Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flour + Water Pasta

In the summer of 2011, I attended a series of pasta making classes taught by Thomas McNaughton at his San Francisco restaurant, Flour + Water. The first class covered how to make flat noodles and a simple shape (garganelli). The second and third classes introduced stuffed pasta (cappelletti and agnolotti dal plin) and more complex shapes (cappellacci dei briganti and scarpinocc). McNaughton taught the sessions in his Dough Room, a pasta workshop adjacent to the restaurant. After each class, we cleared the large butcher-block worktables and McNaughton cooked a delicious dinner for the group. It was a pretty sweet deal, and I picked up a number of great pasta making tips. I also learned that McNaughton had a cookbook in the works. And now, three years later, the book has arrived: Flour + Water Pasta by Thomas McNaughton with Paolo Lucchesi and photographs by Eric Wolfinger. If you want to hone and expand your pasta making skills, buy this book.

McNaughton and Lucchesi divide Flour + Water Pasta into two parts. Part One, entitled The Dough, covers how to make different types of pasta dough, how to cook pasta, and how to use the recipes in the book. The authors divide Part Two, entitled The Recipes, by season: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. These recipes reflect McNaughton and his restaurant’s mission: “to explore the complexity of pasta and use it to showcase the bounty of Northern California ingredients.” McNaughton masterfully combines traditional shapes and techniques with a regional and modern approach to ingredients. Under Summer, you’ll find recipes for Corn and Crescenza Cappelletti with Bitter Honey and for Bigoli with Fresh Shelling Beans, Tomato, and Pancetta. Under Autumn, McNaughton shares his recipe for Spaghetti with Black Trumpet, Poached Egg, and Cured Yolk. Scattered among contemporary dishes such as Cocoa Tajarin with Brown Butter-Braised Giblets, Butternut Squash, and Sage, you find classic, traditional dishes like Tortellini in Brodo, Agnolotti dal Plin, and Tagliatelle Bolognese.

As much as I enjoy and appreciate how McNaughton pairs the old and new, to my mind Flour + Water Pasta shines when it shares what McNaughton knows about making fresh pasta. McNaughton has impressive credentials, including working under Chef Michael Tusk at San Francisco’s Quince and making pasta at a laboratorio in Bologna. Flour + Water Pasta works as a primer for those who want to learn the basics of how to make fresh pasta, but in my opinion, the book better suits the more experienced pasta maker interested in different pasta dough recipes and complex shaping techniques. McNaughton’s standard egg dough, which makes 644 grams of dough, calls for 360 grams 00 flour, 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, 18 to 20 egg yolks—he wants 300 grams of yolks—and 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil: a tricky dough to cut one’s teeth on as a beginner.

But for the cook interested in expanding his or her pasta making repertoire, Flour + Water Pasta is the book for you. McNaughton teaches you how to make pasta shapes both common and obscure: spaghetti and caramelle; farfalle and casonsei; pappardelle and stradette. McNaughton and Lucchesi also cover topics like making pasta by hand with a rolling pin, and the importance of pork in Emillia-Romagna cuisine.  I particularly enjoyed McNaughton’s and Lucchesi’s shout out to Emilio Mitidieri. If you want to explore the world of making fresh pasta here in the states, you need to know about Emilio and his company (here).

When I enrolled in McNaughton’s pasta classes, I wanted to learn the finer points of making fresh pasta from a working chef and, with luck, score a dough recipe for my relatively new torchio pasta press. (I accomplished the former, but, sadly, not the latter.) Now with the debut of Flour + Water Pasta, readers have the benefit of McNaughton’s vast pasta-making knowledge without having to travel to Flour + Water’s Dough Room in San Francisco. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pesce spada alla ghiotta

I try to be open-minded when I visit my favorite local fish market. Although I might walk in with a plan of buying Manila clams to make a pasta sauce or of picking up a piece of black cod to marinate in miso, I remind myself to take a careful look at what else is in the case and to be flexible.  That’s why a couple of weeks ago I set out for the Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley to buy some scallops, but came home with a beautiful piece of swordfish.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960’s, it seemed to me that every grocery store and seafood restaurant sold swordfish. Then the fish disappeared. I remember hearing about high mercury levels in local catches. Or was it overfished? Whatever the reason(s) swordfish vanished, you can buy it now, but with this caveat: the EPA cautions “women who might become pregnant; women who are pregnant; nursing mothers; (and) young children” against eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel or tilefish, because they contain high levels of mercury.  The EPA writes that “nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels...because they’ve had more time to accumulate it.”

Noting the EPA’s warning (but more than reasonably satisfied that I do not fall in any high-risk group), I arrived home with my swordfish steak.

When I think swordfish, I think Sicily. I pulled an armful of Sicilian cookbooks off my library shelf. I wanted a dish with with tomatoes, olives and capers.  After looking at all of the variations on this theme, I decided to go with a recipe entitled Pesce spada alla ghiotta (translated as Tasty swordfish) from an Italian/English language cookbook called Sicilia in cucina – The flavours of Sicily (2013) from SIME Books. I like this recipe’s absolute simplicity. It takes very little time to make—maybe 30 minutes, tops—and tastes absolutely fantastic: bold yet fresh. Here’s the English version of Pesce spada alla ghiotta, which serves 4.

300 g (10½ oz) swordfish, sliced
200 g (7 oz) potatoes
200 g (7 oz) canned peeled tomatoes
½ onion
green olives, pitted
1 tablespoon desalinated capers
chilli (sic) pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Sauté the chopped onion in plenty of oil and add the olives, desalinated capers, peeled tomatoes, chilli (sic) pepper, salt and pepper.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Add the swordfish and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Boil the potatoes separately. Peel and slice them, then add to the fish. Sprinkle with chopped basil.

I’ll add a few notes to the above. I like to cube the swordfish because I think this helps to keep the fish from getting overcooked and dry. I use about 10 large castelvetrano olives and red-skinned potatoes. If you want to skip the potatoes, I think the swordfish and its sauce work very well with rigatoni. The book’s editor pairs the dish with a 2009 Italian frapatto and nero d’avola blend from Arianna Occhipinti called “SP 68”. Fantastic choice. Paul Marcus Wines in Berkeley often has this hard-to-find red wine, but the shop was currently out of its stock when I dropped in to pick up a bottle (or two…or three). But the shop did have Occhipinti’s frappato, which costs more, but goes wonderfully with Pesce spada alla ghiotta.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bread and Butter Pudding

I like Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories (1994) and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (2001) very much indeed. (See here and here.) Hopkinson penned his first Roast Chicken offering with Lindsey Bareham, a food writer with more than a few cookbooks under her belt. While Hopkinson and Bareham worked on Roast Chicken and Other Stories, they “began to reminisce about the hotel and restaurant dishes they had grown up with and always loved….” Think Chicken Kiev, Duck à l’Orange, Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Trout with Almonds, Crêpes Suzette and Pêche Flambee. This reverie led to The Prawn Cocktail Years, a collection of winsome dishes that have fallen out of favor due to the ever-shifting sands of food trends. If you are over a certain age, you’ll recognize these dishes from a bygone era of dining. It is as you’ve picked up a vintage issue of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine.

But the thing is, these dishes can taste delicious! Yes, many an ambivalent kitchen wreaked havoc upon these foods, but that doesn’t mean the dish itself was bad in the first place. Thus, the stated purpose of The Prawn Cocktail Years: “…to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned classic dishes from years of abuse, restoring them to their former status.” I dare say that when Bareham and Hopkinson wrote these words in 1997, they were ahead of the culinary curve: Deviled Eggs and Angels on Horseback are hot again.

Flipping through The Prawn Cocktail Years, I came across a number of recipes I wanted to try, including Bareham and Hopkinson’s take on Bread and Butter Pudding. Topped with orange marmalade, the dessert is easy to make and tastes outstanding. Fine ingredients will produce the best results, so go for the good stuff with this recipe.

Serves 4-6

400ml milk
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp caster sugar
approximately 75g soft butter
125g white bread, medium sliced, crusts removed
75g sultanas
3 large eggs
freshly grated nutmeg
350g good quality marmalade
200ml whipping cream.

Pre-heat the oven to 325ºF/160ºC/gas mark 3.

Bring the milk slowly to the boil with the vanilla pod, giving it a good bashing to release the tiny seeds, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sugar until it dissolves, and cover with a lid to infuse while you deal with the bread.

Butter a 1-litre shallow ovenproof dish. Spread the bread with butter, cut it in half diagonally, then into quarters. Arrange the slices in the dish and distribute the sultanas between them.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Remove the vanilla pod (which can be saved and re-used) and whisk in the milk and whipping cream. Pour the eggy milk over the bread, making sure that all the sultanas remain covered. Dust the surface with grated nutmeg and dot with any remaining butter. Leave the dish to stand for 20 minutes.

Heat the marmalade in a small pan until it turns liquid. Pour through a sieve to catch the peel. Using a pastry brush or spoon, smear the top of the pudding with a generous glaze of marmalade. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard has set and the top has billowed and turned golden with crunchy bits where the bread has poked through the custard. Allow it to settle and cool slightly. Serve the remaining strained marmalade in a jug to be spooned over each helping, along with cold, thick cream.

Note: You could, if you wish, chop the strained peel and add it to the pudding with the sultanas; alternatively the sultanas could be soaked in hot rum or whisky—or either alcohol could be added to the marmalade sauce.

Some things to consider when making this dish: If you use the sultanas (or chopped, thick-cut orange peel), do make sure that they are well tucked in and buried between the slices of bread. Otherwise you risk a dish topped with burnt and bitter bits of fruit.

If your marmalade is chock-full of heavy, thick-cut peel, you will want to liquefy more than 350 grams; you want enough liquid jam to coat the soaked bread. And speaking of bread, cut the crust off before weighting out 125 grams.