Monday, December 24, 2018

Japanese Whisky Highball

Let’s usher out 2018 and welcome 2019 with a libation. How about a Japanese Whisky Highball? On a recent trip to Japan, I made it a point to sample as many Whisky Highballs as reasonably possible. I bought these refreshing drinks at 7-Elevens (in cans), in ramen shops and even at a ritzy bar atop the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. All tasted a little different, but all delightful.

Here’s the recipe that I use to make a Japanese Whisky Highball at home. 

50 ml Japanese whisky
Approximately 120 ml soda water

1. Pour chilled whisky into a chilled highball or collins glass.
2. Add ice to glass.
3. Pour chilled soda water into glass and gently stir.

I use different Japanese whiskies depending on my mood. On occasion I reach for Baller Single Malt, a Japanese-style whisky made by St. George Spirits in Alameda, California. St. George’s website says that “[w]e created this spirit with Japanese-style whiskey highballs in mind….” Finding a bottle might be a little tough, but worth the effort. 

Kanpai! Cheers! Wishing all A Merry Christmas and A Very Happy and Healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Best Cookbooks of 2018

For seven years now, I have shared my picks for the year’s best cookbooks. 2018’s crop contains a number of books that expertly explore single subjects. The following standout cookbooks, in alphabetical order, deserve the highest praise for their quality.

The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber. Phaidon Press.

The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson. Phaidon Press.

Rich Table by Sarah & Evan Rich with Carolyn Alburger. Chronicle Books.

So why did I pick these books as the best cookbooks of 2018?

Redzepi and Zilber carefully guide the reader on a fascinating fermentation journey. By the time you arrive at the book’s chapter on Garum, you have the confidence to take a kilogram of raw beef, mix it with homemade koji, water and salt, and let the concoction ferment at 140F° for 10 weeks. No sweat! How about swapping out that raw beef with grasshoppers? Redzepi and Zilber share a recipe to do just that. The authors make what seems plain crazy appear supremely doable and, more importantly, worth doing. Anyone with an interest in making fermented foods such as koji, miso and fish sauce needs to check out this new, outstanding cookbook.

The Nordic Baking Book is Magnus Nilsson’s food ark for Nordic baking recipes. The book contains hundreds (and hundreds) of recipes that tempt one to find some fresh yeast and bake up a storm. The recipes range from breads to rusks, from flat breads to pancakes, from porridge to sweet soup, and from sweet pastries to cakes (both soft and layered). What an amazing effort! I found the section on Shrove Tuesday buns particularly informative. The Nordic Baking Book gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year. 

Rich Table makes my Best of List based solely on its chapter on pasta. The married Richs run a restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Before opening Rich Table, Evan Rich worked as Chef de Cuisine at Quince under Michael Tusk, perhaps The Pasta Guru here on the West Coast. Evan writes that the pasta in Rich Table “basically evolved from what I learned [at Quince].” The sauces in Rich Table are crazy creative! I bought this book just for Rich’s recipe for Bucatini with Aged Beef, Rémoulade, Lettuce, and Burrata. Think pasta dressed with the guts of an In-N-Out Burger.

Not to anyway detract from the merit of the above books, but normally I struggle to whittle down my annual cookbook purchases to a Best of Five list. This year I failed—and believe me: I tried—to find five outstanding cookbooks that I can enthusiastically recommend to friends and family. So I decided to go with a Three Best List.

But Good News! 2019 looks promising! Katie Parla has a Southern Italian cookbook coming out next year. Evan Funke (with Parla’s help) has penned a pasta book that arrives next fall. And I understand a new Armenian cookbook entitled Lavash should hit your local bookstore’s shelf.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Soft Semolina Dough for a Torchio

Back in June of 2016 I shared a short video (here) by Vicky Bennison for her excellent Pasta Grannies project ( The video shows a Sardinian family using its torchio pasta press to make sos cannisones, a long tubular pasta. A family member mixes semolina and warm water to make a dough so soft that one can cut the pasta from a torchio with a smart karate chop. To keep the sos cannisones from sticking to each other while drying, the Sardinians separately lay each piece of pasta on a linen sheet draped over a large wicker basket.

Since purchasing my torchio from EmilioMiti in 2010, I have developed many different pasta dough recipes for the torchio. During this time, I never intentionally made a soft dough like the one featured in the Pasta Grannies’ sos cannisones video. Based upon my experience, using a soft dough in a torchio risks creating a sticky pasta mess, especially when extruding a long, thin noodle. Most of the torchio dough recipes on my blog make a pasta that extrudes with minimal sticking.

I recently rewatched the sos cannisones video and curiosity got the best of me: Why might these Sardinians opt for a super soft dough? I retired to my Pasta Lab to try to answer this question by making a soft semolina and water dough for my torchio. I used the following recipe, which serves 2 to 3 depending upon appetites.

1. Put 150 grams of Central Milling Organic semolina into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle. Fill a spouted cup with 68 grams of warm water (115°F).

2. Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Very—and this is key—slowly dribble the warm water into the fine semolina. Add just a few grams of water at a time and patiently wait between each small pour of water to allow the mixer to incorporate the water into the semolina. From start to finish, this step takes me about 9 minutes, give or take. Slowly adding water helps the semolina to completely hydrate.

3. When the dough comes together in the mixer’s bowl, turn off the mixer and form the dough, which should feel quite soft, into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Wrap the shaped dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

I cannot say with certainty what bronze die the Sardinians employ to make their sos cannisones, but I think they use a gargati die. I decided to make 8-inch long tubes, so I placed an inverted bowl 8-inches from the bottom of the press to act as a cutting guide.

4. Unwrap the dough, place it in the torchio’s chamber, set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at the desired length and carefully place each piece of pasta on a linen towel, making sure that each one does not touch its neighbor. The pasta should feel tacky, but not unworkably sticky. Let the pasta dry, turning occasionally, at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours.

These thick, hollow pasta tubes take time to cook. Add them into a pot of boiling saltwater and start tasting after about 7 minutes. I boiled my last batch for almost 9 minutes. As is my custom, I add my cooked pasta to its sauce and cook the two together until the sauce almost disappears.

And speaking of sauce, by watching the Pasta Grannie video, one learns that these Sardinians top their sos cannisones with a simple tomato sauce. I went for a completely different sauce: lamb, artichoke and pecorino cheese.

I came away from my experiment with the following conclusion: A torchio-extruded pasta made with a soft semolina and warm water dough has an excellent chewy texture. In my opinion, this texture alone warrants the extra efforts needed when extruding and drying pasta made with this soft dough. Further, as expected, it takes much less force to turn the torchio when using a soft as opposed to a dry dough.

I tried a soft dough multiple times with a number of different bronze dies. Personally, I prefer the pasta from a fiorentini die (here) to that from the gargati. I like the fiorentini’s thinner wall thickness and the pasta only takes about 4 minutes to cook.

Unless you commit to heavily dusting your pasta with flour while extruding, I do not recommend a very soft dough to make a long, thin, string-like shape. I tried this soft semolina and water dough using a bigoli die—without dusting—and I had A Huge Mess on my hands. The bigoli strands glommed on to each other, reminding me why I worked so hard to develop relatively non-sticky dough for my torchio. Because Bottene’s Model B Torchio allows one to change dies mid-extrusion, I simply balled up the bigoli mess, added the pasta back to the press, swapped out my bigoli die with a fiorentini die, and proceeded to make a fresh batch of fiorentini. Pretty neat.