Thursday, 16 June 2011

If at first you don’t succeed…

What do you get from these ingredients (besides the name of where we usually shop)? Theoretically, it should be pasta.

Do you have a cookbook – or two – that you never use from but don’t want to get rid of because the recipes sound so fabulous? I have this kind of relationship with Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food. Well, the other day I finally cracked it open with the intention of making one of the staples of most Italian food – pasta. I feel I owe it to my own Italian heritage – and my great-grandmother Assunta’s cooking skills – to master basics like this.

Scarily, you don’t have to use a bowl, because you keep the eggs and olive oil in the center of a mound of flour while you start to blend everything together. Something like this…

I had high hopes after seeing that this stuff stayed together long enough for me to take a picture. But then, I started to mix it. See, the problem with adding in flour with the beaten eggs and oil is that it takes away from the “well” walls. I was soon in a messy battle between falling flour and runny dough, but then gave up and just smooshed everything together so the dough would become firmer more quickly.

Once I actually had the dough, I thought that was the hard part done.  I rolled it out with my trusty wooden pin to the absolute thinnest I could go, cut it into uneven tagliatelle strips and put it in the fridge until dinner – a big mistake.

While in the fridge, the pasta meshed into a firm, cold mound that did not easily separate when dropped into a big pot of boiling water. The pasta was also very thick as I didn’t roll it out as thinly as I thought, so I added a little extra cooking time to compensate. Even so, the pile of tire-quality, congealed rubber was hardly the rustic homemade pasta I’d envisioned.

So, this is one to try again when I have done these two things: 
  1. bought a pasta rolling machine
  2. read about the proper techniques that are supposed to be followed when mixing and then storing pasta
There’s another portion left in the fridge for tonight’s dinner…can’t wait…

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Apricot brownies

If there’s one lesson I’ve brought with me to Old England from life in New England, it’s not to expect that the weather is going to be anything less than unpredictable. And judging by the summer-like April temperatures and the recent days of sun…no, rain…no, sun, no… it’s a good concept to adhere to. Perhaps T and I were a little premature in stocking up on popsicles (sorry UK, I just can’t bring myself to call them ice lollies...), but fresh fruit is something that can be enjoyed indoors or out, and in loads of great recipes.

Another delicacy that suits a variety of temperatures is the ever-amazing brownie. I’ve been making a spring-i-fied version recently with dried apricots, and I think it would probably work for a variety of dried fruits like cherries, blueberries or mangoes.

¾ cup (170g) butter
5oz (140g) unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cups (375g) sugar*
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups (155g) flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups dried apricots, chopped (about 35 dried apricots)

*I accidentally used 1 cup (300g) once, and it still worked fine – a little less sweet and more chocolatey

  • Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C. Grease a square baking pan.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate together over very low heat.
  • Measure the sugar into a separate bowl. Stir in the melted chocolate, then the eggs and vanilla extract.
  • Add the flour and salt, stirring until the ingredients have been combined. Lastly, add the apricots.
  • Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with a few crumbs on it.