“Do you ever feel anxious? I do.” That’s how Elizabeth Hewson’s new cookbook begins. She acknowledges that Saturday Night Pasta isn’t a tale of someone overcoming shocking adversity or surviving a disaster. But it does show how one person – through the simple act of making pasta – found a way to alleviate her anxiety and the other stresses of modern life.
“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of anxiety – that all too familiar, all-consuming and often paralysing state of being,” she writes. “I thought I had these feelings in check until a couple of years ago when again I felt that I was losing control. All of a sudden, a stressful work situation exacerbated my anxiety, leaving me crippled by a constant state of worry.”
Hewson turned to some of the usual methods people use to cope – such as yoga and exercise – but it wasn’t until she cooked pasta from scratch one Saturday night three years ago that she realised she had found her ideal self-care ritual.
“I poured myself a glass of wine, turned on some Frank Sinatra and started to knead … It felt oddly satisfying to channel the unadulterated anger of another horrible, demoralising week into pasta dough,” she writes.
Not only did it allow the Sydneysider to switch off stress, find calm and focus her mind, the bright splashes of red sauce and mess in her kitchen made her feel liberated rather than inducing feelings of inadequacy. “Making something from scratch and enjoying it proved to be a reaffirming, soul-restoring experience,” she says. “It gave me a new brightness … I felt good. I had switched off. I was calm.”
Hewson isn’t new to Italian food. In 2014 she completed her master’s degree in food culture, communication and marketing at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (known as the birthplace of the slow-food movement) in northern Italy. She’s now on maternity leave from her job as marketing and brand manager for one of Australia's leading restaurant groups, Sydney’s Fink Group (Bennelong, Quay, Firedoor), where she works closely with some of the country’s best chefs, including Peter Gilmore and Lennox Hastie.
As well as telling Hewson’s personal story, Saturday Night Pasta is an informative guide to making pasta at home, from basic doughs to a range of shapes. It includes 40 recipes (including this one for cavetelli with sausage meatballs and cavolo nero) that show off pasta in all its glory – whether you decide to make it from scratch or buy it fresh or dried from the shop.
Hewson also provides tips on how to start your own Saturday Night Pasta routine, whether you’re cooking solo or with a group – but she especially encourages people to do it alone. Lots of people say they can’t be bothered making the effort to cook for one, but she reckons cooking for yourself is never a waste.
“Making the effort to cook something for yourself can only be a good thing, as it means you value yourself enough to put the energy and care into a meal simply because you feel like it. Cooking alone can be one of the most empowering and pleasurable experience we can have,” she says.
Saturday Night Pasta is by Elizabeth Hewson, published by Plum and with photography by Nikki To. It's out October 27 ($36.99) Buy it here. Find her recipe for cavetelli with sausage meatballs and cavolo nero here.