Handmade Fettuccine 

A few weeks bag, my friend Chow and I cooked dinner at her place. It was the first time in a long while that I made handmade pasta. 

There are many recipes. I opted for Jamie Oliver’s, which is incredibly simple: for each 100 grams of “type 00” flour, add an egg.

After combining the two ingredients, you must knead for a very long while, until the dough takes on a silky texture. This excessive kneading explains why Italin grandmothers have Popeye-like forearms. 

 

After kneading and a half-hour rest, you roll out the dough. A rolling pin can be used, but a proper pasta roller is quite handy. This process further develops the dough’s texture and makes it sufficiently thin.   
 
After rolling, you gently fold the dough on itself and hand-slice it to the desired width. 

 

The final step is to separate the strands and then cook them in boiling, salted water. The uncooked pasta can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator. 

Homemade Cavatelli

With friends visiting recently from the US, I asked if they would carry over a cavatelli roller I ordered online. When they arrived, I treated them to a meal of homemade cavatelli with homemade pesto sauce and chorizo.

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Cavatelli is a type of pasta. Roughly translated as “little cave” or “little cavity,” the pasta looks like miniature hot dog buns or, less favorably, maggots. But the shape is ideal for capturing sauce and being freshly made, they have a nice chewiness that you can’t find from dried pasta.

P1270639One classic version of cavatelli is made with ricotta cheese. That’s the version I tried and the resulting pasta is light and yet rich-tasting.¬†After mixing the flour, ricotta, and one egg, you can still see flecks of the cheese in the dough.

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The dough is given a short kneading, but not nearly as much as most rolled out pasta. It is important that the dough be allowed to rest before you roll it out and cut it. It is also important that this dough be very dry. (Since you’ll ask, I was wearing gloves because I nicked my hand with a knife. Decided to wear gloves on both hands just to avoid the Michael Jackson look.)

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After the dough has rested, you cut it into strips about one inch wide. You must liberally flour the strips so it does not gum up the cavatelli roller. That’s a mess that is hard to clean up so best not to mess it up to begin with.

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The final step is to hand-crank the strips of dough through the machine. It is a clever little contraption that cuts off a length of dough, squishes it through two wooden rollers, presses it around a curve (adding the ridges at the same time) and then knocks the pasta off. This first attempt, the pasta was a little too moist and the pieces kept sticking requiring me to manually knock them off the last bar. The next attempt, I made the dough drier.

The end result was fantastic: hearty and toothy and very satisfying. Sure, there was a cloud of flour in the kitchen that required cleaning up, but that’s part of the fun.

Adventures in Cooking: Raviolo

At a friend’s recently opened Roman style restaurant (about which I will write), I enjoyed a “raviolo” – singular of “ravioli” – a single, large filled pasta. His version has an egg yolk in the middle and it is cooked to just the right point that as you cut into the raviolo, the egg yolk pours out. Very dramatic presentation. I decided to try my hand at the concept and make my own raviolo.

The end result, which looks pretty enough, is about seven inches in diameter. Truly, I did make “ravioli” as there was one for Tawn and one for me. I just like saying “raviolo”. All things considered, it was a bit of a misadventure due to lack of experience and finesse on my part. But we learn from our mistakes, right? Well, I try to.

The filling was made of braised spinach and chicken, seasoned liberally with garlic, rosemary, and chili flakes.

I used Thomas Keller’s seven-yolk pasta dough recipe, which is my go-to recipe for pasta. Instead of pulling out the KitchenAid mixer, I hand rolled the dough. First mistake, as I couldn’t roll it nearly as thin as I should have. That may be because I didn’t let the dough rest long enough after kneading. It was getting late and I wanted dinner on the table before 9:00.

A good-sized portion of the filling was placed in the midst of the dough and an egg yolk was nestled on top. This was my second mistake. I separated the egg yolks at the same time as I separated the egg yolks for the pasta dough. In the intervening hour or so, the yolks formed a slight skin on them, so when I tried to pour them onto the filling, they tore. That ruined the effect of having a nice soft-cooked yolk to cut into!

Mama-mia! That’s a meat-balla! Well, actually, just a raviolo. Quite large and a bit of a pain to cut because I had no cutter large enough. Instead, I traced around a saucer with a sharp paring knife.

After about six minutes boiling (they were a pain to flip!), the ravioli were ready to serve. I put a simple homemade tomato sauce on top, sprinkling a bit of mozzarella cheese. As you can see, the egg yolk is hardly discernible as it has melted into the filling. The pasta skin, as I mentioned, was a little thick especially around the edges. All in all, I think it was an okay first attempt and was definitely a learning experience. Next time, I’ll make them a bit smaller, roll out the dough using the pasta machine, and separate the egg yolks at the last minute. The one thing I was pleased with was the filling. While it could have used more spinach (the darn vegetable just shrivels up to nothing when you cook it!), the flavor was very good – salty, garlicky, and slightly spicy.

 

Homemade Pizza and Pasta Party

Last Friday we gathered at Chow’s place to cook dinner. The menu: homemade pizzas and pasta. The pizzas were a variety of gourmet types based on the menu of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, which Chow had tried on a recent visit. The pasta was a homemade chorizo and butternut squash ravioli. And to top it off, I made kaffir lime cheesecake.

Friends gather around the large island in the kitchen, helping to prepare ingredients and eat appetizers. The ravioli are already prepared and drying and we were waiting for the oven to preheat for the pizzas.

Every time I cook at a friend’s house, it is a bit of a logistics ordeal. In this case, I needed my KitchenAid mixer so I could roll out the pasta. I was also bringing a case of Oregon beer.

The beer in question is from Rogue, an independent brewer. The most interest beer of the evening: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Had a distinct smokiness with a subtle sweetness on the tail end of the flavor.

For the pasta, I made homemade fresh (not dried) chorizo. I bought pork belly and ground it, adding paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Browned the sausage in a pan, drained it on paper towels to remove the considerable grease, and then blended it with a butternut squash puree made from locally produced organic squash.

Make the pasta from scratch using Thomas Keller’s “Seven Yolk Pasta” with semolina flour. This is the best way to mix pasta dough, using your hands.

Using a creative technique I picked up watching Season 10 of Top Chef, I layered sage leaves between two sheets of pasta dough and then pressed them several more times. Then flattens the leaves, making the pasta pretty and adding some sage flavor.

Completed ravioli. I cut them relatively small so they didn’t have a lot of filling. In hindsight, I would have added more butternut squash and less chorizo as the sausage overpowered the squash flavor. A few more sage leaves would have been nice, too.

After boiling the ravioli, we fried them in a pan with browned butter and sage leaves. Became a bit more crispy than intended but were tasty all the same.

While I made the pizza dough (with Type 00 flour, a finer texture than regular all-purpose flour), I let Chow coordinate the toppings for each pie.

Half mushroom and pepperoni and half Jerusalem artichoke and pesto.

Salame!

Sliced Brussels sprouts, Boursin cheese, and locally produced pastrami.

Tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and rocket.

For dessert, I once again made the kaffir lime cheesecake that was such a hit on New Year’s Day. It begins by steeping the lime leaves in heavy cream.

The crust is made of graham crackers, toasted pecans, sugar, and butter.

The main ingredients are cream cheese, eggs, the infused cream, kaffir lime zest, and a little lime juice. The juice comes from a regular lime as the kaffir lime juice is much to acidic.

The ingredients are blended together until smooth and light. Truth be told, I add two or three drops of green food coloring just to augment the color. The leaves alone give it only the most pale of greens.

Tap several times to release air bubbles and then cook in a water bath for 40-45 minutes. The key to a cheesecake with a smooth top (no cracks) is to turn the oven off when the edges are set but the center is still very shaky. Then let it complete cooking in the closed (but turned off) oven for another hour. This lets it cool down gradually and prevents the cracks.

The finished product has a mixture of sour cream, kaffir lime zest, and sugar poured over the top. I garnished with a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. This worked okay the first time but this time the leaves were a bit tough. I need to choose the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them more finely. The taste of the cake was good, though, and won rave reviews.

Most importantly, we had friends gathered together and shared good food, good wine, and good company. After all, that’s what makes the best meals, right? The company with which they are shared.

Preparing a Lavish Dinner

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Saturday night, my friend Nat and I hosted a lavish dinner, some ten courses for a dozen or so guests, held at his house.  The preparations took twelve hours and we were assisted by six staff members.  In the end, despite “small” courses that filled diners so much that we skipped the cheese course, and despite having to scrap the cranberry souffles because a sous chef mistook the base for a sauce and boiled it to death, things turned out nicely and a good time was had by all.

On the grand scale of cooking styles, with “tedious planner” at one extreme and “wing-and-a-prayer” at the other, I’m more towards the later than the former.  In my kitchen, recipes are suggestions and usually are more of a starting point rather than scriptures to be followed.  However, it is safe to say that Nat is even further to the “free-form” end of the scale.  Our brief email exchanges in the days leading up to the dinner are the full extent to which we planned in advance.

Instead, I showed up at his house at shortly after 8:00 Saturday morning.  We discussed a menu and then headed to the market relying on nothing more than our collective minds in lieu of a shopping list.

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While we were working from a wee bit of a plan, there was a lot of improvisation based on what we saw at the market.  “These look good, let’s use them as a sauce!”  We returned home and started preparations, talking through the schedule of what should happen over the next several hours before guests arrived.

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We were working from this rough plan: an amuse bouche (appetizer) of a Thai-style tuna poke; a lemongrass flavored Vichysoisse (potato and leek soup), served hot; a tomato-beet soup, served cold; pumpkin tortelloni served on a roasted red bell pepper sauce; smoked salmon and shiso leaves on focaccia bread; a lime sorbet as a palette cleanser; chicken breast stuffed with pork and shrimp, cooked sous-vide and served with a mango and avocado salsa; a salad of plain greens; a pork loin simply seasoned and cooked sous-vide, served with pureed carrots, curried cauliflower, and creamed broccoli; a selection of four cheeses served with dried fruit; individual cranberry souffles served with rosemary ice cream; and tea/coffee/digestifs served with petit fours.

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Thankfully, Nat has a household staff, three of whom have worked as sous chefs in professional kitchens.  Let me strongly recommend that if you are going to have a dinner party, you get yourself a kitchen staff.  It greatly reduces the workload!  (Yes, I realize that most of us, myself included, don’t have that luxury on a regular basis.)

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All joking aside, having a competent staff really did make a huge difference.  While Nat and I were both hands-on, it was helpful to have people to wash, cut, pound, etc.  The meat dishes were the first ones we prepared, since they were going to be cooked “sous- vide” or in a vacuum.  I’ll explain that in a moment.  First step was to pound the chicken breasts and then arrange them so they made a rectangle.

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The chicken breasts were topped with a blended mixture of pork and shrimp, seasoned with soy sauce.  This mixture is very similar to the filling used for wontons.  Nat then rolled the whole thing into a log so that, once served, a slice would have a pleasing spiral shape.

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The stuffed chicken breasts were then cut into three sections, each of which was tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and then placed in a vacuum bag and sealed.

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The pork loin, covered with a spice rub, is sealed in a plastic bag by a vacuum sealer.  Our cooking method for the chicken and pork was to use “sous-vide” – French for “under vacuum” – a technique in which food is cooked in a sealed bag that has the air removed from it, and then the bag is placed in a water bath and cooked at a low temperature for a very long time.  In this case, the pork was cooked for 8 hours in a 147 F water bath. 

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The benefits of this technique include that none of the moisture and flavor are lost in the process, since they remain sealed in the bag.  Additionally, the low and slow cooking ensures that the meat is cooked to the desired level of doneness without overcooking.  There are some other benefits that occur at a molecular level – cell walls do not burst, connective tissues gelatinize without the proteins tightening, etc.  More about that in the Wikipedia article here.  This was my first time cooking with this technique and I’d like to try more of it.

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To accompany the chicken, we combined white onion, mango, and avocados to form a salsa that was seasoned with fish sauce.

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The end result was very tasty, although upon retrospect I wish we had not mixed the avocados in until the last minute as the end result was creamier and less distinct than I had envisioned.

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The souffle base was made from cranberries, a decision we arrived at based on what berries were in Nat’s freezer.  After thawing them, the berries were run through a food mill to extract all the pulp but leave behind the tough skins.

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The resulting cranberry pulp was then cooked into a souffle base and allowed to cool.  Since souffles have to be made just before cooking and serving them, the whipped egg whites would be added during the dinner.

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Carrots are cooked, to be pureed into the base for the pork loin.  Broccoli florets will be steamed and then tossed in a light cream sauce just before serving.

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In the late afternoon, after the majority of the team cooking is done, Nat briefs the staff on the order of the meal, how things will be plated and served, etc.  The woman with the long hair, who seemed to be the de facto chief of the kitchen staff, took meticulous notes, longer than what Nat and I were working with.  The staff then had a few hours’ break before returning for final preparations.

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Another dish that I worked on earlier in the day (we’re jumping around, time-wise) was the amuse bouche.  When Tawn and I were in Kauai in March, we enjoyed eating poke (pronounced “pok-eh”), a Hawaiian dish made of sushi-grade seafood (usually tuna), mixed with soy sauce, chili, sesame oil, and a variety of other ingredients to make a salad.  While there, we talked about the idea of making poke with a Thai flavor profile.  First step was to buy some yellow fin tuna and dice it.

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One of the staff, an older lady who was very precise with her knife, chopped lemongrass, mint, and kaffir lime skin.

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The mixture was pounded with a mortar and pestle to release the oils, then mixed into the tuna.  I added prodigious amounts of nam prik pao, a very thick chili paste.

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The Thai poke after a few hours in the refrigerator.  Closer to serving, I doctored it with some lime juice and tamarind paste, which greatly improved the flavor.  Nonetheless, I have some thoughts about how this needs to be made differently, based on a dish I had for lunch Sunday afternoon at a Thai restaurant.

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For the pasta, we steamed Japanese pumpkins, scraped out the flesh, then pureed it with a few eggs and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

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Making the pasta dough became a bit of an adventure because Nat’s pasta rolling attachment, in its debut use, was acting up.  One of the rollers kept freezing, which resulted in the dough being stretched and torn, rather than just rolled out.  I eventually resorted to the old-fashioned way of doing things: a rolling pin.  In this case, a very cool silicone rolling pin to which the dough did not stick, even when I didn’t use flour.

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We were originally going to make tortelloni, which are large tortellini, serving a single one per guest.  But neither of us were sure how exactly to fold the the pasta.  We decided to instead make ravioli, something less complicated, and the results were good.  This reminds me that I really should make fresh pasta more often.  It is very easy – especially with the Thomas Keller recipe for pasta dough which includes just a little bit of milk – and tastes so much better than dried pasta.

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The tomato and beet soup.  This was a recipe that kept evolving, trying to get the right flavor profile.  The big mistake we made was using canned beets, which turned out to be pickled.  The soup then had a very vinegary flavor.  More tomato puree corrected this and eventually we ended up with something with a nice flavor of herbs de Provence.

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We wanted to serve a cold soup immediately following the hot one, an opportunity to have contrasting flavors as well as temperatures.  To do this, Nat actually placed the tomato-beet soup in the ice cream maker and started freezing it.  It was served icy.

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The other soup, served hot, was a Vichysoisse, a classic potato-leek soup.  This was flavored with lemongrass for a few hours, which was then removed before the soup was pureed.  Interestingly, the lemongrass gave the soup a light brown color as it steeped.

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A picture of the dining table with the kitchen in the background.  Notice all the glasses on the counter, which were used to serve various courses.

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Nat’s focaccia bread, which was divine, topped with shiso leaves.  These leaves, also known as perilla, are common in Japanese cooking but I’ve never really been properly introduced to them.  When you eat them on their own, they have a pleasant citrusy flavor.  I’m going to have to play around with these as an ingredient.

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The staff helps prepare the salmon on focaccia bread while the mango and avocado salsa comes up to room temperature for serving.

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The staff, now back from their break and attired in service uniforms, listen as I explain how we are going to plate the poke appetizer.  They were enormously patient with my Thai.

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My instructions must have been clear enough, as they did a good job plating.  All I had to do was wipe the plates before they headed out.

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Tawn and a few guests arrived early, so we opened a few bottles of sparkling wine and visited as Nat, his staff, and I put the final touches on the dinner.  One thing that was nice about having the staff was that we were able to be at the table most of the time and the staff finished plating and bringing things out at the right time.  That said, I think we could have modified the menu a bit so that even less time could have been spent in the kitchen during the dinner service.

Some twelve hours after the day started, our guests had arrived and we finally sat down for dinner.  The finished products will appear in the next entry.  Stay tuned!

 

Lasagna Bolognese from Scratch

Weeks ago, a group of Tawn’s university friends conspired to hold their holiday dinner on Christmas Eve.  “It’s a potluck,” they said.  “Everyone should bring something!”  For whatever reason, I decided a lasagna would be a nice addition to the eclectic mix of food.  And as the party crept closer, I was possessed with the idea of making the lasagna from scratch.

My uncle’s mother-in-law makes the best lasagna, a recipe-less dish with a meaty sauce and lots of gooey mozzarella cheese.  Since there is no recipe from which to work, I turned my attention to various online resources, settling (kind of) on a recipe from fxcuisine.com for Lasagna Bolognese.

The process was two-part: The first part was to make a hearty ragù in the traditional style of Bologna, Italy.

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This recipe is based one one written by two legendary Bologna home chefs, sisters Margherita and Valeria Simili, from their book Sfida al Matterello. I found it presented in exacting detail on fxcuisine.com.

It uses both butter and oil, pancetta or parma ham, a mixture of beef and pork shoulder, puréed tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrot, celery, chicken livers, dry white wine, milk, chicken stock, and salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.  Reviewing my picture, you will notice that I made some substitutions.  The meat is just ground pork and spicy Italian sausage (which I removed from the casing), instead of the beef and pork shoulder mixture.  The chicken livers have been removed but I did substitute an anchovy fillet.

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The first step after prepping all your vegetables and other ingredients, is to sauté the onions until soft but not browned.  This is done in a mixture of oil and butter.

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Add the carrots and celery and sauté further until they start to brown.

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Add the pancetta.  You can also use Parma ham or good quality dried bacon, finely diced.

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In lieu of chicken livers, of which you use only one or two for a more meaty flavor, I diced one anchovy fillet and added it to the onion, carrot, celery, pancetta mixture.  While I would have preferred to stick with the chicken liver as per the original recipe, one must accommodate one’s spouse’s preferences.  This is the secret to a happy marriage.

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After removing the aromatics to a bowl, I browned the ground pork and sausage in small batches.  A key to browning meat is to not crowd the pan, otherwise you steam it more than brown it.  As each batch finished browning, I added it to the bowl of aromatics.

Finally, after all the meat was browned, I deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine.  This simply means I scraped down the pan as the wine was boiling in order to remove all the tasty little caramelized bits that were stuck to the bottom.  After the alcohol burned off – the point at which it stops smelling like boiling wine – I added the liquid and caramelized bits to the bowl of meat and aromatics.

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Switching cooking vessels, I placed the whole mixture in a large Dutch oven on medium heat and added the warmed milk.  Actually, I used a combination of cream and milk, just for some additional richness since I used a leaner meat.  The milk adds a sweetness that softens the “meatiness” of the ragù.

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Once the meat mixture was boiling, I added some canned puréed tomatoes.  In my book, canned tomatoes still count as scratch because the tomatoes you can find here in Thailand just aren’t as rich and sweet and tomatoey as canned ones.  To this is added some chicken stock.  I also cheated and used boxed stock since the amount was small and not worth the effort to make stock from scratch.  After this comes to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, cover tightly, and then let simmer for three to four hours.

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The result, after four hours, is a wonderful sauce.  I let it cool and then refrigerated it for two nights before continuing with the second step of the process.  For some reason, sauces, stews, and ragùs benefit from some time to rest.  The flavors mingle and become much more than the sum of their parts.

The second stage of the lasagna-making process was to make the pasta and assemble the lasagna.  I opted to use a semolina flour pasta, which is a little more stable than one made with all-purpose flour.  While I have made pasta from scratch two or three times, I don’t have a lot of experience.  “Pasta making is easy!” people will tell you.  While that is true, it is also a bit of a process and tends to require a bit of cleaning up, at least when you are inexperienced.  Maybe if I practice more, pasta making will be less of a production.

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The ratio is easy: one large egg to every 100 grams of flour.  I added a little pinch of salt and also a small splash of olive oil to make the dough a little more forgiving of me.  In this case, I used six eggs and 600 grams of flour, which makes a lot of pasta!

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I used the Kitchen Aid mixer to combine the dough, but it was pretty dry and my machine doesn’t have the strength necessary to knead it.  Desirous of Popeye-like forearms, I kneaded the dough myself for about ten minutes, until it became silky.  Well, silkier.  Then I let it rest in a plastic bag, refrigerated, for thirty minutes.

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While the pasta dough was snoozing, I made a Béchamel sauce.  This is a really basic white sauce that is the foundation of macaroni and cheese.  For this reason alone, everyone should learn how to make it.  Here’s the formula: equal weights flour and butter.  The process is equally simple: melt the butter, add the flour and whisk for a few minutes as the flour cooks.  Then add the milk a little at a time, whisking until smooth and at the desired consistency. 

There was probably no good reason to make the sauce this early, but I know that once you start with the pasta-making process you need to be undistracted. 

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I used discs of pasta dough about the size of a small lemon and passed them through the pasta roller until they reached the second-to-the-last setting, almost as thin as crèpes.  Upon reflection, leaving them one setting thicker might have been better as lasagna is a hearty dish, calling for a hearty pasta.

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Here is the result of my work, drying on a well wiped-down clothes rack.  The problem is that the wires for the rack are too narrow, and my pasta sheets stuck to them.  I had to be very careful when removing the pasta, lest they tear in half.  You’ll notice the inconsistency in both sheet width and length, an illustration of how far I have to go before I am a pasta Jedi master. 

In case it looks like a lot of pasta, it is.  This is enough pasta for three full-size lasagna dishes!

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Using a large pot of boiling salted water and a large tub of ice water, I cooked the pasta sheets one at a time for about 30 seconds.  The idea isn’t to cook them to completion but to make them soft, flexible, and generally more stable to handle.

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Before assembly, grate the high-quality Parmesan Reggiano cheese.  No mozzarella in this recipe.  I have to say, it is actually very nice without the mozzarella.  I think Americans have learned to expect that their lasagna will be gooey.  Time for mass re-education.

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Okay, we’re ready to assemble.  Pasta sheets are on tea towels, Béchamel sauce and ragù are warm but not bubbling, and the cheese is grated.  One note on the ragù, you should taste it and adjust the seasoning at this time.  Each component of the dish should taste good by itself if you expect the final dish to taste good.

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Since my sheets of pasta were varying lengths, I just let them overlap and fold back on themselves as necessary, giving the dish a rustic, authentic look.  Unlike what the original recipe said, I think there needs to be a layer of ragù under the first layer of noodles.  Simply oiling the dish wasn’t enough to prevent the bottom layer of pasta from sticking.  Add some ragù.  Doing it again, I would also double the amount of ragù to make it meatier.

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Then add the Béchamel sauce.  The recipe stressed that this does not need to be incorporated into the ragù as they are meant to be two distinct layers.  So I just poured it on and left it as is.

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Sprinkle on some Parmesan Reggiano cheese, then continue with the alternating layers of pasta, ragù, Béchamel sauce, and cheese until the dish is full.

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I made two single portion lasagnas, each with a single long noodle.  Cute, huh?  They freeze nicely, too.

These are covered tightly in foil (oil the piece that is touching the top so it doesn’t stick too badly) and then bake at 180 C / 375 F for about 50 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling.  Remove the foil and cook for another ten minutes until the top is lightly browned.

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The end result.  I removed the foil too early so the pasta edges are a little crisp, which is actually kind of nice.  The party guests really enjoyed the lasagna and if pleasing a crowd is a measure of success, then this adventure was well worth the effort.

Lessons learned: homemade pasta makes a ton of difference, so I will make it again when doing lasagna.  Over time, I’m sure it will be easier for me.  Also, for a richer lasagna, I will double the proportion of ragù to Béchamel sauce.

 

Fettuccine with Green Olive and Mint Pesto

The macadamia nut cream pie was not served alone, although it would have made a pretty enjoyable meal.  Instead, I served it with pasta in a green olive and mint pesto, a recipe I found on Domestic Daddy.  The Domestic Daddy describes his site as “a fresh take on cooking, entertaining, decorating and other domestic arts and sciences from a real daddy … since my partner and I had our daughter Julia last year, I’ve learned to keep my projects simpler, faster and more fun.” Okay, Tawn and I don’t have a child, but the idea of keeping projects simpler, faster, and more fun appeals to all of us, right?

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“Pesto” just means “paste” so there are many other types of pestos you can make than the basil and pine nut pesto you may be moth familiar with.  DD’s pesto is made with green olives, a lot of mint, Parmesan cheese, and some garlic and lemon juice.  This combination of ingredients wouldn’t have initially jumped into my mind, but they worked together surprisingly well.  (Recipe here)

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The challenge for me is a lack of a food processor.  Instead, I had to chop things by hand and I don’t think I got quite the consistency that I was looking for.  Still, I ended up with this pesto that I then mixed into fettuccine.

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To add some protein, I marinated some chicken breasts in a buttermilk brine then grilled them in our quasi-panini grill.  Sliced thin, they went into the past very nicely.

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To go with the homemade rye bread I roasted some heads of garlic.  This is so easy that when I have the oven on for some other task, I like to roast garlic before turning it off.  The harsh flavors turn mellow and you can mash up the garlic with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a nice spread to put on the bread.  Much more interesting than butter.

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My appetizer idea was also taken from Domestic Daddy: miniature Greek salads.  Dress cherry tomatoes, seeded cucumbers, and bell peppers in a red wine vinegar dressing then stir in some olives and feta cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt since you have the cheese and olives, which are already salty) and add a little fresh rosemary.  Serve in a small dish that you can hold while mingling with other guests.  (Recipe here)

I had to laugh to myself a little while I was preparing this.  Those who criticize the “gay lifestyle” must be talking about our penchant for changing up traditional recipes (“pesto made with mint!?”) and ways of serving food (“Greek salad in a coffee cup!?”).  Such an unconventional lot!