Sunday, March 31, 2013

Buona pasqua 2013

In our house, Pasqua means visiting, family dinner and sweets.  The visits happen after Easter Sunday mass,  family dinner always involves homemade pasta and lamb and 'sweets' run the gamut from traditional columba and a variety of fried treats.  Company usually drops in for an espresso after the main event so it is always nice to have a nice mix on the dessert menu.  

I'd only ever made soffioni di ricotta once before and I'd been brainstorming a way to eat more ricotta (I love ricotta) so that was no contest.  And while I don't have access to the ethereal ewes milk version (yet), I do have a local shop within walking distance that brings in fresh whole cow's milk ricotta every other day.  Have one look at MuccaSbronza's soffioni di ricotta and you'll be feeling the ricotta love too. They are that gorgeous.  
I was also inspired to make an old stand-by, tiramisu, when I noticed Galbani brand mascarpone at the local deli (they only carry it occasionally) - definitely a sign.   So I also made Mamma Papera's Tiramisu.  Her photos are infinitely more beautiful, and mine, well.. not so much.  But this recipe is a keeper.  Made a day ahead of time, it sets up beautifully and flavoured with my favourite (Amaretto diSaronno) and a bit of rum (my suocera's secret favourite - got to keep Mamma happy too), it was a treat indeed.    

Why don't I have any pictures save for the one I took with my phone?  Between getting a  13 x 9-inch baking pan (that's 32.5 x 23-centimeters) chokka full of tiramisu, a tray full of soffioni and a helpful 3 year old (carrying an equally disastrous combination - cocoa and powdered sugar!) out the door, I didn't take any.  And once I joined the wonderful chaos and commotion that is dinner at Nonna's house, I completely forgot until it was on the plate.       

Grazie Mucca Sbronza e Mamma Papera for your contributions to our Easter Feast.

Buona pasqua a tutti!. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013


What a difference a year makes.  If you are only 3 years old, it's a good sized portion of your existence.  Already someone is a great wee helper and, over the past year, has developed a relative understanding that dinner just doesn't magically appear.  As well an activity we do together, I think it is important to make food and it's preparation part of his young life and I hope that it will establish some traditions for him to carry into his teenage years, young adulthood and beyond.  

We make alot of dough here at la tavola.  Not in the slang sense, as what I 'do for a crust' (day job) doesn't result in alot of dough (money) but it has the priceless benefit of giving me time to spend with family and at home so that homemade bread and pasta are back to being regulars on our tavola.  I'm not sure if 'dough' was part of my vocabulary at that age but almost every afternoon when we arrive home, I'm asked if we are making dough.

On Thursday evening, that dough was for bread and this morning, I made a batch of dough that will become malloreddus for tomorrows Easter lunch.  I like malloreddus because of its compact nature (read: perfect size for small utensils and a wee mouth) and for its compatability with various easy to make sauces: endless meat free options, a simple tomato basil preparation, seafood or pantry staples (olives, capers, etc.).

With the widening availability of various kitchen gadgets and attachments for classic pasta makers and people's willingness to give handmade pasta a go, I find these short dumpling type pastas are a good place to start your foray into the world of homemade pasta.  I've been making Malloreddus (origins in Campidano dialect) from Sardegna (aka gnocchetti sardi) and cavatelli from Puglia with a vengence.  

A good malloreddus primer here. And if ricotta cavatelli sounds good, one of the best 'how to' on the web can be found on Deborah Mele's site: Italian Food Forever.  These are similar in shape but, of course, hand rolling versus using a small hand turned machine will make some textural differences as well as maybe some small tweaks in the the recipe used for the dough to suit your personal taste and whatever ingredients you have available to you. 

The dough I make for malloreddus follows the above recipe link but I use a little less water.  The reason being is that the durum wheat semolina 'flour', or the readily available sort, here in Canada, is coarser than the Italian semola di grano duro 'rimacinata" and doesn't absorb all the water (you'll end up kneading in heaps more flour).  The texture is not quite cornmeal but nowhere near the finely ground Italian versions available at specialty shops.  I found the Italian milled semolina di grano duro works perfectly in the LCI recipe.

Also, I find that a slightly drier dough than typical rolled pastas performs better mainly because these dumplings are curled (either through the rotory action of a machine or dragged under your thumb if using a gnocchi type board) to create a ridged outer surface and a ragged interior.  If the dough is too wet/tacky, the final pasta will not retain this shape, the inner groove of the "shell" will seal (stick to itself) and cook to a thick chewy mass.  It has to be tender enough to be workable and firm enough to maintain the curl and sauce soaking interior at least while you are making all the pasta.  It takes a little elbow grease, and practise, but is worth it.  You can measure the coarse durum wheat semolina in a cup measure as it isn't as susceptible to environmental moisture.

The water.  I use filtered water for the dough and heat it quite warm to touch.  To this I add a pinch of crumbled saffron and set it aside to cool a little. Warm water will help in hydrating the protein in the flour and also coax a little more flavour/colour from the saffron.

The basic dough ratio (makes enough for 2 primi): 1 cup semolina (Unico brand), 1/2 tsp salt and about 1/3 cup of warm golden saffron water.  Place the flour in a medium bowl and make a well in the center.  Add the water and stir to a shaggy, but kneadable, mass.  Remove dough from bowl and place on work surface (preferably wood) dusted with more semolina.  Knead for several minutes adding more semolina as necessary but making sure that the dough doesn't show signs of small 'tears', indicating that it is getting too dry.

Cut the dough into smaller portions (this will depend on your preference and how much dough you've made, but for 1 cup of semolina, I find quarters work well) keeping the remainder of the dough wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out.  Roll the portioned dough into a rope about the thickness of your thumb or finger. If you are using a machine, you can feed the dough rope through the rollers and catch the pasta on a lightly semolina dusted platter below.  If you are using a board, cut the rope into roughly 1.5 cm pillows.  Again, I tend to keep these on the small side. Using your thumb and applying even pressure throughout the entire motion, drag and roll the little pillow over the board under your thumb with one steady, even motion.  Give it a few tries and play with the pressure to get the thickness as you like it.

Either way, the finished pasta should have nice grooves on the top surface and underneath, if you pry open the little shell, you can see the dragged, slightly ragged inner surface of the pasta.  Keeping this shape, the pasta will cook evenly and hold just the right ratio of delicious sauce to pasta. Paired with a sausage or mushroom ragu, this is an easy and kid friendly weekend dinner.  And, good help being hard to find these days, I consider myself quite lucky.  If you've got some small hands to keep busy and dinner to get on the tavola, this is the perfect project.


Friday, March 29, 2013

venerdi santo

It's Good Friday and we are getting ready for mass.  Tonight's menu will continue the tradition of not eating meat on Fridays throughout Lent.  Since we typically eat a few vegetarian meals per week, meatless Fridays don't pose much of a challenge.  We love legumes, vegetarian risottos, seafood and, of course, the versatile egg. 

Eggs play a big part of the traditional Easter menus and celebrations.  Elaborately coloured and baked into breads or covered in brioche, they also take the star role at a tavola in the simplest of recipes: fritatta.

I've followed this recipe (courtesy of Italian Food Forever) full of gorgeous fat asparagus, omitting the pancetta and separating the eggs.  Whipping the whites solo allows them to contribute to a loftier set in the finished fritatta without compromising any flavour.  I didn't beat them to dryness just rather a sleek barely holding peak. I was after fritatta middle ground, more than a dense pancake but not a foamy souffle.

As for cheese, there are few and far between that don't complement eggs.  I used some robiola due latte (not unlike this one) that melted into liquid bliss and married the potatoes, asparagus and egg perfectly.  Parsley is the herb of choice here but, again, whatever you fancy will likely work just fine. If you've got bacon and eggs with fresh greens, mushrooms or spring onions, the delicious possibilities are nearly endless.

Along with fritatta and a green salad, we opened a bottle of Vinea Veronese Garganega 2011.  I particularly favour Sauvignon blanc with spring egg dishes, however, I quite enjoyed this Garganega in its blended style. Slight creamy almond mealy goodness balanced with pear/apple fruit and citrus/minerality all in one. With lovely length as well. I suspect that, while good with our lunch, it will be even better with our tempura battered seafood dinner tonight. 


Saturday, March 02, 2013

Back at la tavola

Winter bread

Dear Reader, what a long strange trip it's been.  I've been in what feels like a time warp, driving to and from work wondering where the daylight went in an endless circuit (think a really bad version of Groundhog day), meaning to write, wanting to write, not making phone calls or sending emails that I should.  I once vowed never to be that person but it happened almost overnight.. a year later, I think I'm better for having had the experience (no point in dwelling on it now) and being aware of how not to get trapped again.

My 'career' is in the food industry and that is the last I'll say about that love/hate relationship except for the fact that my new role allows for a much better work life balance. Huzzah.

So all this balance has been going into, among other culinary things, keeping my kitchen smelling like a fresh loaf of bread.  My love of baking is no secret and over the past several years, I've been compiling info from all available sources, the fresh loaf, my library (I'm going to add that list soon), magazine articles and every thing ever printed by Field, Lahey, Reinhart, and Roberston.  I'm obviously leaving out many sources but you get the idea.  I haven't built a brick oven yet but am amassing lots of 'necessary' tools - thank you SFIB and Bakery Bits.

And today, with the latest dumping of snow measuring in at 35 centimeters, I've opened (for more than reading pleasure) a treasure of a cookbook, 'Olives and Oranges' by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.

Who doesn't enjoy Mediterranean flavours? And I was thinking about a rabbit braise and pappardelle.. funny that.

I'm going to do a review post shortly but have to say that it is one of the best cookbooks I've had the joy to cook from in a long time.  More proof that food can be flavourful and complex from the simplest of recipes. Clever combinations of ingredient and cooking method are at work here.  In a nutshell, there isn't anything in this book that I wouldn't eat. Highly recommended.

Our rabbit pappardelle.
A homey and hearty braise enjoyed with a delicious Calabrian 2006 blend from Savuto.  The small boss enjoyed his pasta (olives and all) with some Niagara grape juice and mopped the plate with Mama's bread.

Let it snow!