Reflections on Fresh Pasta

fettucine1
Every time I make home-made pasta, I ask myself why I don’t make it more often. Nothing comes close to the flavor and texture of these fettuccine, made from just two ingredients: flour and eggs.

Granted, it may take a few attempts before you master making the dough, but even if you fail miserably and your dough simply won’t come together, your loss is minimal: a cup of flour and two large eggs (the proportion I typically use following Marcella Hazan’s instructions in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

But the first time you’re successful, you’ll feel it in your hands after about 8 minutes when the dough is, according to Hazan, as “smooth as baby skin.”

Rolling out and cutting the dough has been made easier with the hand-cranked pasta machine and, if you’re lucky enough to have a KitchenAid stand mixer, their pasta roller/cutter attachment frees up both hands for the process.

My favorite sauce for fresh pasta also comes from Hazan and, like the pasta, it calls for just a few ingredients: tomatoes, butter, onion, and salt. Cook everything over low but steady heat for 45 minutes, taste for salt, and discard the onion.

But fresh pasta is so good, it can be enjoyed simply just with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

If you’ve always wanted to make fresh pasta at home but have been afraid to try, my advice to you is: just do it.

Pressure Cooker Meat Sauce with Rigatoni

pcpasta2sm

As some of you may know, I’m a fan of the pressure cooker for weeknight suppers—especially when getting home after 7. It allows me to prepare comfort food quickly and with minimal effort. Nevertheless, I have shied away from using it for pasta dishes, until I came across a recipe titled “Weeknight Meat Sauce with Rigatoni” in America’s Test Kitchen’s Pressure Cooker Perfection with a cooking-under-pressure time of 5 minutes.

What appealed to me most about the recipe was that, unlike so many that abound for pressure cooker pasta, it wasn’t loaded with cheese and seemed to allow for an al dente pasta by finishing its cooking without the lid after the steam was released.

I’m sure that my purist friends will balk at this recipe and may question my loyalty to authentic Italian cooking.To them, I must concede that the end product of the recipe has far too much sauce for my liking. Indeed, it calls for 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes, a 14.5 ounce of can diced tomatoes drained, and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.  Moreover, I was disappointed that it uses oregano and red-pepper flakes while its introduction claims its goal was a “sauce with the flavors of a Bolognese” is misleading.

pcpasta1sm
The ingredients

Despite these weak points, I was pleased with how this dish turned out. Cremini  mushrooms, which were browned along with chopped onion, were a nice complement to the ground beef, adding to the meatiness of the sauce. I also added some ground nutmeg to the browned meat as I do when preparing a traditional ragù Bolognese.

Although I know I will never achieve the heights of a true ragù, I plan to experiment with this recipe after the holidays, using more traditional ingredients and definitely far less tomato.

An  adaptation of the original recipe can be found here: http://www.comfycook.com/2014/05/weeknight-meat-sauce-with-rigatoni.html

Wine Pairing: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Pizza Crust V

pizzatopsm

Pizza was on the menu last night and thanks to a video on the New York Times “Cooking” website, I’ve improved my pizza stretching technique. I’ve abandoned my rolling pin and now use only my hands. As a result, my pizzas are now closer to being round and hole free.

In an earlier post, I wrote both about the pizza-crust recipe from Rebecca’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn and the Baking Steel, which recently replaced my pizza stone.

Below are before and after shots of the two pizzas we made last night. With the Baking Steel pre-heated for an hour at 500°F, the pizza cooks at the same temperature for about 9 minutes.

If you’re looking to improve your pizza-making skills, I highly recommend taking a look at this video and trying out the recipe.

First Pizza Uncooked
First Pizza Uncooked
pizza1cookedsm
First Pizza Cooked
Second Pizza Uncooked
Second Pizza Uncooked
Second Pizza Cooked
Second Pizza Cooked

I used my oven’s broiler for about a minute to get a browner crust.

Wine Pairing: Lambrusco

 

Braised Pork Shoulder Roast

platedroastsm

Yesterday morning, we went to our local butcher to purchase some pork shanks, which I had planned to braise with smoked paprika. Unfortunately, they only had two: one large, one small. That wouldn’t do. As I scanned the display, I espied a pork shoulder roast that prompted me to think of a Facebook post by cookbook author Michele Scicolone on braised pork, which called for, you guessed it, a pork shoulder roast.

Even though we weren’t having dinner guests, I bought the almost four-point roast, and used my phone’s Facebook app to bring up Michele’s post for the recipe and shopping list. She claimed that “nothing is better than a pork shoulder especially when made in the classic Italian way, braised with aromatic vegetables, rosemary and wine.” Well after making it for dinner last night I have to agree—this was indeed the best pork roast I have ever made. Succulent, juicy, and aromatic, perfectly textured, it was absolutely delicious.

I made a few variations, using one large sweet onion rather than the two medium onions called for, increasing the amount of wine and decreasing the amount of water, and adding a tad more fresh rosemary and a pinch of fennel pollen.

The most difficult part of this recipe was waiting for this roast to finish cooking while being tantalized by its seductive aromas that wafted from the oven. We were salivating as it came out of the oven.

As recommended by the author, I served the dish accompanied by white beans and chose a young Barbera d’Alba for our wine.

Here’s a link to Michele’s post: Brasato di Maile for a Festive Dinner Party. Note that a misprint in the recipe erroneously calls for a 14 pound roast as opposed to a 4 pound one.

Onions, Carrot, and Celery are finally chopped

Chopped aromatics
Chopped aromatics

The roast is patted dry and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper:

The seasoned roast
The seasoned roast

The roast is browned on all sides. It’s essential for flavor to take the time to brown the roast well.

Bronwed roast
Browned roast

After browning the roast, I removed it from the pot and sautéed the vegetables, added the garlic, rosemary, fennel pollen, and the wine, and brought them to a simmer. I then returned the browned roast, along with its juices, to the pot.

The roast cooks for about 2.5 hours, or until easily pierced by a fork.

The finished roast
The finished roast

Wine Pairing: Barbera, Chianti Classico, Petite Sirah