Saturday, August 13, 2016

Torta Sabbiosa

I recently purchased two Italian cookbooks written by Laura Zavan: Venice Cult Recipes (Murdoch Books, 2014) and Dolce (Murdoch Books, 2016). I bought Venice Cult Recipes on a lark because, well…its goofy title intrigued me. The first recipe I tried, Spaghettoni alla Busara (Spaghettoni with Scampi) turned out fantastic. I used my torchio (here) to make bigoli, a Venetian spaghettoni or thick spaghetti. Zavan’s recipe calls for whole scampi (or langoustines, red-claw crayfish or large prawns/shrimps).  My local market had a tank of live stripe shrimp, so I bought a couple of pounds. The briny, sweet shrimp cooked in shell with white wine, dried chilies and tomatoes transported me back to Venice. If you can’t find spaghettoni, don’t skip this recipe! Use bucatini or even fresh fettuccini instead.

Venice Cult Recipes so impressed me that I went looking for other books written by Zavan and found Dolce, subtitled “80 Authentic Italian Sweet Treats, Cakes & Desserts”. A quick read through the book looked promising. Zavan divides Dolce’s recipes into six major chapters: Tiramisú; Panna Cotta; Tarts & Tartlets; Cakes & Festive Cakes; Biscuits, Breakfasts & Snacks; and Ice Creams & Frozen Desserts. One of the recipes in the Cakes & Festive Cakes section looked particularly interesting: Torta Sabbiosa or Sandy Cake. Zavan writes that this vanilla-flavored cake, popular in Italy’s Veneto region, originated in Pavia at the end of the 19th century.  What attracted me to the recipe, apart from its Veneto connection, is that the recipe calls for potato starch (also called potato flour).  Zavan promised that using potato starch along with powdered sugar produces a cake texture reminiscent of fine sand (sabbia in Italian). Being a sucker for sablés, the crumbly butter cookie whose name means sandy in French, I had to try Zavan’s Sandy Cake. It tasted outstanding! This recipe serves 6 to 8.

 200 g butter, softened, plus extra, for greasing
½ vanilla bean
200 g icing (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra, for dusting
3 eggs, lightly whisked, at room temperature
100 g plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra, for the cake tin
100 g potato flour (potato starch)
1 pinch fine salt

Have the butter at room temperature for at least 3 hours ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F).

Scrap out the seeds of the vanilla bean half. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the icing sugar and vanilla seeds until creamy. Add the whisked eggs, one spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition until you have a thick and smooth consistency.

Sift the flour and potato starch together before gradually incorporating them into the mixture. Add the salt and mix through.

Grease and flour a 22-24 cm (8 ½ - 9 ½ inch) round cake tin. Pour in the batter and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool in the tin for 1 hour, then remove and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Zavan writes that Torta sabbiosa "is a quite substantial cake, more an afternoon snack than a dessert.” I hate to quibble, but Zavan is not entirely correct. A substantial cake? Yes. But I submit that one can enjoy this buttery cake as a snack and as a dessert (and at breakfast and at elevenses). This cake tastes delicious, anytime and anywhere, and only gets better if it sits in the refrigerator over a day or two (if the Sandy Cake isn’t gobbled up sooner).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

100th Post

Welcome to A Serious Bunburyist’s 100th post! I reached this milestone after five years of exploring pasta, reviewing cookbooks, documenting family recipes and concocting libations. My first post featured a Venetian pasta machine called a torchio or bigolaro. So it seems only fitting that this 100th post introduce my latest pasta making machine (of sorts): a Komo Fidibus Classic Grain Mill. The plan: to further explore making pasta using freshly milled wheat, including Emmer (Triticum dicoccum), Spelt (Triticum spelta), Einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and Khorasan (Triticum turanicum).

Information on small scale milling for home bakers abounds, but precious little exists for the inquisitive pasta maker.  Paul Bertolli’s 2003 masterpiece Cooking by Hand discusses milling flour for pasta at Bertolli’s Oliveto restaurant and includes a number of pasta dough recipes calling for freshly milled flour.  Marc Vetri’s 2015 Mastering Pasta: The Art of Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi and Risotto extols the virtues of making pasta with freshly milled flour. Mastering Pasta also contains a lot of helpful milling tips (e.g., use a #35 sieve to sift freshly milled farro to make farro semolina flour). I plan on using these cookbooks as a jumping off point for my exploration.

So here’s to reaching 100! I hope you find the coming posts helpful and informative.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pasta Grannies + Torchio

Regular readers of A Serious Bunburyist know that I celebrate all things torchio. My maiden post (here) shared a dough recipe that I developed for my new Venetian pasta press because, after buying my torchio (here), I found relatively few torchio-related pasta recipes in cookbooks or on the Internet. So I began to experiment with semolina, tipo 00 and extra-fine durum flour and different flour-to-liquid ratios to make a dough that consistently worked in a torchio. Well, things have come a long way since my first post in 2010: you can now learn how to use a torchio to make bigoli, gargati and other pasta shapes from excellent pasta-centric cookbooks such as Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta. You can also now find excellent torchio-related information on a myriad of websites and even glean useful torchio tips on social media apps such as Instagram (of all places!).

Being a torchio evangelist, I want to share a fascinating new video created by Vicky Bennison for her Pasta Grannies project ( Bennison and her team travel across Italy filming women using traditional pasta-making techniques that are at risk of disappearing with the passing of a generation. The following video features a group of Sardinians using a torchio to make a long, tubular pasta called sos cannisones.

I find this video really interesting because it shows a different approach to making pasta with a torchio than I typically employ. While I primarily use tipo 00 flour, the Sardinians in the Pasta Grannies video use semolina. I use whole eggs enriched with egg yolks to make my dough; the Sardinians use water. I experiment with different flour-to-liquid ratios with the aim of achieving a very firm, quasi-pliable dough that does not stick when extruded. The sos cannisones in the video come out of the torchio so soft that a pasta grannie can easily cut it off her press with a karate chop. The grannies then dry the pasta by carefully placing the long, soft tubes, one-by-one, on linen sheets so as to avoid the pasta from touching.

I marvel at the wide, diverse world of pasta making. Thanks to Pasta Grannies for sharing the skills of these expert pasta makers with the rest of the world so that we can learn and carry on their culinary craft. You can subscribe to upcoming Pasta Grannies videos on its YouTube channel.