This winter was full of highs and lows. Highs included a long overdue holiday back in Australia and watching some breathtaking snowfalls in Turin and the surrounding countryside. Lows included a very jetlagged week upon my return to Turin in January, flus (both mine and then TT's) and a longer than usual bout of homesickness. The best remedy for those lows, as usual, turned out to be retreating to the kitchen to cook, bake, or, my latest craze, hone my pasta-making skills. In this winter edition of recipes - exclusive to email subscribers - you'll find another fundamental of Italian cookery, a non-recipe for making a delectable accompaniment to scones, a pumpkin and sausage risotto, a Tuscan polenta and kale soup, chocolatey and citrusy muffins and another citrusy (and almondy) cake. Buon appetito!
Back to basics III: pasta, acqua e farina
In the autumn edition of The Season in Food, I started this Back to Basics section. Then I included instructions for making pasta all'uovo, or flour and egg-based pasta. Today, I thought I'd share my formula for making the pasta typical of Italy's south, which is traditionally made with durum wheat and water.
Durum wheat pasta is generally made with a relatively low water to flour ratio. In fact, many southern Italian recipes call for about 45mL or grams of tepid water to 100 g of durum wheat flour. I used to make the mistake of adding more water than those recipes indicated as I brought my flour and water together, to make my dough more pliable right away. Recently however, I reread the fine print of food historian (and expert pasta-maker) Oretta Zanini de Vita and American translator Maureen B. Fant's Sauces and Shapes, an indispensible cookbook for those wishing to master homemade pasta. This is what they have to say on this subject: 'The biggest mistake people make... is not using enough force. Skip the gym the day you make pasta and make kneading your workout... Keep this up for 30 minutes. If you've used the food processor , 15 or 20 minutes will do... As you work, the dough may seem dry, but you don't want it to be wet and sticky. It needs just enough moisture to hold it together, not a drop more. If you're dough is so dry that you are quite sure it will never hold together, you can add a teensy bit of water... Your goal is a single smooth loaf of dough that is not sticky to the touch'.
So, after doing what these lovely ladies refer to as the 'maccheroni mambo', you'll need to rest your silky loaf of dough for at least 30 minutes. This helps the gluten develop. Wrap it in foil, plastic wrap, or my favourite, no-fuss method, leave it on your wooden board and invert a bowl over it.
Once rested (yourself and your dough included!), you can proceed to the next phase. This may involve rolling and cutting to make a sfoglia or pasta sheet (procedure for doing this on a hand-cranked pasta machine at this link here) or removing pieces of dough from your silky and well-rested loaf and shaping them by hand. For an example of the latter, here's my recent recipe for orecchiette con broccoli ripassati, so-called for their resemblance to 'little ears'. Oh, and here's a lovely and (instructive) Instagram video of my friend and fellow Cucina Conversations blogger Carmen Pricone (aka The Heirloom Chronicles) expertly dragging pellets of dough across her wooden board with a knife to make this wonderful pasta.
Something to try making at home I: clotted cream
It's not Italian but, hey, I needed an accompaniment to the scones I made before the break of day. I soon remembered Regula Ysewijn's (aka Miss Foodwise) recipe for making this delectable treat, often spread on scones in England's south west, in her stunning cookbook, Pride and Pudding. I wasn't able to source raw, unpasteurised cream like Regula, but I still obtained a decent yield when using a lighty-pasteurised (not UHT!), fresh cream from my local supermarket with Regula's recipe below:
Pour 1 litre of cream into a shallow roasting tin to a depth of about 2cm. Set the tin in the middle of the oven preheated to 80 º C for 9-10 hours. Remove the cream from the oven and stand in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, for another 10-12 hours.
After 10-12 hours, scoop off the yellow crust or 'clouted cream' with a spoon, put it in a clean, airtight container and refrigerate before use.
Any leftover runny cream underneath can be used for other cooking.
N.B. If using raw, unpasteurised cream, be sure that your source is a reliable one and that you are in good health!
Pumpkin and sausage risotto
Last October, I wrote about how I came to accept the sweeter attributes of pumpkin and finally started eating it. Sadly, my husband, TP, has never become accustomed to eating this wonderful vegetable and will go out of his way to discourage me from cooking with it in any way.
One of my favourite ways to cook these fleshy orange gourds in autumn and winter is in risotto. TP has always refused any suggestions of making and eating pumpkin risotto. A few months ago, I came across a recipe for a very Venetian pumpkin and rice soup with some crumbled sausage added to the mix in Valeria Necchio'sbeautiful cookbook, Veneto. Sausages have long been the way to TP's culinary heart. Also, salty sausage is the perfect foil to the sweeter inclinations of the vegetable that TP detests so much.
Less than a week before heading off to Australia, I suggested to TP that we exhaust the larder and finally cook the thick, green-skinned, dry-fleshed beauty of a curcubita that had been sitting on a shelf in our enclosed veranda for a while. Initially, he wasn't impressed with yet another suggestion of making pumpkin risotto. Then, I mentioned the salty sweetener that he loved: sausage! He agreed and when our meal was over, he admitted it was one of the best risottos he had ever had.
Cut about 500 g of pumpkin into wedges, place on a lined baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 200 ° C for 40 minutes or until tender and golden brown. Scrape the flesh from the skin and mash with a fork. Place in an oven-proof bowl and keep warm in a low heat oven. If using, fry about 100 g of crumbled sausage in a lightly-oiled skillet until browned and cooked through. Place in an oven-proof bowl and keep warm in a low heat oven.
Bring chicken or vegetable stock to boil in about 1.5 to 2 litres of water on one of the backburners of your stove. Lower heat to a gentle boil and cover. Peel and finely dice onion finely. Melt 40g of butter in a wide and high-sided copper or alluminium saucepan on low heat, add diced onion and sautee until soft and translucent. Raise heat, add 320 - 380 g of Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice, allowing it to toast for a couple of minutes, ensuring that you stir the rice often. When it starts turning opaque in colour and makes a hissing noise, increase the heat and pour in 125 mL of dry white wine. Allow wine to evaporate and reduce heat. Cook the risotto by adding a ladleful of boiling boiling broth at a time, ensuring that the rice has absorbed most of the liquid before adding more. Stir occasionally, using agirariso or a wooden spoon with a hole. Continue this way until the rice feels al dente but tender, around 15 – 17 minutes.
Add the warm mashed pumpkin and fried crumbled sausage and stir well, cooking for another minute. Add a tiny bit more stock to loosen the consistency if need be. Taste for salt and remove risotto from heat. Cover and leave to rest for 2 minutes. Remove lid, stir in 30 g butter and 50 g of grated Parmesan or Grana Padano and whip energetically until the fat and cheese has rendered and the rice is creamy. Serve immediately.
40mL (2 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
100 g tinned tomato puree
450 g finely chopped cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), veins and stems removed
300 g coarse, preferably stone-milled, polenta
300 g homecooked or tinned borlotti beans, drained
2 L leftover bean cooking liquid or vegetable stock
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, non-stick pot with about 40mL olive oil. Gently cook some finely chopped onion and garlic on low heat until soft and translucent. Add the tomato puree and the chopped cavolo nero. Simmer, covered, over low to medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the cavolo nero is tender.
Puree 150 g of the borlotti beans and add these, along with a cup of leftover bean cooking liquid or vegetable stock, to the sauteeing cavolo nero. Stir until well combined. Add the remaining bean cooking liquid or vegetable stock to the pot and bring to boil. Add the polenta in a thin, steady stream while stirring constantly. Lower heat to a gentler simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, ensuring that you stir occasionally. The polenta will thicken as it cooks. Just before removing the pot from the heat, add the remaining borlotti beans, taste for salt and pepper and stir until well combined. Serve immediately in bowls drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.
N.B. Giulia's book, which I helped recipe test for, will be available in English later this year!
Claudia Roden's Orange and Almond Cake
I say that I'm a 'locavore' when it comes to sourcing my food. And it's true most of the time. At my neighbourhood market, I nearly always buy my fresh fruit and veg from producers from the countryside surrounding Turin. At this cold, dark and often foggy time of year though, citrus - lemons, clementines, oranges and on that rare serendipitous, occasion, citrons and bergamots - from Italy's south is like a ray of sunshine. And so I just can't resist.
Here's a cake using citrus from Italy' south I've enjoyed revisiting this winter thanks to Rachel Roddy's beautiful new cookbook, Two Kitchens, Claudia Roden's Sephardic orange and almond cake. To make, boil a large orange (yep, rind, pith and all) until you can easily pierce it with a fork, puree it and add it to a batter with eggs, sugar and almond meal. Bake in the oven for an hour or so. There's nothing quite like the aroma of boiled citrus and you'll be in citrusy heaven well before you take a bite of the finished product.
1 large orange weighing approximately 350 g (or 2 smaller ones)
6 free range eggs
250 g ground almonds
250 g caster sugar
5 g (1 tsp) baking powder
butter, to grease cake tin
breadcrumbs or matzo meal to dust tin
Wash orange/s, put it in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer for an hour and a half or until it is easily pierced with a fork. Remove orange from the pan, drain, and cut in half. Remove pips, if any, and press through a food mill until obtaining a puree. Grease and dust a 24 cm cake tin (preferably with a removable base) and preheat the oven to 180° C.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the pulped orange, beat again, then add the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder and beat again until you have a thick, even batter. Pour the battle into the tin and bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until your cake skewer comes out almost clean ('almost' because this cake is rather moist!). To prevent the cake from getting too brown on top, you may want to drape some aluminum foil on top of the cake tin after 30 minutes of baking. Leave in tin to cool completely before transferring to a cake platter. Serve dusted with icing sugar.
Citrus-scented chocolate muffins
Finally, here's another citrusy (and chocolatey) recipe that can be whipped up fairly quickly I came up with for a 12 year old who I teach English, and occasionally, cooking, to.
80 g plain flour, sifted
30 g unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tbsp orange or clementine powder (see this lovely post on giving a second life to your citrus peels by Juls' Kitchen for details)
85 g full cream milk
15 g melted butter
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
100 g dark chocolate
In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa, sugar, ground orange powder, salt and mix. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients: milk, lightly beaten egg and melted butter. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients and stir until batter is smooth. Cut chocolate into small pieces and place half into the batter. Stir until just combined. Line muffin tray with baking paper. Spoon batter into lined moulds in tray. Place remaining chocolate pieces on top of each muffin. Bake in an oven preheated to 180 ° C for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before eating. These muffins keep well for 2-3 days in a tightly sealed container.
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