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!)

Pastry: Brunch Turnovers

Everytime I start to write a blog post I feel I need to apologize for my absence.  But I post when I can and you can be assured that I am continuing in on my baking/eating/thinking about baking/thinking about eating etc… You get the idea.

So I have been thinking about pastry lately and borrowed a book from our local library (yay libraries!!  How good are they??)  The book was a very basic pies and pastries cookbook with quite a lot of instruction on making your own pastry.

My husband, son and I were thinking of going to the Rugby last Saturday night, and rather than buying over-priced garbage from the stadium, I thought I would make some pastries which could be easily eaten without cutlery and also be eaten cool.

So I made these little treasures:

 

 

To make the pastry in a fast and efficient way – you can do the following:

Place a steel blade into your food processor work bowl.  Add 155g plain flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 90g of cold cubed butter.  Process briefly with short bursts of power until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (a few larger pieces may remain).  With machine running, quickly add 3 T cold water.  Stop the processor very soon after the water is added and the dough comes together.  Remove form the machine and wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap.  Pop it in the fridge for 1 hour minimum – or overnight.

 

To make the filling, do the following:

Ingredients:

2 T finely chopped spring onion

1 T marg or butter

1 beaten egg

125g shredded cheese

155g finely chopped ham

2 tsp chopped fresh dill

1 tsp minced garlic

Milk

 

Method

Prepare pastry as directed.  When you are ready, remove the dough from the fridge and roll the dough into 37.5 x 25cm rectangle.  Cut into 13cm squares.  Cover dough with plastic wrap and set aside while preparing filling.

In a small bowl combine all ingredients.  Divide evenly between each square being careful to put the filling on only one half of the square (you will need to fold the top over and pinch the pastry).

Moisten the edges of the pastry with a little water.  Fold each square of pastry in half, sealing edges well by pressing with a fork.  Place on a baking tray with baking paper.  Prick the tops and lightly brush with milk.

Bake in preheated oven (190degrees) for about 30 minutes or until golden.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

I have to say my new favourite herb is Dill.  The subtle flavour mix with the cheese and ham is just amazing.  My family and I just loved these.  The pastry was tasty and flaky, the mixture inside the turnover was moist and flavoursome.

 

Alas, I did forget to add the milk wash on top of the pastry before baking, so I felt this made the pastry a little dry.  So I would try not to forget that step next time.  But otherwise, these little flavour-packed pillows are worth a try.  The pastry was not at all daunting to make.  I had it whipped up in the food processor in about 8 minutes.  I also made the pastry ahead of time, which made me feel terribly organised and sucessfully domestic!

I hope you will give them a try.

Delly

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

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

Slow Cooker: Roast Chicken

I’m not sure when it happened, but it seems that a lovely Roast Chicken has become our Sunday night staple.  Partly because it’s easy and I can make stock form the bones and partly because my son loves it (especially the crispy skin) and the polenta crusted roast potatoes I make on the side.

A few years ago someone ( I think it was Bells, but I’m not sure) told me about cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker.  Since then, I have adapted it slightly and made it my own.  The joy of  a chicken in the slow cooker is that it is hard to screw up (and it stops your oven getting all filthy).  So I thought I would share the process with you and perhaps, in time, it will become your Sunday night staple as well.

When preparing the chicken I usually cut off a little of the excess skin around the bottom area.  I then wash the chicken and pat dry.  Season the inside with salt and pop in a quartered lemon and some herbs (your choice).  I usually tie the legs together with some cooking string just to keep it all neat and tidy.

Chickens release quite a lot of juice.  To ensure that the chicken doesn’t drown in its own juices in the slow cooker, I place on the base of the bowl, enough halved onions (or washed potatoes) to cover the base and allow the chicken to sit on top.  This ensures the chicken is raised and the juices remain underneath the chicken (you can make a great sauce from this as well).

Pour over the chicken some extra virgin olive oil and sea salt flakes (table salt is fine – but I love sea salt flakes).  Pop on the lid and cook for 3hrs on HIGH OR 5-6hrs on LOW.  Contrary to popular belief, I do think you can ruin food in the slow cooker.  If cooked for too long, chicken can become dry and mushy.  So be careful and try to stick to the set time for cooking.

After the set time you end up with a succulent roast chicken (minus the crispy skin – which is a shame).  You do get a little colour on the skin, but nothing like you would if you were to do it in the oven.  If you can accept that – then you will enjoy this chicken.

As an absolute “must” for this dish I also make Polenta crusted roast Potatoes.  You’ll find lots of recipes online for these – but mine are as follows:

Peel your potatoes (I use whatever potatoes I have as well sweet potato) and chop them in half (or quarters if they are large).  I then par-boil them in salted water for 4 minutes (from boiling point).  Drain the potatoes and pop the lid back on, shake them around so that they get a little rough around the edges.  Coat them in polenta (by pouring over the polenta, popping on the lid and shaking them again).  Place the potatoes in the roasting dish and pour over olive oil and sea salt.  Shake them all around again so that most of the oil is covering each potato.  Cook in the oven for about 1 hour at 180C.

This meal is a real winner in our home and oh so easy.  I also cook the chicken in the oven with the potatoes often as well.  No doubt you all know how to do that – but if you want any pointers then let me know and I’ll post about that as well.

Happy long weekend and may it be filled with lots of roast meat and veges!!!  Of and perhaps a pudding too!

Delly

PS.  If you would like to use the chicken juices for a sauce then just pour the juice into a small saucepan.  Add some sea salt and a big glug of white whine.  Then boil it up and allow it to reduce and thicken slightly!!!  Fabulous!

Savoury Pumpkin Pie

Regular readers of our blog would know that I recently made a Chicken Pie.  I love a good pie, but alas, I have not ventured down the pie path very much in my cooking life.  This fact needs to change.

I have my fruit and vegetables delivered and often it’s like pot luck with what appears in my weekly box.  Last week I received a very large pumpkin.  Having made several pumpkin soups of late I was not keen to make another so soon.  So Bells and I started contemplating pumpkin recipes and we got thinking about Pumpkin Pie.  I am more familiar with this pie being a seasonal sweet dish.  I have tasted one once (made by an American friend) and it was delightful.  However, it was made with canned pumpkin, which seems so strange to me.  Why buy it in a can when you can easily cook it fresh?  Perhaps, one of our American readers could enlighten me on this one.

Anyway – I started searching for Pumpkin Pie recipes and came across an Italian recipe.  It had ricotta, fresh breadcrumbs, parmesan and eggs – all the good stuff.  So I gave it a try today.

 

 

In a previous post I mentioned actually reading a recipe properly BEFORE I start cooking.  I was reminded of this as I began thinking through this pie.  The recipe requires you to cook the cubed pumpkin and then allow it to drain for 3-4 hours (or even over night) before mashing the pumpkin (or pushing it through a seive – I didn’t do this – a good potato masher seemed to do the trick).  Draining the moisture from the pumpkin is very important when dealing with the pastry.  You want to keep the pastry crisp and dry – so be careful how you deal with the mixture.  Follow the steps to ensure good results.

I found this pie had lots of flavour.  The eggs kept it in place when cut and the golden breadcrumbs on top added a crunch to the creamy texture of the pumpkin mixture.

You’ll find the recipe here.

I loved also curling over some pastry prior to cooking.  It remined me of a little bowl.  It not only kept all the pumkin contained whilst cooking – but it looked pretty good too.

 

 

 

 

I think this Winter we will see a lot more pies in my kitchen.  Especially now that I am convinced that making your own pastry is not only easy (with the exception of puff pastry), but immensely satisfying to do.  The pastry I used for tonight’s pie was leftover from my chicken pie.  I just froze the leftover pastry and defrosted it this morning.

So do you have a favourite pie dish you would like to share? 

Delly

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