Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Orecchiette Revisited


This post explores an intriguing method to create the semolina dough used to make handmade orecchiette, one of my favorite pasta shapes to form and to eat. With autumn here and winter fast approaching, the shorter days affect the availability of local farm eggs that I use to make fresh egg pasta. So when hens lay fewer eggs, I make more pasta with semolina and water.

A year or so after writing about making orecchiette (here), I came across a 2013 article in Sunset magazine that described Samin Nosrat’s technique for making orecchiette. Nosrat teaches cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and is working on a new cookbook entitled Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: The Four Elements of Good Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Her method for making semolina pasta dough intrigued me. Here’s her approach, paraphrased.

Add 4 cups of fine semolina flour to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to its lowest setting and slowly drizzle ½ cup of warm water (105º-115ºF) into the flour. Mix for 2 minutes then turn off the mixer and let the flour and water rest in the mixing bowl for 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on to low and slowly drizzles in another ½ cup of warm water and mix for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the mixer and allow the flour and water to rest for another 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on low and now add ¼ cup of warm water to the dough and mix for another 5 minutes followed by another 15-minute rest. Finally, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil and slowly mix the dough until it “starts coming together in little balls, climbing sides of bowl, and is moist and firm like Play-Doh.” The reason for this process? Rosrat writes: “You want the flour to absorb the water for as long as possible before adding the oil, since fat inhibits gluten development.” Press the dough into an 1-inch thick disc, wrap it in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This process makes enough dough for 6 to 8 servings of orecchiette.

I made Nosrat’s dough using Central Milling organic semolina and it turned out great. If you have a problem making a semolina and water dough, which can be tricky, try Nosrat’s recipe. Her approach takes time, but it’s practically foolproof.


After following Nosrat’s recipe a few times, I began to play around with it. I scaled it down to serve 2 and eliminated the olive oil—a rarity in semolina and water pasta dough—thus reducing the need for 3 fifteen-minute hydration periods. I found that using the same set-up (i.e., a standing mixer set on low fitted with a paddle), you can make an excellent small batch of orecchiette dough in much less time. As Nosrat points out, the key is to very slowly drizzle the warm water into the fine semolina flour. To make enough dough to serve 2, I use 150 grams of Central Milling organic semolina and 68 grams of 115ºF water. The process, from the first slow drizzle to mixed dough takes me about 6 minutes or so. Then I wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The orecchiette from this pasta dough tastes wonderfully chewy and delicious.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Cookbooks of 2015


For four years running I have shared my list of the top five cookbooks of the year. As in the past, I struggled to winnow this year’s class down to a list of the five best, IMHO. So without further ado, I present, in alphabetical order, my choice for the best cookbooks of 2015.

Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy. Saltyard Books.

Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. Chronicle Books.

Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Mitchell Beazley.

Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-shaped Pasta by Jenn Louis. Chronicle Books.

This is Camino by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. Ten Speed Press.

So why these books?

Rachael Roddy’s Five Quarters (here) serves up an outstanding collection of mostly Italian recipes curated by Roddy. She lives in Rome and writes both a food blog, Rachael Eats, and articles for London’s Guardian newspaper. Look for the North American release of her cookbook, entitled My Kitchen in Rome, in early 2016.

I happened upon Travis Lett’s Gjelina while perusing the fall cookbook offerings at my local bookstore. What a happy discovery! As I thumbed through this book with dishes from Lett’s Venice, California restaurant, I found myself wanting to try every recipe. Gjelina features bold, simple dishes like Braised Spiced Romano Beans with Yogurt & Mint; Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar; Orecchiette with Chicken Hearts, Turnip Greens, Pecorino & Black Pepper; and Squid with Lentils & Salsa Verde. A first class cookbook!

The more time I spend with Olia Hercules’s Mamushka, the more I love its collection of simple, delicious dishes. The book contains mostly Ukrainian recipes, but she also includes a good number of Armenian recipes that remind me of dishes that I ate growing up. Hercules is a London chef, food stylist and one of The Observer newspaper’s Rising Stars in Food. Read Mamushka and it’s easy to see why Hercules’s star is rising.

If you spend any time bunburying around my food blog, you know that I make a lot of pasta and own a lot of books on pasta. So, in my opinion, Jenn Louis has penned one of the essential pasta cookbooks. Her Pasta by Hand (here) explores the fascinating world of regional Italian handmade pasta, including some seriously obscure shapes. If you love Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, you will absolutely want to add Pasta by Hand to your cookbook collection.

Last, but by no means least, comes This is Camino (here). If forced to choose, This is Camino gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year. Moore and Hopelain share Camino’s approach to cooking and hospitality. Buy their book and you will get an excellent collection of recipes to make direct, flavorful food. I really like the book’s prose; it’s as if Moore is standing in the kitchen with you sharing the how and why behind every recipe. If you find yourself in Oakland, California, do yourself a favor and eat at Moore & Hopelain’s Camino restaurant.

I want to end this year’s survey by sharing some of the other books that I bought and considered for 2015’s list of the best cookbooks. As I mentioned, I had a really hard time this year picking only five books. Here are the contenders in alphabetical order:

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer with Catherine Young.

Donabe by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton.

Fika by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying.

Preserving The Japanese Way by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman.

I enjoyed all of these books, especially The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook. Check it out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vin d'Orange


When family and friends gather—especially at the holidays—I like to offer my guests an age-appropriate libation. I just finished making a bottle of vin d’orange with a recipe from Pierre Koffmann’s Memories of Gascony (2012 revised edition published by Mitchell Beazley). Right or wrong, I consider year-end the best time to buy quality oranges and other citrus (at least here on the US West Coast). So now is the perfect time to get ready to make this quick aperitif.

1 liter white wine
zests of 2 large oranges
250g sugar
100ml Armagnac

Mix everything together in a large pot, cover and leave to infuse 12 days before drinking.

That’s it! This fortified wine smells and tastes of…surprise: oranges, but in a soft, graceful way. It is a lovely drink and couldn’t be easier to make. As is my practice when infusing lemons and grapefruit, I take care that the zest contains no pith. Other than this, success depends upon the quality of one’s ingredients.

For my latest batch I used a white Anjou wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes from France’s Loire Valley (because I couldn’t find a white from the Côtes de Gascogne at my local market…can you imagine that! What is this world coming to?!). And I used some nice apple brandy from Oregon as I did not have a bottle of Armagnac lolling about in the back of my liquor cabinet. What is Armagnac, you ask? It is a single distilled French brandy from, yes, Gascony, made from local white wine grapes. If you want to experience the vin d’orange of Pierre Koffmann’s childhood, by all means go with white wine and brandy from Gascony. But I advise that you not put off your infusion for fear of a lack of authenticity—your thirsty guests will never forgive you.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Red Lentils


The 2015 cookbook season swings into gear! Just out: This is Camino by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. What a fantastic cookbook! After cooking for 21 years at Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse, Moore opened Camino in 2008 with his wife Allison in Oakland, California. Camino turns out delicious, exciting food from a magnificent 10-foot wide limestone fireplace equipped with a brasero and various grills and warming stones. Because Moore cooks exclusively with wood fires, I wondered how he would craft a cookbook for a general audience. This is Camino certainly includes a number of grilled dishes and a whole chapter that walks the reader through the process of cooking an entire meal over an outdoor fire. The cookbook, however, focuses more on Camino’s food philosophy rather than fire cooking.

Hopelain beautifully sums this up in her Introduction: “After a little more thought, it seemed clear that the essence of our cooking isn’t ultimately the fire. The fire’s simply a (huge, roaring) means to an end. At its heart, Camino is about an approach to food, one that can happen anywhere. Neither Russ nor I are grandmothers, but fundamentally ours is grandmotherly cooking. Specifically, a frugal grandmother who grew up in the Depression, had plenty of style, kept a sweet vegetable garden, and could shake a good cocktail.” Nice.

Any number of recipes in This is Camino’s exemplify the restaurant’s carefully sourced, straightforward fare: Tomato Salad with Yogurt and Herb Jam; Matsutake Mushroom and Fresh Flageolet Bean Ragoût with Oysters and Wild Nettles; Grilled Squid with Fresh Turmeric, Chiles and Radishes; Grilled Lamb Rack with Fresh Shell Beans, Tomatillos and Mint; Pork Shoulder Cooked with Milk, Lemon and Myrtle with Turnips; Tunisian Orange Cake with Dates and Yogurt; Amaro Cocktail; Nocino; and the Camino Negroni.

This is Camino also includes a number of Camino’s quintessential recipes that are dead simple to make: Egg Baked in Cream; Potatoes Fried in Duck Fat; and, one of my all-time favorites, Red Lentils. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I often opt for meatless dishes when dining at Camino because…the food sounds so tempting and ultimately tastes so delicious! I’m most happy when the menu includes a plate of Moore’s lentils, roasted mushrooms and an egg or two. Here’s Camino’s Red Lentil recipe, which makes about 5½ cups.

1 to 2 dried moderately hot chiles
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 (1/8-inch-thick) slices unpeeled ginger
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
2½ cups red lentils (see note below)
Salt

Tear the chiles into manageable pieces, discarding the stems, and place them in a spice grinder. Pulse a few times to create a coarse powder.

Heat a pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and all of the mustard seeds. Swirl them around and cover the pot. In a few minutes, you should start hearing them begin to pop (kind of like Lilliputian popcorn). Once the popping begins to slow, take the pan off the heat and remove the lid. Here’s the tricky part: while everything is still hot, quickly add the garlic, ginger, and turmeric and stir immediately. You want the garlic and ginger to be coated in oil and you want the turmeric to sizzle a bit, but you don’t want any of it to get brown. I really don’t like burnt garlic and I especially don’t like burnt turmeric. So, after everything sizzles in the hot pan for 15 seconds or so, splash some water in there to stop the cooking.

Now add the lentils, some ground chile, a bit of salt, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil (so you have both cooked mustard-y oil and uncooked fruity oil), and enough water to cover by about half an inch. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and stir to break up the clumps of lentils. Continue to cook, adding splashes of water here and there if the lentils start to get too thick and poke out of the liquid. But don’t add so much water that the lentils get watery and soup-like—you can always add water later, but you can’t easily take it out.

After 15 minutes or so, the lentils should begin to fall apart. This usually happens unevenly, so keep stirring and tasting for doneness (and, of course, for salt, since you are tasting anyway). It’s nice if there is a little texture left in the lentils, but there should be absolutely no raw flavor or crunch. It will look like a lumpy, bright yellow purée. The whole thing should take about 30 to 40 minutes.

To serve, you may want to add a little more ground chile or olive oil. Red lentils can be made ahead, refrigerated, and reheated easily over medium heat with a splash of water.

What a well-written, informative recipe! It’s like Moore is standing with you stove-side and carefully walking you through the cooking process. If you like this approach to recipes, then you’ll love This is Camino.

A few notes. As Moore points out in his intro to this recipe, use peeled red lentils (sometimes packaged as masoor dal, pink lentils or split red lentils). The first few times I made this dish I didn’t have any whole dried chiles on hand, but I did have a jar of Maras Turkish Chile from Oaktown Spice, which is located in Oakland, California. (Good news: you can order from this great spice shop on-line and their shipping doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.) The Maras chile married beautifully with the lentils providing a warm, spicy flavor.  I used black instead of brown mustard seeds and the dish tasted delicious.


When I lived in California I was fortunate enough to eat at Camino five to six times every year. It’s an outstanding restaurant and This is Camino is a fabulous cookbook. When I visit family and friends in the Bay Area, I make it a point to eat at a couple of restaurants: Palmento a Dopo (née Dopo) and Camino. Now I can get my Camino fix here on my island in the Salish Sea.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Budelletti


Entry No. 26 in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009] describes budelletti, a short, flat noodle from Italy’s Le Marche region. You make budelletti, which means “very thin intestines” in Italian, with flour, warm water, a pinch of salt and—surprise—fresh yeast. Of the 310 pasta entries in Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia, nine1 contain fresh yeast. Resourceful pasta makers used dough from unbaked bread to create most of these shapes. Why make yeasted pastas today? Speaking on behalf of budelletti, it tastes delicious and has a nice chewy texture that comes from the gluten created by flour, warm water and yeast. The following recipe serves 4.

1. Crumble 8 grams of fresh (cake) yeast into a glass containing 140 grams of tepid water (approximately 70º to 90ºF). Sift 300 grams of 00 flour into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle and add a pinch of sea salt. Very slowly pour the water/yeast mixture into the flour and mix on the lowest speed to form a rough dough. Adding the water/yeast mixture slowly helps ensure that the flour will hydrate evenly. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes.

2. Lightly dust the dough with flour and place in the middle of a large plastic bag—I use a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag—to allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. (Placing the dough in a sealed plastic bag helps prevent the dough from developing a crusty exterior during its raise.) Remove the dough from the bag and roll out the puffy dough with a rolling pin into a sheet that is approximately 3 to 4 millimeters thick. Let the sheet dry for 20 minutes.

3. Cut the sheet into 10 centimeter-wide strips and then cut across each strip to create very thin (about 2 millimeter wide), flat noodles.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh budelletti, stir the pasta and, when the water returns to the boil, cook for approximately 3 minutes. Taste to see if the pasta is ready. If so, drain and add the budelletti to your ready sauce and continue to cook for a minute or so.




What sauce customarily pairs with budelletti? Zanini De Vita writes that budelletti is traditionally served with sauces based on pancetta or pork fat. Guanciale and budelletti match well. However, if you hail from the town of Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche, feel free to dress your budelletti in a tuna sauce—that’s traditional in your town, as you well know.

1. Fresh yeast pasta in the Encyclopedia of Pasta: Budelletti (No. 26); Cecamariti (No. 51); Cordelle sabine (No. 64); Frigulozzi (No. 98); Lunas (No. 136); Offelle (No. 167); Pingiarelle (No. 195); Pizzicotti (No. 199); and Sucamele (No. 261).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pinzimonio di Ceci


Some outstanding new cookbooks hit our bookstore shelves in June 2015. Little Brown published The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer. Fischer worked in some prestigious kitchens, such as Babbo in New York and St. John Bread and The River Café in London, before running his family’s farm on Martha’s Vineyard. The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook features direct, simple dishes made with local ingredients: Beet Salad with Green Tomatoes and Radishes; Baby Leek, Asparagus and Pea Green Soup; Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks with Parsnips; and Strawberry Shortcake. Fischer (with Catherine Young) penned a very fine work.

Across the pond Mitchell Beazley released Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Because Armenia is one of the book’s “Beyonds”, Mamushka intrigued me and I’m extremely happy I bought this cookbook. Hercules’s chapters covering fermented pickles and preserves, desserts and drinks stand out as among the best.  And speaking of dessert, here’s a shot of Hercules’s Osyne gnizdo (Wasp Nest Buns). Really good.


And now, let’s move on to the star of this post: Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy and published by England’s Saltyard Book Company. Even though I write a food blog, I don’t really read other cooking blogs…expect Roddy’s. Many of my favorite everyday recipes come from her cooking site, Rachel Eats. I understand that a US version of Five Quarters arrives in February 2016, but I couldn’t wait that long. I ordered my copy from overseas and it just arrived. I highly recommend this outstanding cookbook to anyone interested in simple, mostly Italian food.

Roddy lives in Rome’s Testaccio quarter. She writes that “Quinto quarto (the fifth quarter) is the name of the distinctive style of cooking created by the workers of the Testaccio slaughterhouse during the 1890s. Partially paid in kind with offal—which makes up a quarter of the animal’s weight, hence ‘fifth quarter’—the workers (or their wives) found clever ways of transforming their wages into nourishing and tasty meals.”

If offal puts you off, fear not! Roddy’s work isn’t entirely comprised of nose-to-tail dishes. Rather, her book celebrates simple, straightforward food that pretty much anyone can make without a whole bunch of fuss. Roddy culls excellent recipes and advice from locals in Rome, Italian friends and families, and talented food writers, such as Oretta Zanini De Vita, Fergus Henderson, Elizabeth David, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

Five Quarters contains so many excellent recipes that it’s hard to know where to begin cooking. Stand outs include: Fettuccine con Burro e Alici (Fettuccine with Butter and Anchovies) that I remember cooking from a Rachael Eats post; Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentil Soup), and Pinzimonio di Ceci (Chickpeas with Greens).

Let me quickly lament that some of my all-time favorite recipes from Roddy’s blog did not make it into her book. So I’ll just have to continue to visit Rachel Eats to find the recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovy Bread Crumbs and Eleonore’s Polpette, an AMAZINGLY delicious dish of small breaded meatballs fried and then finished with white wine.

If forced to pick my favorite recipe from Five Quarters, I choose Pinzimonio di Ceci or Chickpeas with Greens. I make some variation of this dish a handful of times every month. The original recipe comes from The River Café Cook Book (entitled Rogers Grey Italian Country Cookbook (1995) here in the States). Roddy writes that her copy of The River Café Cook Book “falls open at page 172” where you’ll find this recipe. She continues: “[t]he combination of the soft greens,…sweet and tender nubs of carrots and onion, heat from the chilli and depth from the wine and tomato is a full and delicious one.” Hear, hear! The dish serves 6.

600 g greens, preferably Swiss chard
1 red onion
2 carrots
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 dried chilli, crumbled
250 ml white wine
2 tablespoons tomato passata, or 1 tablespoon concentrate
400g cooked chickpeas
a generous handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of ½ lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a fast boil, add the greens and blanch them briefly. The timing will depend on the greens; spring greens take 3-5 minutes. Taste them to check. Drain them well, and once they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely and set aside.

Chop the onion and carrots. Warm the oil in a heavy-based sauté pan, add the onion, carrots and a pinch of salt and cook them slowly for 15 minutes, or until tender. Season with a little more salt and pepper and add the crumbled chilli. Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until it has almost completely reduced. Add the tomato passata or concentrate, greens and chickpeas, stir and cook, stirring every couple of minutes for 10 minutes.

Add three-quarters of the chopped parsley and the lemon juice, stir, remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter or serving plate, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and a little more extra-virgin olive oil, and serve.


Some notes and observations. Roddy writes that the dish is a meal in itself (and it is), but she will add some ricotta on the side or even an egg on top (which is a brilliant idea). I typically serve these chickpeas and greens over couscous or Japanese semi-brown rice. I’ve tried the dish using Swiss chard, kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens and even stinging nettles. I like the spinach version best because of its soft, melting texture. I usually add celery to the onion and carrot battuto. I sometimes use chicken stock in place of the wine (and skip the lemon juice). In short, play with this recipe and adjust it to suit your taste.

I know that ordering a heavy cookbook from overseas costs a lot, but in the case of Five Quarters, I believe this fine book warrants the outlay. So far 2015 looks like a great year for cookbooks: first, Pasta by Hand (here); now Five Quarters; and on the horizon, This is Camino by Russell Moore.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hasselnötsflarn





In November of 2010 I shared a recipe for a comet-shaped butter cookie called a Straussburger (here). This recipe came from the 2008 English translation of the classic Swedish cookbook Sju Sorters Kakor or, in English, “Seven Kinds of Cake”. Swedes love the simple act of coming together during the day for coffee and conversation and a considerate host offers up at least seven kinds of cakes and cookies. Since 1945 home bakers have turned to Sju Sorters Kakor for recipes to help fill their cake and cookie trays. If this Swedish practice of slowing down and enjoying coffee and something to eat appeals to you, then I recommend Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. While Sju Sorters Kakor focuses on recipes, Fika explores the very Swedish act of taking a respite with coffee (or tea or some other beverage) and a snack.

Brones and Kindvall divide Fika into an introduction and five chapters: (1) a history of Swedish coffee; (2) modern-day fika; (3) the outdoor season; (4) celebrating more than the everyday; and (5) bread, sandwiches, and fika as a snack. So what exactly is a Swedish fika? Fika, which Swedes use as both a verb and a noun, essentially means “to drink coffee”. But as parsed by Brones and Kindvall, fika means more than just taking a break with a drink and snack. Fika changes depending upon its context. It might be a simple cup of tea and biscuit on a trip, a celebratory treat, or an opportunity to catch up with a friend.

Each of Fika’s chapters contains between 8 to 10 uniquely Swedish recipes to make and then enjoy whilst you fikastund (the moment you have fika). The majority of the book’s recipes lean toward baked goods, mostly sweet but some savory. Boy, do these treats sound appealing! Brones and Kindvall include recipes for kladdkaka, a flour-less sticky chocolate cake; kinuskikaka, a sweet caramel cake that originated in Finland; and semlor, Swedish cream buns most often associated with pre-Lenten Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) celebration.  Fika also contains recipes for jams and even beverages, such as rabarbersaft (rhubarb cordial), flädersaft (elderflower cordial) and glögg (Swedish mulled wine).

With so many tempting options, I had a hard time deciding what to bake first! I went with the hasselnötsflarn (hazelnut crisps) because they look dead simple to make and because, well…I’m a sucker for small, crisp cookies. The key to the recipe lies in making sure the baked crisp is golden brown—the authors’ say “dark golden brown”—around the edges. I didn’t push my first batch quite this far and the cookies, although sweet and delicious, weren’t quite crisp enough. The second batch turned out fine. The recipe makes about 30 cookies.

¼ cup (2 ounces, 57 grams) unsalted butter

¾ cup (3.75 ounces, 106 grams) raw hazelnuts

1 egg

½ cup (3.5 ounces, 99 grams) natural cane sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until almost finely ground.
In a bowl, whisk the egg until frothy, then stir in the sugar and vanilla. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and mix together until well blended. Add the hazelnuts and stir until an even batter forms.
Spoon the batter by 1-teaspoon drops onto the baking sheet, leaving 2-inches (5 centimeters) between each cookie. If you make then slightly larger, just be sure to flatten them with your fingertips so that they bake to an even crisp.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until dark golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet until they are hard, them carefully transfer them to the counter.
When fully cooled, store in an airtight container to keep the cookies crisp.
Some notes and thoughts. I followed the weights given and everything when smoothly. (You have to love a cookbook recipe that calls for 99 grams of sugar—not 100 grams, not 98 grams, but 99 grams of sugar.) I skinned the hazelnuts (just because) and added just a bit of sugar before pulsing the nuts in a food processor (to avoid making a nut butter). All told, hasselnötsflarn are very easy to make from Fika’s clear recipe.
Fika, published by Ten Speed Press, is a neat little book done extremely well. I particularly like Johanna Kindvall’s lovely illustrations and kudos to Betsy Stromberg for her handsome book design. I look forward to pulling Fika off the shelf whenever I have a fikasugen (fika craving).


Monday, April 6, 2015

Spätzli


Surely we live in The Golden Age of pasta making instruction. In March of this year, Ten Speed Press published Marc Vetri’s Mastering Pasta. Right on its heels, Chronicle Books put out Jenn Louis’s Pasta By Hand. Last year, Ten Speed published Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta (here), and in 2013, Norton released Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant’s Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way (here). Of these works, Mastering Pasta and Flour + Water Pasta share the most similarities; both books offer an excellent pasta making primer followed by mostly modern (as opposed to traditional) pasta and sauce parings. Sauces & Shapes covers a broad range of authentic Italian recipes for pasta, both fresh and dry, in soups and sauces.

Jenn Louis’s outstanding Pasta By Hand takes a unique and different path from these other books. Louis exclusively focuses on fresh, handmade pasta dumplings. She defines Italian dumplings as “carefully handcrafted nubs of dough that are poached, simmered, baked, or sautéed.” As one might expect, her book covers gnocchi, perhaps the most obvious of Italian dumplings, but as Louis points out, “while all gnocchi are dumplings, not all dumplings are gnocchi.” So scan Pasta By Hand’s Contents and you’ll find recipes for Sardinian malloreddus, Puglian orecchiette, Molisan cavatelli and Ligurian trofie.

But the majority of recipes in Pasta by Hand celebrate what most pasta eaters think of as gnocchi: bite-sized dumplings made by combining flour and a mixture of potato or a vegetable and cheese. Look up gnocco—the singular of gnocchi—in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta and you’ll learn: “The word gnocco is not of Latin origin, but one of the many words that culinary Italian has taken from the immense pool of dialect terms, in this case probably from the Veneto, where we find the dialect word gnoco. The latter may go back to the time of the Longobard domination and the term knohha, which is nocca or nodo in Italian, or “knot.” Thus, the old name probably referred to the irregular shape of tree knots.” Fascinating!

Pasta By Hand dives deep into gnocchi. Louis explores these  dumplings by region. From Campania we get a traditional potato gnocchi bathed in a simple tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and torn basil leaves. From Emilia-Romagna comes a recipe for potato gnocchi enriched with egg and ricotta paired with a range of traditional sauces, such as Brown Butter and Sage or Lamb Ragù. And from Trentino-Alto Adige, Louis shares a recipe for Strangolapreti that is a close cousin of Michelina Satori’s recipe for Strangolapreti alla Trentina that I shared with you last year (here).

With so many dishes to tempt me, I had a hard time deciding what to cook first. In honor of the Satori Family, I went with a traditional spätzli from Trentino-Alto Adige. I own a nifty German spaetzle plane or spätzlehobel from Küchenprofi—this is the spaetzle maker to buy here in the states—so whipping up these little dumplings took no time at all. Louis’s recipe serves 6.

350 G / 2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
300 G / 1¼ cups whole milk, plus more as needed
extra-virgin olive oil for tossing
sauce of your choice (suggestions to follow)

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, salt, eggs, and milk. Mix with a wooden spoon or on medium speed until just combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir more vigorously or raise the speed up a notch or two and beat until the batter becomes slightly shiny and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check the texture of the batter—it should be thin and elastic, with more stretch than a typical batter. If it is too thick, add more milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, to achieve this texture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Working in batches, press the dough through a spätzli maker or colander into the simmering water. Simmer the spätzli until they float to the surface, about 1 minute. Stir to release any spätzli that have settled on the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 1 minute more, until tender. Remove immediately with a fine-mesh strainer and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Toss the cooked spätzli with a little olive oil, so they don’t stick together. Allow to cool to room temperature. Finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away.

Louis recommends either a Sage and Speck or Brown Butter with Sage sauce to pair with her traditional spätzli. But it’s hard to go too terribly wrong if you want a sauce that heads in a different direction. I topped my spätzli with Benton’s bacon sautéed with shimeji mushroons and peas. You probably wouldn’t find this combination in Trentino-Alto Adige, but I found these ingredients in my refrigerator and the finished dish tasted delicious.


Louis’s recipe scales down nicely if you halve the recipe. You can add chopped thyme, parsley or oregano to make an herb-version of the dish. Louis also provides a recipe for Spinach Spätzli and Beet Spätzli. I did have to thin out the batter with milk, but I used medium eggs for my batter. If you want to see what the batter should look like, check out Jenn Louis’s “spaetzle prep 101” on Vine, a video posting site. Her Portland restaurant, Lincoln, has posted a number of short looping video clips that help clarify some of the shapes and techniques featured in Pasta By Hand. The loop for menietti is particularly helpful given the rarity of this shape. Actually, Chronicle Books and Louis should film a loop for each pasta shape in the book and post the videos on-line. Why not?

As I write, it’s only April, but I find it hard to imagine that Pasta By Hand won’t make my 2015 Best Cookbook of the Year list. Now here’s a thought: why doesn’t Jenn Louis tag along with Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant and do a little Vine on how to make each shape in the Encyclopedia of Pasta. A Serious Bunburyist can dream, can’t he?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tagliolini col sugo di agnello


I read a lot of pasta recipes. Occasionally I come across a recipe that illustrates a novel technique to cook pasta. Let’s take a look at one such recipe: Tagliolini col sugo di agnello (Egg pasta with lamb sauce). What’s unique about this recipe? You cook the fresh tagliolini directly in its sauce.

I first read Tagliolini col sugo di agnello in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Il Lazio a Tavola (1994), which Maureen B. Fant translated into English as The Food of Rome and Lazio. The recipe also appears in the updated 2013 version of The Food of Rome and Lazio entitled Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds – Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio published by the University of California (here). Look and you’ll also find a nearly identical recipe for this dish (but with more detailed instructions) on-line by Mario Batali. The following recipe from Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds makes 4 servings.

1 small onion
1 carrot
leaves from 1 small bunch basil
3½ ounces (100 g) lean pancetta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds (700g) boneless lamb, in ¾-inch (2-cm) pieces
1 cup (250 ml) dry white table wine
12 ounces (350 g) canned tomatoes
salt
pepper
12 ounces (350 g) fresh egg tagliolini

Chop together finely the onion, carrot, basil, and pancetta. Put them in a pan with the oil over medium heat. When the pancetta fat has completely melted, add the lamb and brown, stirring. Add the wine and let it evaporate, then add the tomatoes and 4 cups (1 liter) boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the meat is tender. Remove the lamb from the sauce with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

Add the tagliolini to the sauce, which should be quite liquid, and cook until al dente. Return the lamb to the pan and stir for a few minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.

Read through Fant’s skillful translation of Zanini De Vita’s Italian recipe and the American reader might ask: What size pan? What cut of lamb? Chop the tomatoes? Cover the pot as the lamb cooks? Batali’s version of the recipe answers these questions: a large, fairly deep skillet; lamb shoulder; crush by hand and also add the can’s juice; yes.


When I make the dish I prefer to very finely chop the tomatoes. I might try reducing a cup of chicken stock in place of wine. It’s pretty remarkable to see the starchy pasta transform a very liquid stew into a lovely sauce in a matter of a minute or two. Take care to mix the pasta as it cooks so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If I want to save time when making the fresh pasta, I use the tagliolini cutting attachment to my Imperia R220. If you hand-cut your pasta, aim for a noodle width of around 1-mm.


It’s rare, but, as the above recipe demonstrates, not unheard of to cook pasta in sauce as opposed to boiling water. Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (2009) contains other examples (e.g., see gramigna (here).) It’s much more common to finish a dish by briefly cooking the just boiled pasta with its sauce. And since we’re exploring cooking pasta, why go through the trouble of finishing cooked pasta in its sauce? Thomas McNaughton writes in his 2014 Flour + Water Pasta (here) that this step allows the pasta to adsorb (as opposed to absorb) the sauce. McNaughton explains: “The reality of the science is that once pasta is cooked in water, it doesn’t absorb any more flavor from the finishing pan sauce. Because pasta is water-soluble, it absorbs only the water from the sauce, not any aroma or oils. Instead, the pasta is adsorbing the flavors, meaning the flavor only sticks to the surface of the pasta.” So, in a nutshell, the step helps pasta and sauce’s flavors to cling to one another. See what you can learn from reading cookbooks!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Welsh Rabbit


Let’s begin 2015 by tucking into a rich, spicy, cheese-glazed piece of toast called a Welsh Rabbit. Today’s recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s The Prawn Cocktail Years (here). Consult Fergus Henderson’s Nose To Tail Eating and you’ll find a recipe for Welsh Rarebit. Is the dish a Rabbit or Rarebit? It doesn’t really much matter. Call this delectable savory what you like.

Hopkinson and Bareham’s version cooks up differently than your typical Rabbit. Their recipe eliminates the dish’s standard roux base. This means one needs to take a bit of extra care when making their Rabbit’s cheese topping.  Cheese has a tendency to break when it melts at too high a temperature. Adding a starch (such as the flour in a roux) to cheese helps to prevent breakage, but you can also avoid overcooking by using a very low heat and slowly incorporating your cheese in small quantities.

Another difference in the Hopkinson/Bareham Rabbit is that it includes egg yolks to increase the dish’s already over-the-top richness. The yolks add additional fat and body and cause the cheese mixture to puff up nicely whilst the Rabbit broils.


But enough of the differences. Today’s recipe shares most of the essential ingredients in any Welsh Rabbit: butter, English mustard, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, stout and, of course, cheese. Although called a Welsh Rabbit, this dish, which serves 2, includes no rabbit, Welsh or otherwise.

25g butter
1 tsp English mustard [Note: I use Colman’s Mustard Powder]
Worcestershire sauce
4 shakes Tabasco
2 tbsp stout or Guinness
75g mature Cheddar or Double Gloucester or Cheshire or Lancashire, grated
2 egg yolks
2 thick slices bread
cayenne pepper

Place the butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and stout or Guinness in a small pan and heat it through. Add the cheese, stirring as it melts, without letting the mixture boil. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool to room temperature. Beat in the two egg yolks. Toast the bread on one side, spread the untoasted side thickly with the mixture and cook under a pre-heated grill until blistered and bubbling. Dust with cayenne and serve with a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Some notes and thoughts. Again, work over a very low heat and add the grated cheese slowly and you shouldn’t have a problem with the cheese breaking. I use a couple of splashes of Worcestershire sauce and this quantity tasted just fine to me. Finally, Hopkinson and Bareham admit that “[t]he recipe uses what seems like a silly amount of stout….” Yes, the recipe calls for two (2) tablespoons of stout. But the pair also point out that the rest of the bottle can nicely wash down the spicy Rabbit.