Category Archives: Pasta

A Sourdough Day

For most people Sunday is used as a day of rest and relaxation; put your feet up and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. For me, I want to be brewing the pot and making the biscuits. Last Sunday was no different, I invited a friend over for a day of sourdough experimentation! I’d spent the week nurturing what became affectionately known as my ‘alien baby’ otherwise known as a sourdough starter.  Here it is in all it’s bubbly fermented glory!

To start this off, I used a San Fransico sourdough culture bought for me by the same dear friend who came over to help. This was to be mixed with strong bread flour and water and then fed every day for a week. Some of the instructions were baffling “Leave your starter in a warm place between 80 and 90 degrees” even in fahrenheit this is outrageously warm for a February (or even mid summer!) in London. I put it by the boiler and hoped for the best. I nurtured this creature for a week, feeding it every day with flour and warmed water, stirring it, sniffing it, until it reached this very alive and yeasty stage.

The next part of my story is less successful. I’m sharing it with you because the starter gave rise (no pun intended) to a really excellent day of eating, cooking and catching up with a great friend and because the starter was such a bubbly success I just had to show you… the bread, alas, was not so successful hence why no recipe is included. I’ll wait until it’s fool proof.

We discovered early on that not only does the starter take an awfully long time to prepare, so too does the bread itself. Most recipes I found started at 8.30 in the morning and then had half an hour timed instructions through to 6pm! We thought the hard part was over with the starter, no such luck. Eventually we found a recipe that was more to our liking, mainly because it appeared not to take as long as some of the others. It did however, seem a bit untrustworthy, the fellow who wrote it was a shifty looking character and the instructions were a little hazy which is not a good sign in a bread recipe. Despite this we ploughed ahead and created a lovely sticky dough

We then had to knead it for 15 seconds, then rest for 30 minutes. Yes that’s right, 15 seconds – 30 minutes. You repeat this step over many hours increasing the resting time each time. At one point you swap from the mini kneads to a stretching and folding routine. Our dough was really rather nice, soft, floppy, warm and glutinous maximus! When tipping it out of the bowl, it hung on for ages, stretching it’s gluten enriched strands down towards the table in a most satisfyingly alien manner. Unfortunately I didn’t get a great picture of this because by that time, it was getting dark.

To relieve ourselves of the monotony, we decided to throw together some lunch. I, of course, had originally thought we could have warm bread and cheese, but new plans had to be made. It was a typical Sunday in our fridge, the ends of the week’s shopping and vegetable box hung around waiting for inspiration. There would be a number of things that were off limits as they had been reserved for supper and on this particular Sunday this left very little to play with. With the familar cry of “pasta?” in the air, we foraged until my friend in a flash of inspiration said: “Pasta Con Le Sarde?” After living in Venice for many years, she is very good and seeking out what I cannot when looking at an empty fridge. OBVIOUSLY I did not have any fresh sardines just lying around, but we had most of the rest of the ingredients and to be honest, it was delicious. I can’t wait to try it with the sardines!

 

Pasta Senza Sarde (Pasta Without Sardines)

200g mini orzo pasta

5 anchovies

2 cloves of garlic finely sliced

2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

30g raisins

Parsley, roughly chopped

Parmesan to serve

 

Cook your pasta according to instructions…meanwhile…

Warm a good slug of olive oil in a pan and add the anchovies to melt, slowly on a low heat.

When they have broken down and are smelling lovely add your garlic, raisins and tomatoes and cook slowly until the tomatoes are beginning to break down and the raisins have puffed up a bit

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, loosen it with olive oil, and stir it through the fishy tomatoes, add the parsley at the last moment and serve with Parmesan. Eat with a spoon!

A proper recipe for this, with the correct additions of white wine, fennel and saffron (and of course sardines) can be found here. I’m certainly going to try it.

After lunch we braved the bread again, this time stretching then folding the dough into thirds and then leaving it to rest, again and again…..

It was a very lovely dough. It certainly felt as though it was going the right way… But then, who knew? We were just persevering with the ever complicated recipe and hoping we were on the right track.

The bread making left quite a lot of room to do other things so I decided we needed something sweet. Tea time was fast approaching and the bread was far from ready. Oatmeal and Raisin Cookies were the decided treat and I set about it.

The recipe I used is one from the lovely food blog Smitten Kitchen

These aren’t really a chewy cookie, they are more of a soft tea time mini bun. Tom is insistent that they are rock buns. I will continue to call them cookies because that’s what they appear to be. In reality, he is probably right.

The reason I like this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick. Butter, sugar and an egg are combined in the whizzer, then flour cinnamon and salt are added,  oats and raisins are mixed in at the end and then you simply put dollops of the dough on a tray, chill for 10 minutes then cook for 10 minutes. Excellent and all ready in half an hour.

I like to make mine really small, about a teaspoon of dough per cookie. It is a very good idea to chill them for 10 minutes in the fridge first as they probably have a tendency to spread like mad if you don’t.

I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as it is in full and good order at Smitten Kitchen. If you don’t have American weighing cups, I recommend you get some. They make this sort of cooking so much easier and are very satisfying. Translating recipes from cups is pretty difficult as you can imagine: think of a cup of flour, a cup of dark brown sugar and a cup of walnuts, these are not going to all weigh the same.  Next time I make these, I will weigh each thing and write it down and share it if you really want. But until then, buy some cups.

So after our tea time treat we went back to the bread… Evening was fast approaching and my dear friend was getting tired, she left me with the dough and went home for some well earned rest. I soldiered on with the dough, stretching, folding and resting (I was resting too, 30 minutes of series 1 of ER then back to the kitchen)

As it was now dark I thought I’d better start on dinner so with the remaining bits and bobs in the fridge I whipped up a potato curry. And jolly nice it was too. It was influenced by an Ottolenghi dish and some general online curry recipes.

Potato Curry

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon

700g potatoes, peeled and quartered
200g carrots, peeled and quartered
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs black mustard seeds
1 onion, sliced thin
5cm piece ginger, peeled, grated
1 green chilli, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 or 6 curry leaves
1 tin of good chopped tomatoes
125ml coconut milk

 

Toast the coriander and cumin in a pan until they start popping

Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind them up with the cardamom until they smell wonderful. You can throw away the cardamom skins when the seeds are released

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onions, fry until soft then add all the spices, ginger and mustard seeds and stir to gently cook them. Now add the chilli, curry leaves, garlic, carrots and  potatoes and mix the while lot together until the potatoes are turning yellow with the turmeric.

When everything is smelling wonderful, add the tinned tomatoes and coconut milk and leave it to putter away on a low heat with the lid on for a good hour.

Check on it after this to make sure the potatoes are cooked, then when you are ready to eat, re-heat with the lid off for another 30 minutes.

You could do all this in the oven too if you were so inclined.

I desperately wanted to make Naan bread to go with this but we didn’t have any yoghurt and I still needed to focus on the sourdough, which was gently mocking me from a corner of the room.

Finally it was time to shape the dough. Last year I went on a bread baking course at the wonderful Lighthouse Bakery School. It was such a fantastic day, I highly recommend it. In fact my bread lesson companion was the same as my sourdough buddy, but unfortunately she had long since gone home and so the shaping lesson we had listened so intently to at the Lighthouse was left to me alone to re-create. One thing that really stuck from that day was the lesson not to knead your dough with flour. Instead we were taught to wipe a light layer of olive oil onto the surface, this keeps the dough from sticking and doesn’t add a new component to the dough. Kneading with flour means you ruin the delicate balance of ingredients.

Another important lesson was how to shape the dough using it’s own elasticity, stretching the dough so it forms a ‘skin’ on the top.

You do this by pushing the dough away from you and then folding it back on itself. You do this around 6 times turning after each fold so you have created a taught top (which will be facing down). It still looked like an alien.

To be honest, I knew this was where things would start to go downhill. The recipe I followed only called for one shaping of the dough. A sourdough has an extremely high water content and it spreads if you leave it for even a minute. I think this dough needed 2 shapings.
This is a pretty interesting video. I like how she calls a Boule a Boo-lee!
But it gives you an idea of how crazy this dough is. It runs away from you!

So to cut a very long story a little shorter, I shaped my dough, slashed it and left it to rise one more time and then I put it in the oven for the suggested 40-50 minutes…

 

And I burnt it.

 

That’s right. After a whole day of labor, I burnt the bugger.

And the slashes sealed up on the top leaving me with a huge round black bomb! OK it wasn’t too bad, the top was VERY crispy but it wasn’t totally ruined. The lovely open texture I was hoping for after all that work, was only evident in the top third of the loaf (due to the slashes disappearing I think). Something went very wrong, I am yet to discover what. I think what is needed is a whole lot more experimentation, but really… who has the time?!

Luckily by this point Tom had come home and had brought some raita with him to eat with our potato curry. We sat down and ate while I mourned the death of a loaf… But we still had warm slices of it for pudding with butter and plum jam… And really, who cares if you make a big baking mistake, it’s all learning and you never know, I might get it right one day and until then, we’ll eat it warm with butter and jam and pretend that’s how it’s supposed to be.

 

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, Bread, Curry, Lunch, Pasta, Quick, Recipes, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Minestrone

Another cold day, another soup.

My minestrone is a bit time consuming, because of the amount of ingredients and prep but wonderfully relaxing to cook. Because minestrone is not a smooth soup you have to take the time to make sure the texture just right. I like a minestrone to have all its ingredients chopped very tiny so that you get a lovely nubby mouthful every time but you don’t have to, you can have them cut larger, just adjust the cooking time. You can also make this soup with or without the pancetta but the addition of pork intensifies the flavour, and adds a little luxury. Traditionally minestrone is from the ‘cucina povera’ style of Italian cooking (literally ‘poor cooking’) as it is very cheap and very adaptable. In fact, you can (and should) try to use almost any vegetable, cabbage and turnip are common additions and beans and pasta are the Italian staple ingredients but you can experiment with whatever vegetables are in season and add beans, pancetta and stock to your taste or availability. If you’re really pushing it, just use water instead of stock, it’s not as flavoursome, but still very good.

I always cook my pasta separately if I’m planning on keeping any leftovers otherwise the pasta continues to increase in size while it absorbs all the soup liquid, but if you’re serving it all up, cook the pasta in the soup, it will absorb not only liquid but all the gorgeous flavours. If you can’t find little pasta use spaghetti and break it into smaller pieces before cooking. I’ve included some tips below on speeding up the chopping process but I recommend you take your time, put the radio on (or Desperate Housewives, my current weakness) and slowly prepare until everything is ready in neat little piles ready to cook!

Minestrone

2 oz butter

1 large white onion

(optional) 100g pancetta, cubed

4 carrots

3 sticks of celery

1 leek

1 courgette

4 cloves of garlic

a handful of grated Parmesan and a Parmesan rind (if you have one)

12 small plum tomatoes, quartered

1 1/4 pints stock (chicken or vegetable)

1 tin tomatoes

1 tin cannellini beans

2 tsb olive oil

100g fresh spinach, shredded

200g tiny pasta

salt and pepper

Parmesan to serve

Serves 6

Cut the carrots, celery and courgette into very small dice but keep them in separate piles because you add them at different times

I do my ‘tiny dicing’ by slicing the carrots and courgettes lengthways into about 5mm slices, then turning and doing the same lengthways slices to make strips. Then chop into little square dice:

Chop your onion finely and the leek into thin rounds.

Melt the butter in a large enough pan to hold all the ingredients and sweat the onions celery and carrots (and pancetta if your using it) on a very low heat for 10 minutes with the lid on.

After 5 minutes add the courgettes, garlic, leek and courgettes and continue with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are only just cooked.

Now add the fresh tomatoes, Parmesan, Parmesan rind and stock. Add the chopped tomatoes and bring the whole lot up to simmering point. I like to chop the tomatoes into smaller pieces while they are still in the tin using scissors

Add the pasta to the soup or boil a separate pan of salted water and cook the pasta until al dente

Season your soup to taste

In the final moments before serving add the spinach, and cooked beans and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil (don’t forget to remove the Parmesan rind!)

If you have cooked the pasta separately stir some olive oil through it and serve the soup with a few spoonfuls on top.

Absolutely delicous. I must say, it’s one of my favourite things to eat on a cold day. Warming and hearty, yet not heavy.



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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, Pulses, Recipes, Soup, Supper, vegetables, Vegetarian

Linguini with Prawns

Another pasta supper, this one is Tom’s favourite so he was supposed to make it, but I took over. Typical.

We have an old friend staying with us for the night and this is a great pasta to entertain with; it’s very tasty and very quick.

It’s recipes like this one that make me realise I cook intuitively most of the time. There must be a thousand similar recipes around for this linguini all with their own additions or subtractions, if you’ve read a few, you can tinker all you like and make it your own. The basics are prawns, chilli and lemon, after that you’re free to experiment. I like to use dried chillies to add a kick and a fleck of colour, and white wine to make a loose sauce rather than make it heavy with cream. Sometimes I add a vegetable like savoy cabbage, leeks or courgettes but most of the time I keep it simple. It’s a clean tasting dish, perfect for summer or winter. Soothing, spicy and fresh.

Linguini with Prawns

300g linguini

100g king prawns

25g butter

4 cloves of garlic, chopped small

1tsp dried chilli flakes (more or less to taste)

1/2 a glass of wine

juice of 1 lemon

salt and Pepper

parsley, finely chopped

parmesan to serve

Serves 3 (2 boys and a girl) – 4 (normal portion eaters)

Get all your ingredients ready, this is a quick dish so you need everything to hand.

Cook your linguini in a large pan of boiling salted water.

When the pasta has 5 minutes cooking time left melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy bottomed pan (preferably bigger than your pasta pan).

Add the garlic and chilli and cook gently for a minute.

Turn the heat up and add the wine. It will bubble and reduce quite quickly, you want all the alcohol to burn off.

If you are using raw prawns add these with the wine and cook until pink and firm.

If you are using cooked prawns , add them just a minute before you add the pasta otherwise they will become rubbery

When the pasta is ready lift it straight out of the boiling water with tongs and into the sauce . Add parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, toss and serve with lots of parmesan and a tomato salad.

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Filed under Pasta, Prawns, Recipes, Supper

The Great British Bake Off and a Simple Pasta Supper

My goodness what a final!

If you haven’t watched the Great British Bake Off  presented by the hilarious Mel and Sue I suggest you catch up NOW! I love this show, amateur bakers from across the country battle it out to win the accolade of Best Amateur Baker. Blimey it’s great. Nail biting stuff.

Congratulations to winner Jo (our finalist favourite!) whose dainty Victoria sponge sandwiches, white chocolate and pistachio meringues and mini banoffee pies assured her place as the winner. Her blog link here

After the final I really want to experiment with Mary Ann’s decor paste stripy sponge cakes. She has set up a food blog which is doing incredibly well already. Check it out here to see her rose apple tarts that won her high praise on the show and look so beautiful. Not always one for delicacy Mary Anne really pulled these out of the bag!

However, I was very sad to see Janet leave last week, her hilarious reactions to the judging and constantly surprised expression were a joy to behold. Her exit speech brought tears to my eyes… Also sad to go was 19 year old Jason representing South London (!) who was eliminated earlier in the programme, I could have watched him ALL day. He also has started a blog (no doubt they all have!) check it out here

While we watched, of course, I cooked. A simple comfort pasta supper

Tortiglione with Pancetta, Tomato and Olive Sauce

100g Pancetta cubed

A handful of kalamata olives stoned and chopped

1 red onion

3 cloves of garlic chopped

1/2-1  tsbp dried chilli flakes (depending on how you like your spice)

2 tins of good chopped tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Olive Oil

S&P

100g tortiglione per person. I like De Cecco pasta the best

Parmesan to serve

optional

knob of butter

1 clove of garlic, crushed

2tbs double cream

1 tbs Parmesan

Serves 4-6

Heat  a couple of healthy glugs of good olive oil in large heavy bottomed pan and add the onions. Put a lid on and sweat the onions on a low heat until soft (about 10mins… don’t rush this otherwise you’ll have crunchy onions and that just doesn’t work!)

Add the pancetta about 7 mins in and brown it lightly.

Add the olives and chilli flakes and stir to just release their fragrance (turn the heat up for a bit) then add the 2 tins of chopped tomatoes and the sugar. Stir, put a lid on, turn the heat right down,  and forget about it for at least an hour.

Remove the lid and stir, continue cooking for another 30 mins until the sauce has a lovely thick rich red intensity to it. Add pepper last (if you add pepper too early it starts to taste bitter) check for salt as the olives will have done some of this for you and adjust.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of salty water and when it’s done, quickly drain (reserving a tablespoon or so of water) set aside and chuck into the hot pan the knob of butter and garlic, swirl for 30 seconds until then add the cream parmesan and pasta. Coat the past in this garlic cream sauce, loosen with cooking water and serve immediately with a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on top.

Obviously the creamy element is optional (and is actually perfect on its own) but I like to combine the creamy intensity of the pasta with the rich tang of the sauce. This way it also means you’ll have plenty of sauce left over for impromptu suppers, like ours last night.


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Filed under Baking, Pasta, Recipes, Supper