spaetzle maker.

He also has a new gnocchi made with breadcrumbs served as a side dish with chicken rollatini.

"I'm always looking for new ways to use leftovers," he said.

Killeen meanwhile is working on new desserts for the Al Forno menu. Fondant cakes are on her mind, and she has ideas for phyllo dough and orange cake.

One of Germon's favorite things to do is to go out and eat. Since their return, MuMu Cuisine on Federal Hill is a new favorite of the couple and Basta in Cranston remains an old favorite. But, Killeen said, Germon is always designing, building and fixing. They have not sold the restaurant, as rumors have circulated, they said. Rather they are working on the South Water Street building, putting in new windows and changing bar stools.

On the horizon is a Sunday dinner opening with a fixed-price, three-course meal. Killeen said the menu would include grilled pizzas and baked pasta and there would be a different crew heading up the kitchen and sharing their talents.

Plans are also afoot for more cookbooks including a sequel, On Top of More Spaghetti. She's also thinking about an Al Forno cookbook.

Killeen still retreats to the kitchen for her relaxation. For her she can relax and think in the kitchen.

"It takes you on a journey," she said.

If that trip leads to a bowl of pasta, all the better.

[email protected] / (401) 277-7266

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Al Forno's new chef, David Reynoso, has developed new rolled veal and gnocchi dishes.

Johanne Killeen and George Germon, owners of Al Forno, have come out with a new cookbook, On Top of Spaghetti, that was several years in the writing.

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Recipes from On Top of Spaghetti


4 ounces ground beef

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 plump garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

1 anchovy fillet, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 ounces dried spaghetti

Scant 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Put the beef in a mixing bowl and pour over the milk. With your fingers or two forks, break up the beef into tiny bits and completely incorporate it into the milk. Soaking the meat in milk - even for a short time - will allow the lactic acid in the milk to tenderize the meat and give the sauce a more velvety texture.

Heat the olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch saut pan over moderately high heat. Add the garlic and cook, swirling the pan often, until the garlic becomes golden. Lower the heat and add the anchovy and tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently, over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes until the tomato paste darkens a shade and the mixture becomes fragrant. Off the heat, slowly add the beef-milk mixture, being careful not to burn yourself as the oil may splatter. Stir in the salt.

Return the saut pan to high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the meat is thoroughly cooked, about 5 minutes. At this point, you will still have liquid in the pan, but the beef will darken and almost dissolve into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, and set aside over very low heat while you cook the pasta. Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water and drop in the spaghetti. Cook at a full rolling boil, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente. Drain the spaghetti, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, and toss the pasta into the saut pan with the sauce. At this point, the sauce should have the consistency of heavy cream. If the sauce has reduced too much, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Continue to toss the spaghetti in the sauce for 1 minute to absorb flavor. Add the nutmeg and toss again to thoroughly incorporate the spice.

Divide the pasta into heated serving bowls, sprinkle over the Parmigiano-Reggiano and dot with butter. Serve immediately.


1 pound dried penne

1 cup fresh ricotta

1/4 cup mascarpone

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

1 heaping cup finely diced fresh mozzarella

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water and drop in the penne. Cook, stirring often, at a full rolling boil.

Mix the ricotta, mascarpone, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano together in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the mozzarella. Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the boiling pasta water while whipping the ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Beat the cheeses together until you have a creamy emulsion with lumps of mozzarella. Add a generous amount of pepper and stir it in. Season with salt.

When the penne is al dente, drain it, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Transfer the penne to the mixing bowl and toss in the sauce. The pasta should be nicely coated. If it seems dry, add some pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a loose consistency without the noodles clumping together. Serve right away in heated bowl.

Fresh Herb Lovers' Idea

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary, and 1 teaspoon finely chopped sage to the cheese mixture after seasoning with pepper and salt in step 2. Fold in 10 roughly torn basil leaves and 10 roughly torn mint leaves. Proceed with the recipe.

Gorgonzola Lover's Idea

For a sharper cheese flavor, beat 1/3 cup diced Gorgonzola into the ricotta, mascarpone, Parmigiano and Pecorino in step 2. Fold in the mozzarella and proceed with the recipe.


4 large eggs

6 tablespoons mascarpone

1 teaspoon sea salt

24 turns of the pepper mill

1 pound dried fettuccine

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra to pass at the table

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Whisk the eggs, mascarpone, salt and pepper in a heatproof mixing bowl that is large enough to sit on top of your pasta pot. Set aside.

Add generous amount of salt to the boiling water, drop in the fettuccine, and cook at a full rolling boil, stirring frequently, until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, rest the mixing bowl above the boiling water to warm the mixture, stirring frequently, to prevent the eggs from curdling. When the fettuccine is al dente, drain it and toss the pasta into the mascarpone mixture. Fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, toss, and serve immediately. Pass extra cheese and the pepper mill at the table.


1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

4 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 pound dried spaghettini

4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

8 fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Heat the olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat. Add the garlic and saut until it becomes golden. Reduce the heat and immediately add the tomato paste to cool the pan and prevent the garlic from burning. Stir in salt. Cook the mixture over low heat, breaking the tomato paste into small bits with a fork without trying to create a smooth pure. When the tomato paste has become aromatic and darkened a shade, remove the pan from the heat.

Meanwhile, add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water and drop in the spaghettini. Cook at a rolling boil, stirring often, until the paste is al dente. Drain the spaghettini, add to the saut pan, and toss to coat the pasta. Garnish with parsley and basil, if you wish, and serve immediately.


1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon or more fine sea salt

1 pound imported spaghetti or spaghettini

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

Heat the olive oil, garlic and salt in a large straight-sided skillet over moderate heat, stirring often. Keep a close watch here and adjust the heat as necessary because you want the garlic to slowly turn from opaque white to a slightly translucent golden without a hint of browning. As soon as the garlic is golden, immediately add 2 cups water. Be careful to not burn yourself as the oil has a tendency to spatter. Raise the heat and boil vigorously until the garlic is soft and the liquid has reduced by half. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.

Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling pasta water. As soon as the water comes back to a rolling boil, drop in the spaghetti. Stir often until the spaghetti is al dente. Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet. Over moderately high heat toss the spaghetti in the aglio-olio until it is nicely coated. Serve right away in heated bowls.


Spice up aglio-olio with crushed red pepper flakes. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon to the garlic and oil in step 2.

Substitute a light chicken stock for the water in the sauce for a richer, more mello taste.

Substitute half the water with 1 cup dry white wine. The wine will lend a fresh and vibrant acidity to the aglio-olio.

Herbs are a nice addition to aglio-olio: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or fresh basil just before serving. Or sizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley with garlic and oil in step 2 before addition the liquid. The sauted parsley has a completely different taste than raw parsley. It becomes fragrant with a hint of cinnamon in the aroma (Curley-leafed parsley has an even more pronounced cinnamon scent.)

Add 2 tablespoons pitted, finely chopped cured olive to the aglio- olio about 3 minutes after addition the liquid in step 2. Or add an equal amount of prepared tapenade instead.

(c) 2007 Providence Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.