Monday, July 6, 2020

Cayenned Corn

Here’s a recipe to take advantage of the bounty of summer corn. I clipped Ishmail Merchant’s recipe for Cayenned Corn from some newspaper or magazine back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. In researching this post, I learned that the recipe comes from Ishmail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine (St. Martin, 1986). The cookbook version calls for ½ teaspoon of cayenne and isn’t quite as chatty (i.e., fun).


Cut as much uncooked fresh corn as you have mouths to feed. (For 4 people you will need about 4 to 5 ears of corn.)


Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the corn, a couple of chopped-up garlic cloves, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like heat), and salt to taste. Cook this mixture a few minutes over medium heat.


Add ½ cup cream (half-and-half or even milk will do), cook the mixture for another 8 minutes or so, and serve it hot with a side dish of basmati rice.


Ismail Merchant (25 December 1936 - 25 May 2005) was an award-winning film producer who, with his life-partner James Ivory, created nearly 40 films including The Remains of the DayHowards End, and A Room with a View.


Merchant loved film and food. A self-taught cook, he boasted that he “disobeys all the conventions and laws of cooking, preferring to improvise and make new discoveries all the time.” According to Madhur Jaffrey, who wrote the forward to Ishmail Merchant’s Passionate Meals (Hyperion, 1994), “Ismail cooks easily and he cooks well.”


I certainly get the sense of this fearless cook when reading the above recipe for Cayenned Corn, which feels more like a gesture than a mandate. I prefer recipes that give a cook license to play around with a dish. Once I added spot prawns to briefly cook with the cream and corn. Occasionally I add diced onions and green chilies to the dish. Often I top the dish with slices of roast chicken. My latest tweak: swapping out the cayenne pepper with Cobanero chili flakes from Burlap & Barrel, a spice importer located in Queens, New York. This fruity, smoky pepper grows in Guatemala and adds heat and complexity to this easy summertime dish.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Willie's Crisp

The calendar says July, but the weather today feels more like winter in my corner of the Pacific Northwest. Locals like to say that summer on the island begins in earnest on the 4th of July. We’ll see. So far 2020 hasn’t been a normal year, to say the least.


In anticipation of the season, I’ve started to pull out some of my favorite summertime recipes. Here’s one called Willie’s Crisp. The recipe comes from the great food writer Marion Cunningham. I clipped the recipe out of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food Section back in the early 1990s. I loved the dessert so much that I printed it on my Vandercook Model No. 4 press.


Marion Cunningham, who rewrote The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and penned a number of her own cookbooks, earned a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. She died in 2012. Cunningham frequented the Saturday morning farmer’s market in Walnut Creek, California, where I often shopped with my young daughters. It was always a treat to see her shopping there. Cunningham’s recipe for Plain Pancakes from The Breakfast Book (Knopf, 1987) remains a family favorite memorialized here on this website. But on to Willie’s Crisp, which serves 9.


1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

5 to 6 cups peeled, seeded and sliced fruit, or stemmed berries

½ to ¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

¼ pound butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready an 8x8-inch baking dish (no need to butter it).


Put 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork. It should be crumbly; if it seems too dry, add a little more egg.


Put the fruit or berries into another mixing bowl. Stir together the 2 tablespoons flour and sugar to taste. Add to the fruit and toss to lightly coat. Spoon fruit into the baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the crisp mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the crisp mixture.


Bake about 40 minutes or until the topping is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


I will dig through my recipes to see if I kept my original clipping of Willie’s Crisp. I don’t recall if Cunningham shared her connection with Willie, but I doubt he was actually a cowboy. If you have excellent peaches, consider using them to make this delicious, comforting dessert.


I hope you enjoy Willie’s Crisp as much as I do. Next up: a recipe for Cayenned Corn from Ishmail Merchant. Stay safe, everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


I posted my first article on this website ten years ago. I wrote about bigoli, a Venetian spaghettoni that I made on a hand-turned pasta press called a torchio.


Since writing that first post, I’ve made a lot of pasta with my torchio using different bronze dies that craft a diverse range of pasta shapes. I learned that certain dies produce better results when extruding a particular kind of pasta dough. I now use one type of dough when making a fine, long pasta (here) and another when I want a short pasta (here).


Yet even with my pasta journal full of tested recipes, I still experiment: sometimes to affect a change in my pasta’s texture and/or flavor; sometimes based upon the ingredients that I have—or don’t have—on hand; and, occasionally, just for fun.


I want to share another torchio pasta dough recipe that I recently developed. I aimed to make a chewy-textured long string pasta that extruded without excessive sticking. To realize these qualities, I use my standing mixer fitted first with a paddle and then with a dough hook to knead the dough.


115 grams Central Milling Organic Semolina

115 grams Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal

4 grams Diamond Crystal kosher salt

2 medium eggs



1) Put the 230 grams of flour and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle. Mix to combine the flour and salt.


2) Place a glass beaker on a scale, tare the scale and add the eggs to the beaker. A medium-grade egg weighs approximately 50 grams, so the eggs in the beaker should weigh about 100 grams. Add water to the beaker so that the egg mixture weighs a total of 112 grams. If the 2 eggs weigh more than 112 grams, remove enough egg white to reduce the weight of the eggs to 112 grams. Whisk the beaker’s contents together.


3) Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Slowly add small amounts of the beaten egg mixture into the flour. Patiently wait between each small pour to allow the mixer to incorporate the egg into the flour. From start to finish, the step of adding the egg mixture to form the dough should take about 3 minutes.


4) When the dough comes together (see photo above), turn off the mixer and replace the paddle with the mixer’s dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer back on to low and knead the dough for 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer.


5) Form the dough into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Very tightly wrap the dough log twice in plastic film and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Tightly wrapping the dough helps hydrate the dough.


6) After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough and knead it by hand for 30 seconds to firm up the dough. Ready your chosen torchio die and place the dough in the torchio’s chamber.  Set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at your desired length. The pasta should feel just a tad sticky. When making a long string noodle, I dust the cut pasta with semolina flour before placing the pasta on a tray to dry out for an hour or so. 


The above recipe makes enough pasta to serve 4. When I began developing this recipe, I used 115 grams of flour, one egg and some water. This produced a dough that happily skirted around the dough hook in the mixing bowl. So I doubled the qualities and problem solved.


I bought a new bronze die to use with this dough: a 3mm square spaghetti die that Emiliomiti (here) calls spaghetti alla chitarra. Per Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, the pasta chitarra (guitar) ”…consists of a wooden frame (beech or other neutral wood) strung with parallel steel wires.” The pasta maker places a thick-ish sheet of pasta on top of the “strings”. Zanini De Vita continues: “[u]nder the uniform pressure of a rolling pin, the strings cut the pasta to make the famous maccheroni, which are a sort of square spaghetti about 12 inches (30 cm) long. They are boiled in salted water.”


In Molise maccheroni alla chitarra is called crioli, in The Marche stringhetti, and in Lazio it is tonnarelli. If you like to make cacio e pepe, the above dough paired with the tonnarelli die will make you very happy. I also used the dough in my torchio fitted with a No. 98 rigatoni die. The pasta tasted great, but the tubes didn’t hold their shape after extruding.


I originally started this food blog, in part, as a lark, thus its silly name. If I had known I’d be at it for ten years, I might have considered a more serious moniker. But…maybe not. What could possibly be more Serious than a Bunburyist? Another ten years?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci

I hope that you and your loved ones are all safe and well.


My state’s Stay Home/Stay Healthy order allows market shopping, but experts advise to limit these outings to once a week. So like many others, I am buying more canned and dried food items. I picked up some dried chickpeas (aka garbanzos beans) and decided to make a bean and pasta soup from Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio (University of California Press, 2013). I find this pantry-friendly dish comforting and, when necessary, adaptable.


Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci features a small, square pasta that goes by different names throughout Italy. Many will recognize the shape as quadrucci and quadretti (“little squares”). A factory-made version goes by the whimsical name lucciole (“fireflies”). But in Lazio, they call the pasta cicerchiole and ciarchiola because its diminutive size approximates that of a local wild pea.


Here’s Zanini De Zita’s recipe for Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci (Soup of chickpeas and homemade pasta).


1 pound (500g) chickpeas, soaked and ready to cook

1 sprig rosemary

1 slice lardo or pancetta

1 garlic clove

1 ladleful tomato purée


5 ounces (150g) cicerchiole (i.e., quadrucci, a homemade pastina)


Bring 2 quarts (2 liters) lightly salted water to a boil in a pot. Add the chickpeas and rosemary and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are tender; the timing will depend on the age of the chickpeas. Check after 20 minutes and frequently thereafter. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water.


Chop together the lardo and garlic and sauté gently in a pan over low heat. Add the tomato purée, season with salt, and cook until the sauce is well reduced. Add the cooked chickpeas, the pasta and 4 cups (1 liter) of the chickpea water to a boil. When the pasta is al dente, transfer the soup to a tureen or ladle into individual bowls and serve.


Some notes and thoughts. In my experience, dried chickpeas—at least the store-bought domestic ones sold in the US—rarely cook in 20 minutes. Check after 20 minutes, but let the chickpeas cook until they are truly tender—this may take an hour or even longer—but not so long lest the chickpeas become mush.


If you have lardo, pancetta or some other equivalent meat or fat on hand, then lucky you. With no lardo or equivalent in my pantry, I sautéed the garlic in a couple good glugs—maybe 4 tablespoons—of nice olive oil. In the past, I’ve added diced onion to the garlic, and sometimes carrot and celery, too. Many recipes for chickpeas and pasta soup include anchovies.


In Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds, Zanini De Zita shares a quick and easy way to make cicerchiole:  cut fresh “…fettuccine crosswise at intervals equal to the width of the noodle.” She writes that most recipes for cicerchiole call for an egg dough.


With the flour shortage at my local market and because I own a KoMo grain mill (here), I made whole-wheat pasta mixing one large egg with 50 grams freshly-milled Warthog hard red wheat from Barton Springs Mills and 50 grams Central Milling Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour. (More on milling, blending and bolting flour for pasta here and here.) As it comes out of the mill, Warthog flour strongly smells of cinnamon and baking spice.


If you want to take a deeper dive into cicerchiole, I recommend that you consult Zanini De Zita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (University of California Press, 2009) and The Geometry of Pasta (Quirk, 2010) by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy. Zanini De Vita covers cicerchiole in the Encyclopedia’s Entry No. 203 for Quadrucci. She writes that the small pasta generally contains wheat flour, eggs and sometimes nutmeg. In central and southern Italy, cooks often make this pasta using just flour and water. In Italy’s Marche region, they mix wheat and corn flour to create their version called quadrelli pelosi. Lazio’s cicerchiole often contain wheat and emmer flour.

Looking at the above regional variations, one might conclude that authenticity springs from necessity and availability. So especially at a time like this, use what you have on hand. And if that’s dried pasta, cook it in salted water then add the pasta to the cooked chickpeas (or beans or farro or barley or lentils).


Back to cicerchiole. The Geometry of Pasta says the small square pasta measure 3mm by 3mm by .5mm. Kenedy writes that the little squares are “…the simplest shape to make, but rather fiddly and so easier to buy.” This may be true in normal times, but these are not normal times. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Koji Stock

Back in February of 2019, I wrote (here) about using Japanese ingredients, such as culinary powders and stocks, to make pasta sauces and I shared a recipe by Danny Bowien for what has become a staple in my kitchen pantry: shiitake mushroom powder. Here’s how I use the powder to make a quick yet flavorful fresh pasta sauce serving 2:  

Sauté a diced shallot in 2 tablespoons/28 grams of butter. Add 1 tablespoon/2 grams of mushroom powder to the pan and stir the mixture together over moderate heat. Add some thinly sliced vegetables to the pan. (When in season, I like to use thin slices of fresh artichoke heart or asparagus.) Pour in ½ cup or so of water, a bit more butter and a pinch of fennel pollen and/or some chopped herbs. Bring the mixture to a simmer, taste and season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and braise the vegetables for about 4 minutes. The sauce is now ready to receive the cooked pasta. Mix the pasta and sauce together for a minute over moderate heat, add freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese and cook until the pasta absorbs its sauce. The shiitake powder enhances the flavor of the other ingredients without contributing a mushroom flavor. The powder makes the sauce taste delicious and savory.

When I want to add even more flavor to this pasta sauce, I use koji stock in place of water. In The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Artisan, 2018), René Redzepi and David Zilber write that they “find koji indistinguishable from magic—the best kind of magic, in fact, because anybody can wield it.”


What is koji? Per The Noma Guide to Fermentation, “[k]oji is a term that comes from Japan, where it refers to rice or barley that have been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a species of fungus—a sporulating mold, to be exact—that grows on cooked grains in warm and humid environments. (In the English-speaking world, we apply the term koji interchangeably to the inoculated grains, the fungus, and the spores.)”

I first read about dried rice koji in a 2013 article by Tara Duggan in the San Francisco Chronicle. Duggan’s piece focuses on shio-koji, an easy-to-make mixture of dried rice koji, salt and water. Shio-koji tastes salty, sweet and savory all at the same time. Use it like salt to marinate meat, make pickles, and add flavor and depth to salad dressings and sauces.

The Noma Guide to Fermentation contains a recipe for shio-koji. But, better yet, Redzepi and Zilber tell the reader how to make the actual koji grains. The book goes on to suggest innovative ways to use both fresh and dried koji grains. One application surprised me: use dried koji grains to make stock. Redzepi and Zilber write: 

“One of the best possible uses for dried koji is as a flavoring for stock. Boil 1 liter water in a pot and add 150 grams crumbled dried koji (not koji flour). Turn down the heat and let the stock simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the solids. What you have is a versatile, vegetarian base liquid that can be used for a whole flight of applications.”

That’s it! In 10 minutes you can create this magical liquid that enhances and deepens the flavor of food. On its own, my homemade rice koji stock smells and tastes just slightly sweet and of mushrooms, but its own unique flavor disappears as it cooks and the koji works its magic. The authors share that, thanks to koji, at Noma they “more or less stopped making long-cooked meat stocks and producing sauces via classical reductions…By cooking koji into a lighter broth, we can achieve the same rich, complex flavors without the heaviness of all that gelatin and dairy.” 

If you want to try koji stock but don’t want to make and dry your own koji grains, finding commercially-manufactured dried rice koji isn’t nearly as difficult as one might imagine. Start your search at a well-stocked Asian market. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you might find dried rice koji at a nearby grocery store with a good international food section. The brand I see most often here in the Pacific Northwest is Cold Mountain. If you cannot find dried koji grains locally, you can buy a container on-line from US and Japanese sellers.

Being me, I wanted to make my own koji grains. I used my Brød & Taylor Bread Proofer and a homemade cedar tray to hold the grains. I bought koji spores (aka koji tane) from GEM Cultures, a business here in Washington State and from Kawashima, an on-line source in Japan. Koji tane doesn’t cost too much and has a self-life of months if properly stored. By carefully following Redzepi and Zilber’s clear instructions, I went from uncooked white rice to koji grains in 2 days of mostly unsupervised attention. Making barley koji is just as easy as creating rice koji.

Is koji stock made from homemade rice koji better than stock made from Cold Mountain dried rice koji? In my experience, the homemade stock has a much deeper aroma and taste. But both produce remarkable stock.

If you haven’t checked out Redzepi and Zilber’s book, I recommend you give it a look. The Noma Guide to Fermentation explores a broad assortment of fermented foods ranging from simple lacto-ferments, such as pickled white asparagus, to mind-blowing black vegetables and garums made from roasted chicken wings. Redzepi and Zilber also explain how to use koji to make miso and shoyu.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Buckwheat Bigoli

In June of 2020, A Serious Bunburyist turns 10 years old. I conceived of this website as a place where I would share information about pasta-making, review new cookbooks and memorialize some of my favorite recipes. In my inaugural post I shared a recipe to make a regional Italian pasta called bigoli in a bronze Venetian pasta press called a torchio da bigoli (here). Over the years I’ve posted a number of different bigoli recipes on this site. To start 2020, I want to share another one, this time a dark bigoli version made with buckwheat flour.

Dark Bigoli (Bigoli Scuri)

Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (2009) lists bigoli’s ingredients as “[g]enerally whole-wheat flour made from durum wheat, but sometimes soft-wheat flour, water, and salt, and often duck or hen eggs.”  Zanini De Vita makes no reference to buckwheat flour, but she notes in her remarks that bigoli “…was always dark until not long ago because peasant women made it from whole-wheat flour.” 

In Bugialli on Pasta (1988), the late Italian food historian and teacher Giuliano Bugialli writes “[o]riginally, dark bigoli probably were made using buckwheat flour, since the grain was once plentiful in the Tre Veneti. (Today, the region is more commonly known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia.) But earlier in this century the Italian government began to require that certified commercial pasta be made only from durum wheat flour, and soon even in the home whole-wheat flour came to replace the buckwheat.”

As Bugialli points out, regional Italian pasta makers were—and still are—naturally opportunistic and used available ingredients. In the Encyclopedia’s Entry No. 200 for Pizzoccheri, Zanini De Vita writes “[t]he cultivation of buckwheat in the alpine valleys from Lombardy to Trentino was already widespread toward the fourteenth century, especially in Carnia….” Italy’s Carnia province lies approximately 40 miles northeast of the Veneto region. Whether buckwheat is the original bigoli flour or not, one can easily imagine buckwheat pasta dough finding its way into a Venetian torchio.


Buckwheat, a flower seed and not a true wheat grass grain, presents challenges to the pasta maker because buckwheat flour contains no gluten. Buckwheat’s characteristics differ by variety, but generally its seeds have a very dark, bitter-tasting outer hull that surrounds a lighter-colored triangular kernel (aka groat). After de-hulling the seeds, mills grind the groats to make buckwheat flour.

Most buckwheat noodle recipes, whether to make Italian pasta or Japanese soba, blend wheat and buckwheat flour to strengthen the dough. In Cooking By Hand (2003), Paul Bertolli writes that buckwheat flour “…has a forceful taste all its own, though the necessity of mixing it with a greater proportion of white flour to strengthen the dough structure also serves to tone down its flavor.” Bertolli’s buckwheat flour blend in Cooking By Hand is approximately 30% buckwheat flour and 70% extra fancy semolina (aka extra fancy durum).

In my experience, extruding a buckwheat dough (e.g., in a torchio) permits the pasta maker to reduce the amount of wheat flour used when making buckwheat pasta without detrimentally affecting the dough’s structure. Exceptions to this general rule exist, especially if making pasta with a coarse, stoneground buckwheat flour containing flecks of hull. However, using a torchio to extrude buckwheat pasta generally allows the pasta maker to focus on taste and texture and worry a little less about dough strength.

Over the last three years I have made buckwheat pasta with buckwheat flour from a number of sources. I used my KoMo grain mill to grind fresh buckwheat flour from store-bought groats. I tried different buckwheat flour from mills here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. My favorite homemade buckwheat pasta uses a Japanese Ni-Hachi style soba flour (80% buckwheat and 20% type 00 wheat flour) that I bought on-line from Anson Mills in South Carolina. I enjoy the flavor and texture of pasta made from this finely ground blend.

The following recipe, which serves 2, uses Anson Mills’s soba flour without adding any additional wheat flour. The first few times I tried this soba flour to make bigoli with my torchio, I added small amounts of extra wheat flour believing I needed to strengthen the dough. I found adding additional wheat flour unnecessary. Anson Mills’s buckwheat-rich blend works just fine as is with a torchio.

1) Put 115 grams of Anson Mills Ni-Hachi style soba flour into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle.

2) Put 1 whole large egg and 1 egg yolk into a glass beaker and beat the egg mixture together.

3) Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Very—and this is important—slowly add small amounts of the beaten egg mixture into the flour. Patiently wait between each small pour to allow the mixer to incorporate the egg into the flour. From start to finish, the step of adding the egg mixture to form the dough takes me about 10 minutes, more or less.

You will probably not need to add all of the egg mixture to get the proper consistency for this particular pasta dough. On average I use approximately 58 to 59 grams of the egg mixture for 115 grams of Anson Mills’s soba flour. The dough should not come completely together in the mixer bowl and will look crumbly. I point this out because it is very easy to over-hydrate a buckwheat-rich pasta dough and a sticky dough can cause a mess when extruding a long, thin noodle like bigoli. Here’s a picture of the ready dough in my mixer bowl.

4) Remove the bowl from the mixer and reach into the bowl to bring the dough together with your hand. Form the dough into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. The dough will look and feel dry, but don’t worry, it will soften as it hydrates in step 5, below. 

5) Very tightly wrap the dough log twice in plastic film and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Tightly wrapping the dough helps to hydrate the dough.

6) After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough, assemble your torchio with a bigoli die and place the dough in the torchio’s chamber.  Set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at your desired length. (I aim for approximately 8-inch long noodles.) The extruded bigoli should feel just a little tacky, but not unworkably sticky.

Once cooked, this dark buckwheat bigoli boasts a pronounced toasty, almost nutty flavor. Many traditional Northern Italian recipes for buckwheat pasta (e.g., bigoli, blecs, grumi di grano saraceno and pizzoccheri) call for less buckwheat and include milk and butter in addition to eggs. These ingredients, although delicious, often mask buckwheat’s unique flavor.

If the idea of a buckwheat-extruded pasta appeals to you, feel free to try different buckwheat blends and torchio dies to create a pasta that has your desired taste and texture. I like making a buckwheat version of fiorentini (here). Or consider using a spaghetti quadri die (here) to create a square, soba-like noodle.

Finally, I cannot end this post in good conscience without providing this caveat: Extruding a dry dough will put stress on a torchio and, after extruding your pasta, you may find it difficult to remove the die ring nut by hand. I solve this problem by employing a rubber mallet to gently tap the die ring nut clockwise to loosen it.