Tag Archives: recipes

Basic pasta (or fresh pasta 0.01)

6 Mar

Cooking, reading, thinking and writing about food is a very good procrastination tool. My fb page is now cluttered with recipes and tips & tricks from all the cooks and magazine I like, and I love it. Just last Saturday I have tried 3 new recipes. They looked appealing but they were, all considered, not very special.  Just explaining how I will consider a recipe as a good recipe or not will require a whole post (and it is arguably less interesting that what I want to say). However, just food (or talking about food) in itself is not going to get me out of unemployment, so I have to be more active in the unemployment front. To balance the thin food/work-seeking equilibrium I try to spend more or less the same amount of time I spend in looking around in cooking sites also looking for possible jobs. Today I sent in a couple of applications and therefore I thought it was just fair to write also something on my little blog. In some way I consider this post a bit of a treat, and I am going to make this treat about a short story on making the easiest `pasta all’uovo’.

Marleen and I love `pasta all’uovo’ (fresh pasta) and I wanted to write a post about it for a very long time. However, every time I was starting to write I stopped even before considering typing because myriads of thoughts and ideas cluttered my mind. I feared I would have written such a long a post that it would have become unreadable. In essence, I was not sure how to organize a post on fresh pasta when I had so much to talk about. But I had a (brilliant) idea.

I will write a series of posts, which will increase with the difficulty of the procedures involved. I will start with a post that explains how to make the simplest fresh pasta and then build upon that post. The thing is I love, absolutely love, making filled pasta (e.g., ravioli, cappelletti, cappellacci, tortelli, tortelloni, tortellini). However, a fresh-pasta-marker (fresh in the sense of newbie, but also in the sense of a maker of fresh pasta, I like the subtlety of that double meaning) should not start with pasta-making making filled pasta. In fact, filled pasta requires a bit of experience managing the dough, having previous experience will help in the process of making filled pasta because there are many little tricks one can use to fix the pasta. The reason I’m making this rather tedious and boring preamble is that many friends very enthusiastically bought a pasta machine, used it once, got upset and never used it again. That is NOT what should happen. Start easy and then go complex, that is true also for pasta making. If one’s desire is only the making of filled pasta, then their best option is to ask a friend, who already have experience, to help them out.

The easiest fresh pasta one can make is the pasta sheets for lasagna. Why? Because if anything goes wrong there is (usually) an easy to fix. But before getting into fixing let’s bother about getting something to fix!

Making lasagna sheets is easy. What you need is 100 g of flour and 1 large egg per person, more if your guests have a large appetite. Many cooking sites, books, magazine etc. says you should use flour `00 ‘ (double zero), but I do not. And I am Italian (OKOK, I live in the Netherlands and `farina 00’ can be bought at kidney’s prices here in comparison to Italy, and given that I have only two kidneys  selling them for a pack of flour seems a bit… paradoxical), but still, white wheat flour will do fine. Then you need to mix flour and egg(s).

Mixing can be done in 2 (that I can think of) ways: automated, manually. If you have a kitchen machine that’s easy, just put flour and eggs in proportion to the pasta eaters and let it mix (e.g., 1-2 minutes) until it forms a ball which should look like the photo – that dough is brown because it contains cocoa powder (Note: if the ball forms quicker you do not need to let the engine of your kitchen machine going). If the ball does not form within that interval and you have clues that it won’t form you have to consider whether the dough is too wet (too much fluid) or too dry (too much floor). All you have to do is add the opposite ingredient (water if dough is dry and flour if dough is wet) consider adding small quantities (e.g., table spoons as, for example, adding 1 spoon, let mix 10-20 seconds, so that you won’t get with three time the amount of pasta you wanted to work with in the first place).

The manual procedure, if you like to work with your hands, is more fun, more environmentally friendly, a bit more messy, requires less washing up (unless you throw everything in the dishwasher) than the ‘robotic’ one. All you need is to create a small pile of flour and dig a little hole in the middle (as a volcano) – NOTE that you should not reach the surface of the surface on which you are making your dough.  You break the egg(s) in the hole of the volcano and start mixing with a fork. When you see that mixing can be done with the hands then you start working the dough. This is usually done pushing and folding the pasta. Push the pasta with the palm(s) simultaneously stretching it with your (arched) fingers and then folding it again. You repeat this for 10-20 minutes or until you think the dough is elastic enough. I find that if the pasta dough is good, this pushing-stretching-folding activity is quite enjoyable. If the pasta dough is sticky or too dry you need to add water/flour little by little. What I do is just to spread a spoon of flour/water on the working surface and work the dough through it.

If you want to add salt to your dough you do it before mixing with the egg(s). And to make sure the salt is maximally distributed with the flour mix a bit before adding the egg(s). Personally I never add salt because I cook the pasta in salty water (the golden ration is 10:100:1000 for salt, pasta, water) and I think it’s enough. I do not add it also if the recipe says to do it, but that is my personal preference.

When you are done you leave your dough to rest for 30 min / 1 hour / 1 day if you plan to use it the day after. Getting the dough to rest is not a necessary step, you will be able to work it in any case, but it helps the elasticity of the dough. If you have the time let it rest, otherwise get to the pasta machine and roll it through it. If you do not have a pasta machine you can flatten the pasta with a rolling pin. Flattening the pasta with a rolling pin is a bit of work, the only suggestion I can give is that it is way easier if you roll little snakes (as for the gnocchi) out of your ball of pasta and then flatten those. The flattening of the piece of pasta is also a trick one can use to pass the pasta through the pasta machine. Flattening a short pasta `cylinder’ will (1) make the pasta sheet broader than if it wouldn’t be flat and (2) save time because there is no need to fold it several times before it acquires the desired thickness.

This post is getting long now, therefore the rest will come in a follow up. There is one last point to mention: one could argue that lasagna actually requires more work than, for example, tagliatelle or tagliolini (which are lasagne sheets which are cut when still fresh and eaten with a sauce, e.g. ragu alla bolognese / pesto alla genovese). I will not argue with that. I am saying that pasta sheets are the easiest to make, and not that the actual use of the lasagna sheet might be more than tagliatelle. All considered, tagliatelle requires to make a next step, whereas lasagna sheet just need to be passed through the rolls of the pasta machine. Moreover, sticky lasagna sheet are way easier to work with than sticky tagliatelle. In fact, sticky tagliatelle will glue together, whereas sticky lasagna sheets can be put in the lasagna nonetheless they are sticky. In any case, a good alternative could be to split work with your partner/neighbour , if you make a proper agreement s/he can make the rest of the lasagna and then you’ll both be happy. What about that for a suggestion?!?!?


Muffins with mozzarella and herbs

19 Feb


Most muffins are sweet, but since Marleen and I tried salty muffins and were really happy with them for lunch/brunch I thought I give a try to something new. Also, I already backed a cake this week and (1) I did not want to overdo it with sweetness (2) it was not all consumed. Therefore there was no reason to make another cake unless Marleen and I are considering joining a ball-shaped humans competition. Moreover, yesterday I was in experimenting mood, therefore I decided to experiment with muffins.

I had a goal in mind for this muffins. They should have satisfied the prerequisites of (1) could be eat by Fay (who is now 7 months) (2) could work as a snack (3) could be a relatively easy and `healthy’ lunch (easy in the sense that Marleen could bring the lunch to work without too much trouble), (4) which could go in the oven simultaneously with the lasagna, which needed to be backed 30 min at 190°C. I thought that (1) muffins were pretty portable, (2) I could have replaced butter or oil with yoghurt and milk, (3) used half white and whole-wheat flour so that it would have been a bit more `wholemeal’, and (4) remove the salt therefore `becoming’ Fay proof (whole-wheat flour is not recommended for kids that are less that 1 year old, but I think it’s only because they don’t digest it, so that’s not too much of a problem). This makes for pretty healthy, pretty boring muffins. Therefore, to make the muffins a little bit less boring I thought I could have added mozzarella and a bit of fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and parsley (I wanted to add also sage, but I forgot).

This is what I mixed together. 150g of white and whole-wheat flour each, 1 teaspoon of both baking-powder and soda, half a teaspoon of sugar, 125g of mozzarella in cubes, a tablespoon each of finely chopped rosemary, thyme and parsley, 100ml of yoghurt 100ml of milk and 2 eggs.

And this is how I mixed it together. First I mixed the flours with the dry ingredients. The purpose of this mixing is to distribute all ingredients equivalently in the dough. Then I added the herbs and the mozzarella’s cubes and mixed everything again. I then mix together yoghurt, milk and eggs and then added this batter to the mix of flour. After mixing this well together I spooned it in a muffin’s baking form and set it on the oven while I finished the lasagna. When ready I baked muffins and lasagna at 190°C for 30 minutes.

To my surprise they became more tasty than I thought. The fact that salt is absent is rather noticeable, but it is not too disturbing. Actually, if one is thinking that the absence of salt makes the muffins much healthier than if the muffins would contain salt, then the muffins become very tasty. Another surprise was the crunchiness and fluffiness of the muffins. I think the crunchiness came from the fact that I used whole-wheat flour, because it is more or less the same effect that whole-wheat flour does to bread. The extra fluffiness might instead have come from the fact that I left the muffins rest in the oven before baking them. The resting time and the absence of drafts in the oven likely initiated the rising process and therefore might have boosted the fluffiness of muffin, which would have been probably a bit less risen if it would only have been cooked. I now for sure I’ll try again, but for now I had to write it down before I forget what I did. Cheers.

Torta di ricotta

29 Jan


I have a wonderful memory of once eating the best `torta di ricotta’ ever. It was in Tuscany (Italy) and during a boy-scout camp. We went visiting a zoo or a park, the memory is a bit vague, and there was a little bar on the side of this place and there I took a slice of this amazing ricotta cake (no wonder any other memory of that day was blown off my mind). In any case, from that day ricotta cake has a special place in my heart and this is one of the (likely numerous) attempts I will make to try get to find the same type of torta di ricotta.

I have tried a torta di ricotta already. I found the recipe on the back of a ricotta package from Galbani. That recipe was not so interesting or tasty to deserve a whole post. The one I would like to talk about is actually my interpretation of a recipe that Marleen found. We bumped into this recipe because we had bought 1.5Kg of ricotta and it needed to be used. I was bored of mixing it with salty food (e.g., pasta, lasagne, filled pasta, etc.) even if there are plenty of way in which ricotta can be mixed with anything. This time I wanted to make a cake, therefore we opened the great wide internet and we start browsing for pictures of ricotta. When Marleen’s saw the picture of the blog of Chef Dennis (http://www.askchefdennis.com/2012/06/torta-di-ricotta/) she said I had to make that torta di ricotta, and I tried.

The first attempt I did exactly what Chef Dennis suggested and the ricotta cake became nice. However, I was a bit disappointed because the final result did not justify the amount of work necessary to make the cake. In fact, the dough is very difficult to manage, that is, only preparing the dough so that I could put in the filling took me around an hour. I can always blame such a long time to my incompetence or to the fact that it was the first time I tried it, but I was disappointed. Marleen also was not very enthusiastic. In essence, we both liked the cake, but I was pondering whether there was an easier way to make the cake, whereas Marleen was more of the opinion that repeating such recipe was not an effort which I should have endeavored again.

So I tried it again (this is because I like to listen to other people advice ;-)). However, this time I took what I thought were the best elements of Chef Dennis’s recipe and adapted it to make the dough a little bit more easy to work than the original recipe of Chef Dennis.

For the dough I made the `simplified’ version of the Italian pasta frolla. I call it the simplified version because I do in the kitchen machine and I am not literally following all the instruction of the bible, which is ‘La cucina italiana’. For the ingredient I took half of the quantities suggest by the book: 175g of flour, 75g of ground almond, 100 of sugar, one table spoon of baking powder, one sachet of vanilla sugar (in NL it contains 8g), the zest of a lemon and a pinch of salt. I let the machine mix this stuff together and then I added 75g of butter in small cubes and 2 eggs (also with the egg white, which makes the dough drier). I mix everything again for a minute or something and if the dough is not all forming in a block I add 1 to 3 table spoons of water until it starts to become more compact. This procedure, in my opinion, makes the dough a bit more manageable when you need to flatten it or make the borders of the cake. I think I then let it rest in the fridge for almost 1.5 days, mostly because I did not have the time to work it rather than because it needed all that time (Note that, however, according to Artusi living the pasta frolla in the fridge for longer interval is better because it makes it more friable).

For the filling I did exactly what Chef Dennis did, so I am not going to describe it. I even made the ricotta the way he describes it. The only difference is that I could not use his ‘double-boiler technique’ because with the double boiler I could not get the milk temperature above 70 Celsius deg. Therefore I placed the pan directly on the fire, but the ricotta became also in this way and I do not know whether there is a difference between the two ways of cooking it. I do tend to prefer what works for me though. On another note, this procedure yield a superdry type of ricotta which is MAGNIFICENT to use as a filling in filled pasta).

In conclusion this second time it all worked out, and now I’m spending the four-hours-waiting time before we can finally determine whether we will ever make this recipe again. The procedure was helped by the fact that the dough was easier to work with than the dough I got following Chef Dennis’s recipe. However, especially covering the cake is a bit of a delicate process and a yet even less crumbly dough than this one will make the process easier than it is. However, note that a yet more manageable dough than this one might yield a less crunchy cake than this. Anyway, with a spatula which is large enough to lift almost all the cover it was not overcomplicated. I also used a little trick to make all the cracks disappear before baking it. I took a little water mixed with a little sugar (e.g. 1 tablespoon each) and brush it on top of the cake;s cover… all the cracks seemed to be gone.

The time has almost come, will a bite of the cake blow our minds off?


17 Jan

I have been trying to make bread for a while. Because just making bread from a package seemed too simple, I wanted to try to make bread that look like the baker’s bread but from scratch, which is just mixing stuff together. Numerous attempts have failed miserably, like when I made yeast my self and being so disappointed from the whole result that I baked it all in block and reinvented how to make bricks.

Anyway, here are the ingredients, quantities and procedure to get 500 g of bread. All the procedure will take you 10 minutes (even if it seems it takes an hour to describe) plus 20-25 minutes baking. There are also 1 or 2 hours of rising time in between. OK. I mix together 200g of white wheat flour, 200g of whole wheat flour, 60g of spelt flour, 40g of kamut flour. Mix the flours together, so that they are even distributed among each other. Then add 1 teaspoon of (dry) yeast (I use dry because in Groningen I can find fresh yeast only on packages of 42g, which is a bit too much for 500g of bread). One teaspoon of baking soda. I find that backing soda does not help the rising much, but I think it helps the yeast in keeping a bit the structure of the bread. I see it in this way, the yeast gives the rising power, the backing soda provides a bit of scaffolding, so that the rose structure does not collapse. Then 1/2 teaspoon of salt (this you can leave out, then your bread will be insipid but maybe you don’t mind). 1/2 teaspoon of (brown) sugar (I use sugar because I read it on the package of the yeast that sugar should be added. Sugar activates the rise of the yeast, but I am not sure whether it is not dependent on the type of yeast and whether different types of sugar make a difference for the activation. I use brown sugar because it seems more ‘naturalistic’ than white or other sugars, and I did not try without it because that would add another variable to the equation which I was not in the mood yet to control). At this point I mix everything again, to be sure the powders are well incorporated with the flours, otherwise you get all your ‘rising power’ unevenly distributed, which makes your bread acquire curious shapes. Then I add 2-3 tablespoons of yoghurt, this is also to boost the rising process of the bread, I read yoghurt helps backing soda to kick in, which I thought I observed after I started adding yoghurt to the dough, but it might be a placebo effect. Then I mix everything again.

At this point I add 300 ml of lukewarm water and mix again. When everything seem incorporated I put it in a loaf pan and let it rise for a couple of hours. Rising is actually an interesting procedure as well, what works best for me is to place the loaf pan on a radiator with a wet cloth on top (wet because it prevents the bread from sticking to the cloth and become too dry).  Be ware that if the radiator is too hot and while transporting the bread to the oven the change in temperature is too high, your bread will collapse while you transport it to the oven. Because I have a gas oven I cannot set the temperature to less than 120 Celsius degrees and at that temperature the bread would cook. Also, I try to be a bit aware of the environment and letting the oven go for 2 hours to rise bread seems a bit too inconsiderate of the environment to me. If you want to be the most environmentally aware and your house does not need a radiator to get warm, then you can leave the bread to rise in the switched off oven, but the result will be a bit less good.

And for the backing, I do 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, I never bother pre-heating the oven, also this to save the planet from global warming, and most of the time the bread is cooks well as well… Also with the backing procedure I’ve experimented with different settings. Always to limit wasting resources (this is also why I’m using a gas oven and trying to avoid an electric one) I try to bake multiple things at once (e.g. with the bread might go a cake, muffins, both, or other bakery products). Usually if there are not products which require a very careful backing process it works all well. For example, if I’m backing muffins and they should go for 40 min at 150 and the bread should go 20 minutes at 220, I might do 30 min at 180 and everything seems to be fine. The crust of the bread might be a bit more soft though, so what I do sometimes is to do 10 minutes at 200, then add the muffins and lower the temperature to 165-170 for 25 minutes… you need to work out what works for you and with your oven.

Also, from my experience the best results are obtained with leaving the backed products in the oven after being cooked (ever had those awesome carrot cake collapse immediately after being extracted from the oven). So be patient and let them rest a little.

Oh, and ambulance driving by woke up Fay, I need to go back to my father duties… to the next one.