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by Diane Seed (Square Peg, 2012)

I bought my copy of this book more years ago than I can count, and there have been a dizzying number of books covering - you'd think - the same ground over the ensuing years, but I remain loyal to this trusted volume, and am so happy to see a reissue which makes the title available to those who missed it in its original edition. I've chosen a not particularly representative recipe, but one I love for its charm, its history and its beguiling title - oh, and because it is utterly delicious, too! 

Jewel Box Pasta


This recipe comes from a restaurant outside Rome, along the old Appian Way. Just outside the Aurelian wall, amid the catacombs and reminders of early Christian Rome, is the crenellated tower of the tomb of the Roman matron, Cecilia Metella. She was the daughter-in-law of the wealthy Crassus, who first financed the young Julius Caesar. Presumably she owes her ostentatiously large memorial to her rich in-laws. Nearby is a trattoria that has a beautiful rose garden with tables around a fountain. Their speciality is served in individual bowls, shaped like the top of the Cecilia Metella tower. It is called scrigno, which means jewel box, suggesting all the delights concealed under the 'lid' of melted cheese.



  • 500g/1lb fine green pasta or paglia e fieno
  • 1 x quantity of tomato sauce
  • 200ml/1/3 pint double cream
  • 150g/5oz freshly grated Parmesan
  • 6 thin slices ham
  • 300g/10oz mozzarella
  • butter, for greasing


  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7
  2. Set aside 6 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Stir the cream into the rest of the tomato sauce together with 1 tablespoonful of the grated Parmesan. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Cook the pasta for half the time given in the packet instructions. Drain and add to the tomato and cream sauce, stirring thoroughly.
  4. Butter individual ovenproof bowls and fill two-thirds full with the pasta mixture. Cover each serving with a slice of ham cut into 6 pieces to make it easier to eat when cooked. Now cover this with thin slices of mozzarella. Put the reserved tomato sauce on top and then sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
  5. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.