In conversation with Tom Jackson, Author of Cool Pasta

In conversation with Tom Jackson, Author of Cool Pasta

Tom Jackson (Teej to his pals) is a cook, writer and creative director, based in London. He is the co-creator of the award-winning food media brand Twisted. 

Cool Pasta is Tom's first cookbook, we were thrilled to a) meet Tom, and he answer some questions for us, and b) thank him for creating such a wonderful book and collaborate with us to bring some of the recipes to life. 

Do you mind briefly sharing with us a bit about your working background and how you came to write your book? 

My route to writing Cool Pasta has been anything but conventional, but life in food started as I’m sure it does for lots of aspiring cooks; with a few cash-in-hand restaurant shifts whilst at uni in London. Those shifts led to my first real job: cooking at a brilliant café-restaurant called Railroad in Hackney (RIP!). I loved that job so much, but it made me realise that I wasn’t really wired for kitchen life. I’d always take too long to make everything - especially when hungover. I snuck my way - sort of by accident - into digital food media (which looked pretty different back then) and went on to co-found Twisted, where I’m now creative director. I’ve been lucky to meet and work with some very talented people over the years, from all corners of the food world. For nearly a decade I’ve been saying that my first book would rebrand the pasta salad, so when I was introduced by a friend to the commissioning editor at Hardie Grant, I made sure to have my pitch down! From there it all moved pretty quickly, and the past couple of years have been the coolest.

Is there a recipe in the book you're particularly proud of or would encourage people to try? 

This is a tough one, as there are few different styles in the book! I’d say a good all-rounder would be Salad Alla Norma with crispy fried aubergines and chewy tomatoes, which lives in Down At The Potluck - possibly my favourite chapter, and full of recipes that travel well (i.e. to the park, or a friend’s house). I love the Caramelised Gochujang Orecchiette with crispy broccoli and pine nut nori sprinkles - a little spicy, and very delicious. Lots of people have been making the tuna recipes, particularly ‘Tuna Melt’, which is the first recipe in the book, and a nice introduction to the book’s guiding principle: texture. The Sichuan-Style Pici Salad I would definitely encourage people to try; It might seem counterintuitive to make fresh pasta for a ‘salad’, but the chewy texture is so good, and it will get you thinking about what a pasta salad even is, or can be.

Would you say you have a favourite pasta shape?

I have a special relationship with countless pasta shapes, but I do like casarecce and orecchiette for this genre of recipes - solid all-rounders with a low centre of gravity and a strong core. For hot pasta recipes, I’m flying the flag for spaghetti. Shapes are fun though, right? And often very nostalgic for whoever’s cooking. It doesn’t really matter which you choose provided it’s not wildly different to the pasta size or length recommended in the recipe. A little shout out to a lesser-spotted but very cool pastina, or small pasta shape: farfalline, or ‘little butterflies’. I call them ‘two spoons’ because they look like, well, two spoons, serving back-to-back. That’s a nice image.

Any food brands which are staples at home for you? 

Mr. Naga. Kold sauce. Sweety Drop Peppers by Cooks&Co (perhaps the greatest ever pasta salad ingredient). Maldon. Natoora Herbs. Belazu tahini. A bag of Northern Pasta Co pasta. Am I just making a very spicy pasta salad, here? Oh, and Tilda Basmati Rice! 

Friday night in or Friday night out? 

Yeah man, in! I think the dream would be drinking wine whilst making chicken curry and rice pilaf for dinner, with my wife Lyds (we had pasta salad from Cool Pasta for lunch, obviously). 

Do you have a favourite seasonal ingredient? 

I do love aubergines if they’re cooked properly, and when they’re at their peak, they’re very hard to beat. I like them salted and deep-fried, or burnt until soft, preferably on a barbecue. I bought some small aubergines at a supermarket in Puglia on my first cookbookk ‘research trip’, and braised them, which I would rarely do with aubergines back home. One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Team aubergine. And team Puglia! Raspberries are pretty great, too. 

If someone's hosting at home, what recipe from your book should they cook for friends? 

All the recipes are designed for groups and socialising (I’m not just saying that!), but certain recipes do lend themselves better to eating at home. It would be remiss of me not to point towards the Company’s Comin’ chapter, which definitely has one eye on light-lift dinner parties. Perhaps a double date where you’re making the tomato orzo with crispy prawns and spiced feta, warm black figs bucatini with crispy ham, or Macarona Bil Laban. 

We look forward to sharing some of Tom's fab recipes with you over the coming weeks and months, in the meantime, you can buy Cool Pasta here:

Photo credit - Patricia Niven.