How to Make Pasta

Like many people, I was long intimidated by the idea of making my own pasta. I had visions of challenging, time consuming work with mixed results, which is strange since I’m not one to shy away from a food challenge. I think perhaps at the heart of my uncertainty was the feeling that shop bought pasta was perfectly fine and delicious and what good could come from making your own anyway?

I was wrong. So very wrong. My sister won an Italian cooking course at Flavours of the Valley in the Kangaroo Valley, which she wrote about here. She became quite the pasta enthusiast and I, in turn, became fascinated and envious. An idea was born. She would come to Canberra and teach Sean and I.

This is how naive I was. In preparation for our afternoon of pasta making, I bought a FIVE KILO bag of flour. Now, I do usually buy quite large bags of flour, sometimes 3kg bags, but I had visions of pasta using way more flour than I had in the house, so I bought up big.

Do you know how much flour you need to make enough for four people in one meal? One and a half cups. That’s all. Not kilos. I truly knew nothing! What I learned was that making pasta is fun. And not that messy. And once you know what you’re doing, not that time consuming. A couple of hours is all it takes and much of that time you’re just waiting for stuff to happen so you can put your feet up until the next stage.

Here is Adele looking every bit the teacher.

adele making pasta

And here, laid out with photos is a rough guide to making pasta at home. Start with 1.5 cups of plain flour (00 if you can get it, or good strong bakers flour; Adele’s teacher recommended White Wings).

Sift it onto a wooden board and make a well in the centre. Add two room temperature eggs. I have chickens so was able to make it with lovely, homegrown eggs.

eggs

Next take a fork and whisk the eggs, gradually working in more and more flour. You need to keep going until it’s less eggy and more of a custard consistency.

making pasta

Combine the egg and flour fully after that, using a stainless steel pastry cutter, or a butter knife or similar, cutting the flour and egg together.

making pasta1

When it’s combined, knead (rather as if you’re making bread, pressing down and folding the dough over on itself), for around 6 minutes.

making pasta2

When it’s got a nice, smooth texture, fold it into a ball and place under a bowl for half an hour or more.

making pasta3

Next comes the really fun part! Making the pasta. Using your pasta maker (I was given a second hand one a while ago) take smaller pieces of the dough (I cut it into quarters) and roll each out with a little flour, feeding through the pasta maker according to its instructions, gradually working it more and more thinly.

making pasta4

I thought this bit was magical. I couldn’t believe how long and thin each sheet became! It was really that simple! I found myself wondering what had taken me so long to learn this.

We hung it to dry over my clothes horse for half an hour or so – waiting until each piece lost that ‘tacky’ feeling it had.

making pasta5

Then it was time to make fettucinne.

making pasta6

We made plenty for five-six people that night and it was so much more wonderful than I imagined. Homemade pasta is light and silky. It cooks in under 3mins and was utterly delicious. Since then we’ve made it twice – we are complete converts and can’t wait to make flavoured pasta.

That night I served it with a roasted capsicum and chorizo sauce. It was wonderful.

This weekend I served it with a rich tomato, meatball and basil sauce. Delicious.

meatballs

Thanks so much Delly for teaching us – what a wonderful thing it is!

Bells

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Roasted Capsicum, Chorizo and Zucchini Linguine

On the weekend when we found capsicums on sale (in the dead of winter, go figure) my husband bought a bag of them for roasting. He loves when I make roasted capsicum pasta sauce.

So do I.

Tonight I made it in the following way.

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After roasting and peeling six red capsicums on the weekend, I skinned four fresh chorizo (the raw ones, not the cured ones although they’d be fine too – they’d just need to be sliced and fried).

I diced a zucchini finely and added it to the chorizo meat which had been cooking in the pot.

Once it was all cooked through, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste and a tin of diced tomatoes.

Once that was all warned through I let it all simmer for 20 mins or so.

While the pasta was cooking, I shredded a bunch of basil and added it to the sauce just before serving.

Seasoned with salt, pepper and a splash of sweet balsamic vinegar, it needed only some Parmesan to finish it off.

It was delicious.

Bells (who has not blogged here for months!)

Tempura Zucchini Flowers

Every summer, without fail, I grow more zucchini plants than I need. I think it happens because I buy a punnet of seedlings and there are always at least six tiny zuchini plants in it. Some years I losea few seedlings to snails or mistreatment. Some years, all of them survive. Those are the years when dealing with excess zucchinis becomes almost a full time occupation.

This year four out of the six survived and all four of them are producing fruit. You can see here how big and lush they’re looking – forming a backdrop to this photo of my niece.

Alice in a yellow dress I made.

The plants are so big they’re even providing shade for my chickens.

I love that my zucchinis are now big enough that the chickens can shelter in the shade of them.

Every year I try to come up with more and better ways of eating them. I’ll aim to explore some of those ideas here. One thing I’ve meant to do for years and never have is eat some of the flowers themselves. It strikes me as an elegant way of managing the zucchini population. Eat some of the flowers before they become enormous green zucchinis! If you’ve never heard of doing such a thing, trust me, it’s worth trying. I recall eating them, stuffed and battered, at a lunch once. I was transfixed. They were sublime. I don’t know why I waited so long to try my hand at it when it was so simple.

All over the net you’ll find recipes for stuffed zucchini flowers. I decided not to stuff them, for my first attempt, mainly because most recipes stuff them with cheese and I’m currently dairy free (that’s a whole other series of post topics!). Also, stuffing them seemed more fiddly than I wanted to be on my first go. So I decided in the end to simply coat them in a light tempura batter using a recipe I found here.

At dawn yesterday (because I happened to be up and because it seemed wise to pick them before the heat of the day kicked in) I picked eight zucchini flowers. Both male and female. The male flowers are on a stalk. The female flowers have small zucchinis attached.

Today I will cook zucchini flowers for the first time! That should slow down production...

I kept them on a plate in the fridge until later in the day when I needed them. I was worried they were fragile and wouldn’t be as good by the end of the day but they were fine.

I washed them gently – they weren’t very dirty but my chickens scratch around them a lot so there was some soil to remove. I carefully cut out the stamen and other bits in the centre of the flowers (not easy when the female flowers were still closed!). Then I mixed up the tempura batter (see recipe here) and we cooked them in olive oil in the wok, outside on the BBQ’s wok burner. The whole process took about ten minutes. After letting them drain on paper towel for a few minutes, we poured a glass of Rose wine and ate our delicate flowers happily.

Been waiting all day for my zucchini flowers and a glass of rosè

I left the small zucchinis attached and was really pleased I did so. They fried quickly and were so tasty at the end of the flowers!

I would like my tempura batter to be a little thinner next time (more water, I suppose) but that’s about the only thing I’d change. There was possibly more batter on them than I’d like but it’s a minor quibble. And I think they should be eaten quickly, before the crunch goes from the batter. My husband described the flavour as zucchini flavoured air. Quite apt really.

Now I can’t wait for more flowers to bloom. I’m already thinking about how I’ll stuff the next lot.

In case you’ve wondered where our blog went for the last six months, thank you for coming back and reading. We let it slide and are starting 2012 feeling renewed and ready to see where our culinary adventures will take us. We hope you keep reading!

Bells

A Decadent Birthday Cake

Earlier this month, it was my birthday. I knew some weeks ahead that I’d be having a lunch with my parents and other family members in attendance.

It was the perfect opportunity to create a birthday lunch of my choosing. I roasted a 3kg leg of lamb, served it with polenta crusted potatoes (which were, I have to say, nowhere near as good as Delly’s potatoes she’d served me just two weeks earlier. C’est la vie!) and a couple of lovingly selected bottles of red wine.

It was all lovely. But the cake. Oh the cake. That was something I was very excited about.

I put the call out on Twitter one night for people to suggest their favourite birthday cake ideas and a friend from Ireland said I could do worse than check out what Smitten Kitchen had to offer. I knew of Smitten Kitchen by reputation but hadn’t ever really checked out her stuff. As of that moment, I became a new, instant fan. Beautiful food with a philosophy I took to right away. On her About page, she describes how her blog is about “comfort foods stepped up a bit” – it’s not all fancy schmancy – which is of course a matter of opinion. It doesn’t seem fancy to me but maybe if your idea of fancy cooking is to throw in a tin a champignons in your bolognaise (yes I once knew someone who thought that was fancy) then her food is going to seem intimidating. But to me it’s just good, every day ingredients cooked lovingly and creatively. I’m gobsmackingly hooked and there aren’t a huge number of food blogs that do that to me.

I found her Best Birthday Cake seconds after landing on her page and it was all a done deal.

She calls it a yellow cake. I’m reliably informed this is what Americans call a butter cake. Once I understood that, it was all good. Have a look at her cake – the photo she has of the inside of her cake is far better than any I took. Beautifully double-deckered with a generous layer of chocolate icing in the middle. Sublime. Sometimes chocolate on chocolate is too much for me. Chocolate on a buttery vanilla laced cake struck just the right note for me.

Here’s mine. A light, but not too light yellow buttery delicious cake. I think the eggs from my chickens contributed to the colour and taste of this gorgeous cake.

my birthday cake

It felt like a monumental cake, for someone who doesn’t often do monumental. It felt fun, exciting and oh so celebratory. And my lovely niece Alice loved it as much as I did. From the moment I’d iced it and set it on the cake stand on the table, she was hovering with her little spoon, waiting to dig in. That girl is so related to me and Delly. One of her earliest words was ‘cake’ and it’s still a great way to get her attention.

me alice and cake

This is a cake that I know I’ll return to again and again. For a first taste of Smitten Kitchen’s work, it was a great introduction. I’m going back for more.

A note on the icing – it was a first for me. Sour cream, dark chocolate and corn syrup. I’ve never used corn syrup. I was surprised to see it in the recipe but understood her desire had been to create a glossy, rich icing without using icing sugar. So not using icing sugar meant using corn syrup. Makes sense. It was such a gorgeous icing. Rich and glossy and quite grown up. The sour cream tang was delightful.

I need another birthday as an excuse to make this again!

Bells

Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Best Eggplant Ever’

Best Eggplant Ever

Ever since I bought my husband Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘The Curry Bible” we’ve been eyeing the dish alluringly named ‘The Best Eggplant Ever” and reminding ourselves we must make it some time. Why it took me so long (more than a year) to get around to it can only be explained by the fact that in skimming the introduction to the dish I noted comments alerting the reader to the laborious nature of the dish.

One day, I kept saying.

Well, one day arrived and it was worth it. Also, it was nowhere near as laborious as I thought. Sure, ten hours is a long time but most of that time the eggplants are just sitting in water. What’s hard about that? Don’t they look wonderful? It may look as if they still have their skin on, but they don’t. That’s just from frying.

Best Eggplant Ever

It’s a little known secret that Delly and I once jokingly formed an Eggplant Appreciation Society. Years ago. The work undertaken by the society included scanning the internet for eggplant recipes and drooling. We worked hard at that. Once we even had a whole lunch devoted to eggplant – not desserts though – I’m not sure what we ate but I do seem to recall an eggplant soup made from the roasted, pureed flesh. Divine. Sometimes I think we should reinstate the society if only to help eggplant out – it’s so often misunderstood and I think that’s for one reason only – it’s sometimes cooked very badly. Early on I served it undercooked a few times and learned the hard way just how revolting this elegant vegetable can be when served this way. I’m wondering why I ever went back for more! I’m very glad I did though.

Thick, peeled slices of eggplant, soaked in water for up to ten hours, are shallow fried until they are darkly crisp on the outside (the recipe says ‘until golden’ but I prefer them darker) and then dressed in no fewer than three sauces, all of which can be made well ahead but if made at the last minute, don’t take all that much time.

The three sauces are a chickpea and tomato sauce (delightfully tangy and warm), a yoghurt and cumin sauce (that’s the quickest one) and a tamarind chutney (which I cheated on – just mixing up a small amount of tamarind puree with the other ingredients).

When the eggplant slices are dark and crisp on the outside, velvety, creamy smooth on the inside, plate them up, add the chickpea sauce, the yoghurt and a drizzle of tamarind and you’re done.

We had it as a side dish to my husband’s pork curry but it could just as easily be served with some naan or rice and make an excellent main dish. Honestly there’s so much of it.

So it can be found in Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘The curry Bible’ (an excellent book) or someone else has typed it up here, so that I don’t have to.

Enjoy!

Bells

Seed Cake

Tea and seed cake

About twenty years ago, I was listening pretty obsessively to Kate Bush’s wonderful album, The Sensual World. The song of the same name began with a line that always intrigued me, less for its sensual elements and more because of the food she mentions.

The I’d taken the kiss of seedcake back from his mouth.

Ever since, if I heard of Seed Cake, I remembered Kate Bush and wondered just what Seed Cake was.

Fast forward to a night about two weeks ago when I was leafing through Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen and I stumbled across a recipe for Seed Cake. Her lovely description of it just confirmed for me that a Seed Cake was in my near future. How could I resist a cake description in which Nigella draws on a pivotal scene from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre? Of course, I recalled. There was Seed Cake in Jane Eyre!

Me and Seed Cake, were, quite obviously, meant to be.

seed cake slice

This is a simple, plain cake. I happen to the love the subtle flavour of caraway seeds but that might not be to everyone’s taste. I don’t think the flavour overwhelms.

The mixture is heavily whipped. All that creamed butter and sugar, with dry ingredients whipped in making a light, fluffy batter. Throw in some almond meal and the seeds, and you have a delicate, plain cake. I like that it’s a crumbly, slightly dry cake. And I love that you add some caster sugar to the top giving it a lovely sweet crisp.

I’ve made two in a week.

Seed Cake

Another nice literary link involving Seed Cake that I discovered this week is that Miss Marple ate a lot of seed cake washed down with cups of tea. I hadn’t realised this – I’ve not read Miss Marple books and perhaps not much is made of it in the TV adaptations. Or I just didn’t hear it. But I do love how much Miss Marple knits and so now that I know she’s a Seed Cake lover too, she’s only gone up in my estimation.

For me, Seed Cake became an instant classic. I won’t turn back.

A note on how I cooked it.

Nigella recommends a much larger loaf tin than I own, so I made it in a square loaf tin and it cooked for exactly 35 minutes to perfection.

I won’t type out the recipe here. There are endless online resources for Seed Cake recipes – some, I note, add even more caraway than Nigella’s 4 teaspoons. I think I’ll be brave and add even more next time.

Wonderfully delicious. Cake perfection.

Bells

Slow Cooker Poached Quinces

Poached Quinces with Vanilla Yoghurt

I almost gave up on quinces. I was almost prepared to accept that they were the kind of fruit I’d order in restaurants or have when eating quince paste with brie. I’d tried cooking them myself and just had no luck.

The last time I tried them was a number of years ago and i recall I just put them in a little liquid in the oven, with some wine maybe and hoped for the best over a few hours but they didn’t have that lovely soft texture or delicious flavour that baked quinces are supposed to have. I should have researched it more.

Last week I saw some beautiful quinces at the market and thought maybe I’d have another go. Quince lovers rave about them when the season arrives and I was determined to no longer be the person who wistfully longs for a good quince dessert.

By chance I stumbled upon some online recipes that spoke of the wonder of cooking them in the slow cooker. It makes so much sense.  Quinces are such an amazing fruit – to go from the golden but inedible raw fruit that looks like a large apple, to the deep red, jammy fruit you get after hours of cooking is a miracle!

quinces

It didn’t take long to gather together enough information gleaned from a variety of recipes. Most approaches to the slow cooker poaching method were more or less the same, with the only variation really in cooking times. To be safe, I settled on ten hours on low.

Quinces - in sugar syrup

I began by making a sugar syrup from
1 litre of water
1/4 cup of caster sugar
one lemon cut in half
1 vanilla pod (next time I’d split it open. Not sure why I didn’t).

I brought it all to the boil on the stove then tipped the lot into the slow cooker (which had already warmed).

Ten hours later, they were done and I served them with a good quality vanilla yoghurt (the King Island one).

Poached quinces with Vanilla Yoghurt

I served them as dessert for my sister and her family (not Delly, the other sister!) and they were universally enjoyed. The texture was soft and smooth, sweet and warm. They were like eating a spoonful of jam. Just perfect.

Next time I might investigate adding some dessert wine to the liquid. I can imagine that would be heavenly. I think I’ll be doing these a lot while they’re in season.

Bells

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