Thursday, July 26, 2012

In praise of pasta

My friends Ali and Lynn have joint July birthdays, so we always get together to do something special. This year we made pasta. Lynn had done a course at La Bella Italia, so she was our guide, and Ali provided the pasta machine.   It was one of the best cooking and eating days I've ever had.
               The basic pasta dough recipe is here, together with the two ravioli fillings we used (Lynn had made these in advance): ricotta with spinach, and pumpkin with parmesan.

Egg pasta dough (La Bella Italia)

2 cups of “00” flour (Lynn was told she could also use high grade flour - we did, and it was fine)
½ cup of durum wheat fine semolina flour (grana dura)
4 medium eggs
2 more eggs, well beaten, to brush the dough with

(The olives and bread were to nibble while we worked.)
Thoroughly sift together flour, semolina flour, and a pinch of salt. On a clean surface, make a mountain out of the flour mixture and make a deep well in the centre. Break the eggs into the well. (In Italian this is called the nest, for obvious reasons.)

Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.

 Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Knead dough until it is smooth and supple (this took us at least 15 minutes). Wrap dough tightly in cling wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

And here it is, just as it should be, after all three of us took turns at kneading - the amazing gluten-busting transformation has taken place.

Next comes the fun part (which isn't described on the recipe site). Set up the pasta machine - what a gorgeous piece of machinery! It should be clamped to the table, but if you can't do this (we couldn't, as the table edge was the wrong shape), one of you will have to hold it down (this is why it works much better to have at least two people). 

Divide the dough into four pieces. Take one piece and flatten it out a bit. Feed it through the machine on the thickest (first) setting, then double it over and put it through several times more.

Keep raising the setting and feeding the pasta strip through so that it gets thinner and thinner. You will end up with an immensely long strip of almost translucent dough. 
        Lay this out on the bench or table (over a light dusting of semolina flour) and brush it with beaten egg.

Put a big pot of water on to boil. Arrange spoonfuls of filling along half the strip. Fold the other half over and press down around each spoonful.

Lynn had a little shot glass that was just the right size to define each spoonful neatly - the idea is to get out as much air as possible. 

Then we cut each one into a square and cooked them in the water for a few minutes until they were done, draining them carefully in a colander.

Next week I'll write about the whole Long Italian Lunch we had, with antipasto, the two kinds of ravioli as the star turn, and a recipe for the tiramisu we had for dessert.  
         We made the fourth piece of dough into fettucine, and I got to take it home. It took three minutes to cook, and I had it with the simplest possible sauce of good olive oil, garlic and herbs.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sweet as

Nothing like a sumptuous afternoon tea to cheer up a winter weekend - and last weekend I scored two of them.  On Saturday I met 11 friends at the Museum Hotel to celebrate a birthday. For $30 you get a choice of teas and a magnificent array of utterly delicious morsels, impeccably served. We had told the restaurant in advance that two of us were gluten-free, and that was no problem - there were even some sandwiches made with gluten-free bread, and only a few things they couldn't eat. I nicked this photo off the website, but it doesn't really do justice to what we had - three layers, culminating in macaroons and individual shot glasses of what was, I think, amaretto mousse.

The next day I went to my first-ever bake swap. Five Wellington food bloggers each brought a tin of home-baked goodies to share, swap and take home. Now as I've explained before, I'm really not a baker, so I don't have anything like a "signature slice", but I unearthed a recipe for little chocolate and spice biscuits, and made those. You're supposed to dip one end in chocolate, but I thought brushing them with melted chocolate would be nicer. 

They tasted quite good, rich rather than sweet, but as usual with my baking they didn't look wonderful - especially compared with other people's efforts - and their crispness on the day they were made didn't seem to last very well, so I don't think it's worth passing on the recipe. But here's what the others brought...we had a great afternoon and I went home happily clutching my assortment of goodies.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Some like it hot, I like it medium

When I get tired of the usual hearty, warming winter food, I turn to curry. For 25 years, ever since I came to Wellington to work as an editor at Reed's, I've made the curries I found in a modest but very inviting book they first published in 1968: Curries from the Sultan's Kitchen, by Doris M. Ady. It must have been a success, because it was reprinted four times and then picked up by a US publisher. (You can still find second-hand copies on line, but they're not cheap.)

At first glance, the author's name looks English. In fact, Doris and her husband and children came from Burma to settle in Australia in 1958. Her extremely useful book covers a wide range of South-East Asian curries, from Burma of course, but also from India, Pakistan and what was then Ceylon. I particularly like to make the Ceylonese ones, because my birth mother was born there, and loved curry.
          I don't often make meat curries these days, as I can buy such good ones over the road at Flavours. But vege curries are much easier to make. My all-time favourite is the Ceylonese Potato Curry, because it's so flexible. I've increased the amount of spices and garlic a bit - I think Doris was being careful for Antipodean palates. This amount gives four medium helpings, but you can easily size it up. 

Potato Curry (adapted from Doris Ady)
"At Ceylonese dinners, the main curry is usually accompanied by a vegetable curry. This is a basic recipe which can be varied by the use of different vegetables such as eggplant, all varieties of beans, peas, cauliflower, etc."

1 large firm fresh potato (any kind)
1 large brown onion
1 medium red, yellow or green pepper
1 mild red chili (or a hotter one, if you like it)
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves garlic
1 cm length of fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp belacan or blachan (dried shrimp paste)
(You can buy this in Asian food shops. It smells very pungent, so once you've opened it, keep it firmly wrapped up in the fridge. It seems to stay perfectly okay to use for a very long time, and gives curry a totally distinctive flavour - but you don't need much!)

2 chicken or vege stock cubes (or you can use miso), made up with water to 2 cups liquid - or use liquid stock
1 small tin coconut cream
juice of 1 lemon
finely chopped parsley

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 cm cubes (approx).
Peel and thinly slice the onion.
Deseed and slice the pepper.
Deseed and finely chop the chili (then wash your hands).
Finely mince together the peeled garlic and ginger (or use a food processor).

Put all the veges and all the spices into a deep saucepan. Add the stock - the liquid should almost cover the veges.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the potatoes are cooked but not disintegrating.
Add the coconut cream to dissolve in the curry and reheat gently.
Add salt and lemon juice to taste. (I like quite a lot of juice - maybe a large lemon's worth. Lime juice is even better.)
To serve, sprinkle with chopped parsley.

If you want to eat this without another curry, serve it with rice, chutney, yoghurt and poppadum or naan bread, and four hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered. I didn't get a great photo, but believe me, it's incredibly tasty, so easy to make, and with no fat and lots of veges, really healthy too. Like most curries, it's even better the next day.

Sometimes I make a fresh raita or some other relish to serve on the side. This one is pineapple, celery, red pepper and fresh coriander, mixed with a splash of fish sauce, sugar, salt, and lemon juice.