Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hello?.... It's me again..... reporting from the edge......

Skies are gray, rain is trying to make an appearance and the weather is chilly..... another good day to crank up the stove / oven and warm us up. Already had some good 'ol Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon first thing in the AM along with a really great fresh ground French Roast coffee.... I'm sure you can imagine the heartwarming aromas wafting from the kitchen, but along with a trip to the Library for more great reading material, a stop at the market for dairy items is in the offing so I'm planning my day's menu as I write......

Today everyone seems in a Pasta mind-set, but not just regular store bought pasta, it will be hand made fresh pasta today which will truly make the meal memorable. Tender, velvety pasta covered with a lovely sauce (red, white or ?, haven't decided yet, but I can promise that as I finish this post I'll have it all worked out). Since I cooked some chicken last night for the Enchiladas Suizas I made, I had some leftover chicken so I will use this and elaborate from there. "Cardenas Market", one of the Mexican markets I frequent had a special (not so special since this goes on most weeks) was offering Roma tomatoes (my favorite for sauce) at 6 lbs for .99 cents and onions for 9 lbs for .99! (No you see why I make a point of visiting them..) yet they never seem to have fresh Basil on hand since this is not a prevalent spice and tends to be somewhat expensive; I have dried but it's not the same.... although the Mexican Oregano is quite superior, other spices are not.

I also have some mashed sweet potato somewhere in the recesses of the fridge that could serve as a lovely filling for ravioli's or even some roasted beets (these are fabulous with a light white sauce as a topping...Mmmmm, ideas are flowing, YUM!)- So many sauces can go along with the basics I've chosen, but so many types of pasta to choose from that it will depend on the flavor we go with before I decide..... let's see....

You're probably thinking that I have all this fancy equipment to give me a hand in this like a pasta machine and food processor, but I don't at all. I haven't been back long enough to replace all my favorite "thingies" yet so I'm doing everything the "old way" without any equipment at all. Have knives and spatulas instead of a food processor and instead of a pasta machine I have a bottle of wine (instead of a rolling pin, Yes! I also have an old closet pole which I sanded down which makes an excellent rolling pin very much like the ones used in Italy) and my small kitchen counter and that's it.... so you see, you don't need all those extras to produce the best pasta in the world. Not at all, all you need is to want to do it and to actually follow through. You can do it!

For some reason I'm having visions of Tagliatelle with a smooth sauce. Tagliatelle are the classic pasta of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Individual pieces of tagliatelle are long, flat ribbons that are similar in shape to fettuccine and are typically wide. Tagliatelle can be served with a variety of sauces, though the classic is a meat sauce or Bolognese sauce. Legend has it that tagliatelle was created by a talented court chef, who was inspired by Lucrezia d'Este's hairdo on the occasion of her marriage to Annibale II Bentivoglio, in 1487. The recipe was called tagliolini di pasta e sugo, alla maniera di Zafiran (tagliolini of pasta and sauce in the manner of Zafiran) and it was served on silver plates. Over the years, tagliatelle has acquired a much less sophisticated tradition, as tradition wills it to be eaten by simple folk, especially in the Bologna area.

How to make Tagliatelle by hand: Once you get used to this technique, it can be used to produce other types of flat pasta. You'll need a pasta machine for the rolled type pasta though, but I seem to get plenty of milage from the flat ones which come out so tender and nice, you won't miss the others at all. You might think this is a lot of work at the beginning, but just stick with and it will become easier and faster and then it will be THE way to go. Really. Here we go:

1- You will need: 2 cups (not full all the way, just so) good quality flour and 4 med whole eggs.
Put the flour on your workspace and make it into a little hill then make a well in the middle where you will put the eggs all at once. Get a fork and begin scrambling the eggs, incorporating the flour as you go, a little at a time, from the inside of the well towards the outside, in circles, until you get all of the flour wet. About 4-5 min I'd say.

2- Now you need to work he dough, with gusto! for about 10 min to get it smooth and a lovely yellow color. All the flour should be absorbed, but if it's still sticky, add a little more flour.

3- You will now begin to roll it out. Start from the outer edges first, away from you. When you roll one side out, turn the dough 90 degrees and roll out the other side. You will then have a bump in the center. This will let you know you are doing it right. As you roll it out more, the bump will disappear. Keep rolling it out, turning, making it thinner and larger, always from the center towards the edge. Once it's hard to turn the pasta because it's too large, roll it onto the rolling pin and then turn it sideways, keep rolling it so it will get thin. You should end up with a smooth (not sticky), flat pasta.

4- You now need to let is dry a little before cutting. Roll the pasta on your rolling pin and put it where it can rest undisturbed for 30-40 min. I lay it on a cotton tablecloth over the back of chair (yes, I know, but it works). Leave it dry until you can fold a tiny piece of the edge over itself and find it doesn't stick, then it's ready.

5- Bring it back to the table and fold it in a "S" shape (rolling it over) until you have a long tube. If it's easier for you to cut it in half to work, then you can make 2 pieces, it's ok. Now you're ready to cut it. Use a very sharp straight knife and cut it slices. You can decide how thick you want your noodles. I like them about 3/4 to 1 inch thick and it makes me think they're so luxurious this way since they will catch the sauce really well.

6- Once you've cut your roll, you need to open the pieces up and separate them. They are usually made into a "nest" kind of. If you're going to use them at once you can proceed, but if you're cooking them later in the day, lay a kitchen towel over them and keep them.

7- You'll need plenty of salted water to cook them. Fresh noodles take a lot less time to cook too and they will be ready in 2-3 min at the most. HINT: take a piece of pasta and drop it in the boiling water to test the time first. Check it every minute so you know how long it will take to leave the "al dente" and then cook the rest. It's very important to no overcook these delicate ribbons and you will be rewarded if you take care.

Okay, you've got the pasta, now how about some sauces to temp your palate. Here is a selection: Be sure to have the ingredients you're using ready. Once you begin it will be a fast procedure and as long as you are ready, it won't take any time at all:

Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Chestnuts and Sage: A quick sauce that tastes like heaven....
3 oz pancetta, chopped (scant 1 cup)
1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbl finely chopped fresh sage
8 oz bottled peeled roasted whole chestnuts, coarsely crumbled or your choice
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
2 tbl butter
1 tbl finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook pancetta in oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and 1 tbl sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in chestnuts and remove from heat.

Cook pasta and reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander and add to pancetta mixture in skillet. Add 1 cup reserved cooking water along with cheese and butter and cook, tossing constantly, over high heat until pasta is well coated (add more reserved water if necessary), about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve sprinkled with parsley and remaining tablespoon sage.

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms: With one type of mushrooms or a variety, this is a great sauce to have with your pasta. A rustic dish that celebrates it's ingredients!

2 large cups of mushrooms, sliced the same size (I used Eringi, Shimeji and Maitake)
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or pressed
2 slices (tbl) of butter
Salt & Pepper

Drizzle a little olive in a pan and bring to a high heat. Pour in the mushrooms - they should sizzle instantly (if they don't, you are just boiling them and the flavor won't be as good). Throw in the garlic cloves and one knob of butter. Toss and season with salt and pepper. You want to get some color on the mushrooms. . Add the pasta to the pan and mix well. Throw in the other knob of butter and toss to get a nice shine on the tagliatelle. Sprinkle the parsley, season and serve.
For a richer taste, grate some Parmesan over the pasta before serving.

Tagliatelle with Vegetables: Another simple presentation that will make this into a quick dish!

1/4 cup pineapple, in small pieces
1/3 cup mushrooms, chopped (your choice)
1/3 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup rockets (arugula/rucola), leaves
olive oil
salt & pepper

Peel and dice the onion, and saute it slightly in olive oil. Wash and cut the mushrooms in thick slices and add it to the pan. Cut and add the pineapple. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water if needed.
Add the tomatoes when the mushrooms are cooked. Add salt and pepper if you like.
Leave it all to simmer until most of the water is gone. Drain the pasta and add the sauce on top. Add the washed and drained rockets in top of sauce.

Tagliatelle with Sweet Figs and Feta: What more could you ask for, the flavors in this dish are amazing!

1/4 cup Pancetta, in small pieces
1/2 Red onion / thinly sliced
1 cup Mushrooms / sliced
1/2 cup Feta cheese ( or mozzarella )
1 cup Figs / torn and broken into bite sizes, take stone out
2 tbl Sugar
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Pesto (or mix Basil or cilantro, garlic and olive oil and mash up a little)
1 tbl Balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
Salt & Pepper

Drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan, fry pancetta and allow it to release fat. Add onions and start caramelizing the onion on low heat. Add a small sprinkle of sugar as the onion softens, stir through till the sugar melts, then add the sliced mushrooms and figs. As soon as the mushroom is cooked, take the pan off the heat, 1-2 min. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it quickly then put it back into the warm pan. Add a dollop pesto, (or toss with the basil mash) and add a light drizzle of extra virgin of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and season it all with a little salt and pepper. Stir it through then add the mushrooms, onion and the figs. Serve the whole thing on a warm plate, topped with some feta cheese.
NOTE:It important that you work quickly in mixing the ingredients as the heat of the warm pasta softens the figs and brings out that delicate sweetness in the fruit. It is best to start with both the cheese and the fig at room temperature, as cheese tastes better that way and less heat will be needed to warm up the figs.

Tagliatelle with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms and White Wine Sauce: This will be our dinner selection and we are all looking forward to tasting this if the aromas are any indication.

1-2 cups cooked chicken (I had some thigh pieces left over) in rustic pieces
3-4 slices of bacon or 1/4 cup pancetta (optional) - you can use olive oil instead too
1-2 cups mushrooms (use a mix of several types)
1 cup white wine (I had some leftover) or beer, etc.
Olive oil
salt & pepper
1 cup chicken stock (you could use canned if you like)
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp Truffle Oil (optional)
1-2 tbl chives, chopped fine

Fry up some finely diced bacon until brown and crispy. If you're vegetarian, omit and use olive oil instead. Once the bacon is crispy, remove and set aside and use the rendered fat. Slowly sweat the cut mushrooms in some olive oil or bacon fat and add in chopped garlic. Add pepper, then one cup of white wine and chicken stock. Add a pinch of saffron powder or 2-3 saffron sprigs. Add the chicken and let the sauce reduce. If you want more sauce then add 2 cups wine and stock.
Add cooked tagliatelle. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finish up by slowly drizzling in good quality extra virgin olive oil and a dash of the truffle oil. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve. Serve with sauce on the bottom of the plate, top with the pasta. You could add a drizzle of olive oil if desired and some grated cheese.

Pasta al Limone: The easiest sauce you could probably make from scratch and still have a luxurious meal. Takes about 1 minute to make and enjoy and NO ONE could possible screw this up either! It's really lovely and worth adding to your repertoire. Also, if you leave the lemon out this turns into a type of Alfredo sauce too.....

3-4 tbl butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1-2 inch thick, long lemon rind pieces
2-3 tbl lemon juice
1 cup grated cheese (your choice)
Cooked noodles

While the pasta cooks (the name of a great cookbook too!)- Heat the butter, lemon rind and lemon juice to a pan on med heat until the butter is melted. Add the cream but don't cook it. Drain the pasta once it's ready, return to the pan and pour the sauce on top and stir. Add the grated cheese and 1-2 tbl of the pasta water and mix well until the water is gone. Serve at once as it's best eaten hot.
NOTE: You can top with some chopped parsley if desired and pepper.

ANOTHER NOTE: I like to use Pancetta or Bacon because my family likes the flavor this gives, but if you're a vegetarian or just don't want the taste or added fat (this also adds not just richness but a smooth finish to sauces), but you can use Olive Oil just as well too or any other type of oil you want. Please change recipes to suit your taste and budget.
There you have it, slow food made fast, healthy and with so much flavor that nothing could compare. You can make the pasta in larger portions and save in a Tupperware type container and keep until you need it (making it even faster then), and once you have the "extras" you're adding cut and ready, it shouldn't take more than 10 min before you can have it on the table. Save leftovers that you can use for later too. Or prepare sauces in advance, refrigerate (put in zip lock bags) and re-heat for a quicker than ever dinner...... Fabulous quality food shouldn't be saved for a special occasion, as you can see here, any of these dishes could be done in the middle of the week and give you and your whole family a highlight in the middle of a busy week! So give yourself a treat anytime and enjoy! Ciao.....

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