Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

a/k/a “The party’s over” edition. I start my new job in the morning, and I have no idea how tired I might be when I get home tomorrow so today, I cooked. And I cooked and cooked. Stock, soup, bread pudding, curried chicken salad, I went crazy in the kitchen today. So crazy that I even made focaccia.

Yes, I know I don’t bake. But apparently I do now. Ahem.

(It’s Marcella Hazan’s recipe, from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, for the curious.)

Catch up with you soon!

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Theme and Variations

You’ve probably figured out by now that my Big Food Project for this week was to make homemade pasta. Now, this isn’t entirely new for me – in another time and place, I made pasta from scratch often, using a hand-crank pasta roller (one of the first kitchen gadgets I ever bought for myself). But as I got older, developed some issues with my hand and arm strength, and moved into a series of progressively tinier kitchens, that old hand-crank pasta roller did little more than gather dust. At our last apartment, there wasn’t a single patch of countertop or piece of furniture we could have attached it to to use it, so we ended up donating it in one of our mass culls before the move.

But I missed making pasta from scratch. I read with envy as bloggers near and far worked with varying proportions of flour and eggs and sometimes other things added to the mix, and kneaded and rolled and made gorgeous, silken sheets of dough. I missed the smell of it, the texture, and the satisfying feeling of sitting down to a meal that was truly a labor of love.

I yearned to make fresh pasta again, and my parents knew this, so a few years ago they gifted me with a shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer, my first ever, complete with pasta making attachments. I was so thrilled to receive yet another thoughtful gift from them, but there was one problem: we had nowhere. to. put. it. We had nowhere near enough counter space for it, but even worse, adding another box of stuff to our already cluttered apartment was just too much. So “Big Red,” as we had dubbed her, sat, unopened, under my desk at my old job until my last week there. As I neared my last day, I made arrangements to have her shipped, and she was waiting at our new place when we arrived. Big Red was the very first appliance I unpacked and set up in our new kitchen.

So I was here, and Big Red was here with her lovely attachments, and why it has taken me this long to get to the pasta making I have NO idea, but I finally did it, and the first batch was so quick, so easy, and so satisfying that I immediately made a second batch, varying the recipe just a bit.

There are probably as many ways to make fresh pasta as there are Italian grandmothers, but I decided to keep things straightforward to start, consulting my trusted Marcella Hazan for guidance. The proportions were simple: 1.5 cups flour (I did veer from her recipe by using “00” flour rather than unbleached all-purpose) plus 2 whole eggs. That’s it. No salt, no milk, no olive oil, no water, just flour and eggs and 8 minutes of kneading before I would have my dough.

This first batch didn’t take the whole amount of flour, but it still looked and felt right as I kneaded it, shaped it into a disc, wrapped it in plastic and left it to rest for a bit. I divided it into six pieces, removed one, wrapped the remainder tightly and held my breath as I turned on Big Red and began to roll out my dough. And in just minutes I had this:

Hello, lovely.

I rolled out my remaining pieces of dough, amazed at the speed and ease of which it was all happening, and after they dried just a bit, I cut them by hand into wide, pappardelle-like ribbons. They were, shall we say, “rustic.” But I was so pleased.

We had them for dinner that very night, dressed with an earthy chicken liver ragu. They cooked up beautifully, the pasta tender and delicate but still with a nice bite.

version 2

For my second batch of dough, I varied the recipe by using two whole eggs plus two egg yolks, to 1.5 cups of my “00” flour. This did take the entire amount of flour as I kneaded, and at 8 minutes the dough was definitely tighter than my first batch. Again, I let it rest for a bit before rolling it out into sheets, and I decided to break out the spaghetti cutter attachment. I let the ribbons of spaghetti dry before placing them into a zip-top bag and placing them into the freezer, where they remained until they became part of last night’s dinner.

Dinner:  May 15, 2008

The sauce was inspired by the linguine with sardines and fennel we love so much, a mixture of caramelized fennel and onions, lemon juice and zest, a few chile flakes for heat, and some beautiful marinated anchovies we picked up at Venda Ravioli recently. The finished dish got a sprinkling of fennel fronds, toasted breadcrumbs and more lemon zest. I was a bit worried about how the thin strands of spaghetti would do when they hit the boiling water – they looked so delicate – but they cooked up beautifully, and they had this great springiness to them which made them really fun to twirl around our forks and bite into.

Mike and I both agreed that this first foray into pasta making with the help of our turbocharged assistant was a big success. I can’t wait to do it again.

(You can view my Flickr photoset here.)

Better late than never

My creation

Okay, so we actually ate this on Thursday night, but as I mentioned, our computer died and we had to replace it before I could unload photos and write this up.

I rarely follow recipes to the letter, but when it comes to Marcella Hazan’s dishes, I always do. I spotted her recipe for marinated fish with salmoriglio sauce in the September issue of Food and Wine, and I knew I wanted to try it. This sauce is traditionally served with swordfish, but Marcella mentions in the recipe notes that it works well with other fish, too. I had already pulled a couple of Copper River sockeye salmon fillets out of the freezer to thaw, so I used those, and they worked beautifully. If you’re looking for a super easy way to dress up a simple piece of fish, definitely give this a try – the sauce is a breeze to prepare, and it’s delicious.

Ragu Bolognese Redux

rigatoni bolognese

We’ve had a cold and busy weekend, and I’ve got a long day of cooking ahead of me today, so it was nice last night to just pull something out of the freezer and get a good meal on the table in no time. This is the rest of my last batch of Ragu Bolognese, which I thawed and reheated gently while waiting for my pasta water to boil. I cooked a pound of rigatoni and finished it in the sauce, tossed a salad, and we were good to go. It really is worth it to make big batches of things like this sauce and to save them for future use.

Ragu Bolognese

Cold winter days just cry out for meals that fill up your entire home with savory aromas and that fill up your belly with something warm and nourishing. One of the most satisfying things to make when I know I’m going to be housebound on days like that is a big pot of Ragu Bolognese.

adding ingredients

The recipe I generally follow is Marcella Hazan‘s ragu from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and I think it’s just about foolproof. What always strikes me about the recipe is that it is actually quite simple in terms of what goes into the ragu – the quality of your ingredients and the length of time you let the sauce simmer make all the difference.

Marcella’s recipe calls for softening onion, carrot and celery in a mixture of butter and oil, but since we always have lard on hand (the good stuff, leaf lard rendered down at home from pasture-raised pigs), I often use that. Add the onion to the pan with a good pinch of kosher salt and let that cook for a couple of minutes, then add the carrot and celery, a little more salt, and let those go for a few minutes more. One thing I do that is NOT in Marcella’s recipe, but which I think adds more depth of flavor, is that I add about a tablespoon-or-so sized dollop of tomato paste (from a tube – one of the best inventions ever) to the pan and let it caramelize for a few moments before stirring it through with the softened veggies.

Add the meat (I use two parts ground beef to one part ground pork) and season with salt and a few grindings of pepper. Once the meat browns, add whole milk and a grating of nutmeg and simmer until the milk evaporates away, and then add a cup of white wine and allow that to evaporate as well. Keeping an eye on the sauce while you are waiting for the milk and then the wine to cook off is probably the hardest part of the process – it takes some time, and you do have to watch the pot closely and stir often so you don’t scorch the bottom – but I think it really builds good layers of flavor into the sauce.

Canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with their juices go in next – you can smoosh them with your fingers to break them up or stick a knife in the can to chop them before adding. Give everything a good stir and leave the pot to cook away uncovered over the lowest heat possible for at least 3 hours, checking on it and stirring from time to time, and adding a little bit of water if the sauce gets too dry.

finished ragu

I don’t recall the proportions for Marcella’s original recipe off hand, but I do remember it yields about 2 cups of sauce. When I make this I generally do a big batch so I can portion it out and freeze what I don’t use right away – it freezes beautifully.

These are the proportions I generally use:

2 lbs. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 cup each red onion, carrot and celery, diced
About 1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, broken up or roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Water as needed

lasagna bolognese

This makes a BIG pot of sauce – enough to properly sauce a classic lasagna Bolognese, share with your friends, and still have a few cups left over to freeze for later. It’s totally worth the time and effort.