Friday, January 28, 2011

Pasta Pasta!

Freshly cut buckwheat pasta for pizzoccheri

Finished pizzoccheri (more about that in another post)
Diving into a plate of pasta, pasta I've taken from flour and eggs to noodles to full-on pasta dinner, is something everyone should experience. Fresh pasta is so delicious. It's just right in the al dente category. It seems to hold the sauce better. Oh, okay. Fresh pasta does everything better...

The other night I taught a pasta making class to about 14 people (give or take--some decided to just drink, some decided to direct pasta rolling, some decided to get into it), and we had a blast.
One of our youngest pasta chefs
I definitely like a class to be hands-on, although after looking at the space and declaring it looked like a flour bomb had gone off, I may have to rethink that.  Either way, I had people mixing pasta by hand, a messy process, but everyone ended up with a ball of pasta dough. The trick then is to knead it eight minutes until it is smooth and not sticky.

I love a hand-cranked pasta machine. It's got these steel rollers that start wide (ish) and narrow down--you feed the dough through the widest setting (Number 1) a few times. That kneads it a few more times. Then you pass it through progressively narrower settings until the dough is as thin as you want it (I went to 7 for the dough in this post about homemade lasagne). You can cut it into fettucini or into's almost angel hair if you use the narrower set of cutting rollers. I love the fettucini because it gives you so much bang for the pasta buck. You can leave it in sheets and fill it for ravioli (we made squash ravioli with brown butter sage sauce the other night. Yum.) You can let it dry and break it into rough pieces for soup (exactly what I'm planning on doing with the couple of sheets I have left over).

The hand mixing is fun, but the processor mixing is FAST. It's so smooth so quickly....mix, knead a little, run it through the machine. I made two batches of spinach dough this way because it distributed the spinach throughout the dough so well. I may be cooking it off tonight....

Apparently you can make it ALL by hand, but that sounds like stretch, you roll, you stretch, you roll, you roll, you cut.

Me? I like my Atlas pasta machine...
Ready to roll...quite literally

Here's the pasta recipe:
2 cups all-purpose flour (Italians use 00 flour; you can find it at Italian markets, and I like to use it)
3 large eggs

That is all. If you're mixing by hand, make a well in your mound of flour--make it wide...crack the eggs into the well, and mix starting by breaking up the eggs and stirring, stirring, stirring, picking up a bit of flour at a time until most of the flour is incorporated. (If you don't do this that neatly, don't worry: just keep mixing and gathering the flour until you get a ball of dough.) This is the point where you have to knead the dough for 8 minutes...knead it like bread dough. It gets smoother and is done when you poke your finger into the dough and no dough sticks to your finger when you pull it out.

If you're doing it ALL by hand, you can let the dough rest. If not, divide it into four pieces and run all four through the machine on number 1. Run them through at least three times. Turn setting on machine to 2. Run each piece through once. Turn to 3. Run each piece through again. Proceed until you like the thickness (no less than 3--that makes a thick noodle great for soups...)

As you are running the pieces through, don't let the sheets touch each other on the counter. Have some dish towels spread out, lightly dusted with flour.

Once you get your sheets to the desired thickness, let the dry a bit before cutting into noodles. Ten minutes makes it easy to handle. You can let it dry even more, til it is harder, but still not brittle--it still has to be pliable enough to go through the noodle cutting stage.

Cook the noodles immediately (it will take about 3 minutes) or let them dry and cook them later. They will STILL be better than store-bought dried pasta.

And finally, I want to add this youtube video of Jamie Oliver making pasta--he's done so fast (the whole video is just over six minutes long) with fresh pasta and a simple sauce...wish I'd thought of this...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Liquid Lava Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

Caramel has always been a favorite of mine. Then everyone started adding salt to the equation. Ooh, even better. Then I started finding chocolate covered salted caramels.


I was already contemplating making the caramels when my sister pointed me to Ina Garten's salted caramel recipe in the holiday issue of Food Network Magazine...

She does a bang-up job with the caramels...These are very easy to make. I doubled her recipe and made the caramels MUCH smaller than she does. (I have observed in the past that Ina's recipes usually feed a crowd. In this case she just makes sure one piece of caramel is beyond satisfying. I'd rather have more and smaller.) I think I got double the amount of caramels she cuts.

They really are that easy to roll and cut (if you look closely, you can see the spiral of the rolling I did). I didn't have paper to wrap them in, but I thought, "Look! They are holding their shape! I will just dip the TOPS in chocolate and add salt to them there."

And they were things of beauty as long as they were in the fridge. AND I had set each one into a little mini-cupcake wrapper. But they STUCK to the paper, so I quickly took them out.

Ahem. And uh-oh.

Out of the fridge? They flowed like lava to meet the caramels next to them, joining finally into one big lava flow of caramel and chocolate bits (which were subsumed by the caramel lava). After I gave a few away, I had nothing pretty enough to give. Heh. That didn't stop me from spooning a bit of caramel (and the chocolate I fished for) right into my mouth from time to time.

At room temp, this caramel is beautifully soft. Not liquid. Just...well, you know. Just lava.

Next year, I will dip each piece into chocolate and have them completely covered, which will contain the lava flows. Well, next year is already this year, isn't it? Hmm. I may have to experiment in order to perfect the process by the next holiday season. (After the fact I experimented with parchment as wrapping papers--it works.)

I love my job.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Christmas Cookies in January...

Just the other day, I finished the last of my chocolate espresso cookies from Martha's recipe. (Yes, THE Martha. What, you aren't on first name basis with her? Sure you are.)...And I've been thinking...I should make more.

The hands-down hit of this season, hits of the season were brown butter shortbreads and salted caramels.

First the shortbreads.

I have an old book filled with my handwriting and stains from many and sundry kitchen sessions. A few pages are devoted to a Christmas cookie baking session with Marcie Barker, sous chef and wife to Chef Ali Barker, who opened Union Square Cafe way back in the day. We made a ton of cookies that sessin and tried...three times, if I recall correctly, to make a brown butter shortbread. Brown butter is so delicious, right? Nutty AND buttery. The best.

But we also failed three times. The shortbreads just wouldn't hold together. Well, I think that cookie baking session was about 22 years ago. I had no kids, so it's at least 22 years ago (ahem). But I've never forgotten those attempts and always wanted to try again.

This year I did. I found a recipe that has  you push the brown butter dough into a tart pan, which is brilliant, because it's just too delicate to hold its own as it bakes. Then you release it and cut it into wedges and give it a second light baking.

Cookie crack, as one neighbor called these cookies just last night. He made me want more. These cookies pretty much melt in your mouth. I said to that same neighbor: butter and sugar held together by a touch of flour. That's pretty much it. (See those crumbs in the photo above? I ate those, too.)

The recipe I found is from Blue Ridge Baker. She's pretty genius. Thank you for this, Sarah, you Blue Ridge woman...(And she's started a new blog for our new year, Prairie Table. Follow her food fun there.)

Hm. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will tell you about salted caramels and the lessons I've learned from them.