30 April 2013

Homemade Pasta: The Reckoning

It's been a while, but I finally gave up. With a library at hand, I checked out a book on making pasta and followed some directions. I know, I know, not the usual. Whatever, I wanted something that tasted good, and I wanted it quickly. The short version of my short cutting? Success! And sweat.
Turns out I've been doing many things wrong. One: equal parts egg and flour is a little too dry. Two: half semolina flour is still too rough. Three: all-egg for liquid is a little firm. Four: kneading for a few minutes isn't enough. Five: rolling for a few minutes isn't enough. Six: cutting my noodles all wrong. I wonder how many experiments it would have taken to figure that out? I had already given up on more iterations of homemade pasta as it has been horrible every time. Except now, of course. Cookbooks: pretty rad, actually.
We topped it with a homemade white-wine sauce, made up on the spot. I provide a recipe, but you should understand this as simply what I made, not how one makes sauce. I, honestly, have no clue but guessed together something good. I used home-grown sage - E has started a wonderful garden on the deck. While we eagerly await the first greens from it, I have been using the sage as often as E will let me. I would surely kill the plant without her intervention - we have this great recipe, invented by E and cooked by me, that I'll share some time. It uses a bit of sage.

The pasta was also topped with crispy slices of leek; I'll omit a recipe for that but you can figure it out. It involves a cast iron, salt, and a bit of oil. And about ten minutes of your time.
Homemade Pasta in White Wine Sauce
Serves.. 3? Whatever
Takes a really long time
1 large egg (60g or so)
50g white flour
25g whole-wheat flour
25g semolina flour
2tbsp water, give or take

Mix the flours together in a small bowl. Stir in the egg and water using a fork; the dough should be dry-ish, but smooth on the surface. On a very lightly floured large work surface, begin kneading the dough. Add flour as necessary, but keep to a minimum. Around five minutes, test the dough by gently pulling it - if it rips immediately, wet your hands and work it into the dough. If you get a little stretch, then a rip, maybe add a drop of water. Otherwise, just keep kneading for another five minutes. If it ever begins sticking, add a bit more flour. If it appears dry, add a few drops of water. The surface of the dough will be smooth and it should be pliable and stretchy. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. You can start the sauce now if you want.

After 30 minutes, prepare your muscles and a large work surface, very lightly dusted in flour. We have a rather large cutting board - at least 24"x18", if not larger - and cut our dough in half before rolling. The little lump of dough will need a rather lot of space. Using your hands, make the dough into something like a rectangle. Then start rolling. Keep rolling, rotating the dough and dusting with hints of flour if it sticks. Use your forearms. E rolled for maybe ten minutes; I took around five. If you are lacking in upper-body strength, I suggest making friends with a climber (great for opening cans - many more uses around the house as well).

The dough is thin enough when you can see through it. Yeah, it is a lot of work. And it is possible by hand. If you cut the dough in two, put the first finished piece between two towels so it doesn't form a crust while you finish the second piece. To cut the pasta into long, straight noodles, use the following magic trick: place the dough flat and roll up the top and bottom edges until they meet in the center. Fold in half. Cut. Magic! Unroll all the noodles and cook in a large pot of salted, boiling water for three minutes. Drain and serve immediately (or, drain, toss in sauce, and serve immediately).
1/2 cup white wine of some sort (I don't pretend to know)
1/2 cup water (could probably replace this with more wine or stock of sorts)
1tsp butter
1 italian onion, diced
handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
can of white beans + liquid
several fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
(optionally) a bit of leftover, cooked, thick-cut bacon from a previous meal

In a large sauce pan, heat a splash of oil over medium. Add the diced onion, a bit of salt, and let cook for a while. Stir it every now and then, adding oil as necessary, until it has softened. Add the wine, water, some salt+pepper, whatever dry spices you want, and the bacon if you have it. Reduce to low and let simmer until much of the liquid is gone, tasting and seasoning as you go. Remove the bacon, dice it up, and put aside for crisping and future garnish.

If it is more than give minutes before your past will be ready, shut off the heat. Otherwise, cut the tomatoes in half and add them, along with the entire can of beans+liquid and the sage. Increase heat to medium and stir everything together for five minutes. Toss with noodles and serve immediately, topped with bacon and crisped leek rounds.

01 April 2013

New Post, New City

So, E and I moved across the country. Rather, up - from SF to Seattle. Across the hotdog way, not the hamburger. This was my poor car for the drive:
We used one of those "we drop off a crate, you fill it, we ship it" companies for the majority of the move and stuffed the car with necessities for "camping" a few nights in our old place and a few nights in the new. Including a minimal set of cookware. The day before the crate arrived at our old place, I got sick with what E dubbed "convenient-itus" and what I called "some horrible stomach bug". Needless to say, the cookware was not used in the few days before we drove North. We arrived on a Saturday night after a leisurely two-day drive, spending the night in Grant's Pass after a meal at Black Bear Diner. I fondly remembered this chain from a similar road trip as a younger self - the pancakes where the size of my plate and my brother's burger almost the same. It almost lived up to the memories - the pancakes only want to the inner edge of the rim, robbing the poor souls eating them of a good inch on the diameter of what would surely be a wondrous food coma. But, yes, back to arriving in Seattle - our new neighborhood has a Sunday market, perfect for our Saturday night arrival and cookware. So we made this:
Some delicious fresh pasta, some random greens with goat chevre, and a duck egg. A most excellent lunch. A key benefit to the new location is a library barely a block away, and one with decent hours even. You know, those places that give you free books for a bit. They have cookbooks, even. Good ones. I promptly checked out Ad Hoc at Home, a beautiful book I could never convince myself to buy. If you need a good, all-purpose cookbook that doubles as something to display, you could do much worse. In particular, it's packed with useful tips for prep and cooking. I've always been one to blanch greens sometimes, but now it's an always. And between a wonderful surprise cooking class at Book Larder from E and the tips in this book, I'll always saute and baste with a parchment lid. Hopefully next time it won't look as ugly as this:
Something bad happened to the skin - dried out too much maybe? I don't really cook chicken, so that could be another cause. On the other hand: Jerusalem artichokes have received unanimous approval from the M&E panel of expert diners. Blanched, skin on, until just tender, then prepped however you want - like a potato. I've roasted them whole with the chicken (mistake; should cut them in half, face down, to soak up juices) and cut them into fries (super-success). Other cooking successes, brought to you by an apartment that is room temperature instead of outdoor temperature, includes sourdough bread.
Yes, after leaving SF, land of the sourdough and 60-or-so degree apartment, I've gotten back into sourdough. And it works, beautifully. Two new-ish things with this loaf. First, after watching Josey Baker shape a table full of rustic loaves in the time it takes me to do one, I got a bench scraper. For a boule, it can't be beat. And, secondly, I made a mistake, never to be repeated, with the salt. I didn't put it in initially when combining the pre-ferment with the bread ingredients. Instead, I let everything-minus-salt rest for 30 minutes to make sure the starter took and to somewhat-copy the method used by Tartine. Then I used coarse-grain sea salt. Not the best idea; even with wet hands and a few stretch-and-fold iterations, I don't think it fully mixed. Next time, kosher or fine-grain.
That led to some bites full of flavor and others bland, plus the giant and undesirable pockets of air in the above photo.