Every one loves Saturdays. I am sure of it.
It is the only day of the week that is entirely free of obligation, stress or anxiety of one type or another. Sundays do not have the same quality. It is simply too close to Monday. Which makes a Saturday the ideal day for cooking.
It is only on a Saturday that the home cook – who might be working during the week or run around seeing to the needs of children – has enough unhurried time to properly do dishes that require intensive preparation or long cooking times. Slow braised short ribs or shanks of beef. Roasts of beef or whole pork belly. Steamed puddings. Rich stocks and velvety demi glazes. You get my drift?
Unless you have indulged the night before, chances are that you’d wake up with a fresh mind Saturday morning. Maybe, you slept a little longer. Wake up to a gentle cuddle and a lie in.
Over the first cup of hot beverage and buttered toast you find that you have a peaceful mind. Unperturbed by the sounds of your nearest neighbours and the streets beyond.
Now is a good time to let the mind be creative. Think of something to cook that would add to the peaceful quality of the day. Treat this as a meditative state, and what ever your do, do not engage with any thoughts of shopping or going to the mall. The mall is full. I guarantee you that. And do not switch on the television. This time of the year, it is filled with rugby and noisy cartoons. I guarantee you that too.
Treasure the peaceful mind. Have another cup and flip through a few magazines or cook books. For it is time to cook a dish to match your desire to do good and give the world and to those you hold so dear, something special.
I have exactly two cups of well-brewed coffee before I start roaming the kitchen cupboards.
I am an impulsive shopper when it comes to ingredients. So my cupboards often reward me with unexpected treats when I roam through them. A few weeks ago, I found a pack of 00 flour imported from Italy tucked away in a corner of the cupboard just above the stove. I remember the day I bought it. It was the day I also bought gluten flour and the shop’s entire stock of xanthan gum. Uncommon, curious ingredients that I hoped would drive my creativity even further.
But, back to the 00 flour.
The “00” indicates that is finely milled flour. It is low in gluten (much lower than ordinary bread flour for example), which makes it perfect for applications that do not require much rising such as pizzas and pastas. Too much gluten makes the dough stretchy and stringy and difficult to roll out. Thus, if you can’t find 00 flour for your pizza or pasta, use cake flour instead which has a much lower gluten content than bread flour.
Over the past few months, Aliza Green’s book “Making Artisan Pasta” has been a source of great inspiration. So, with a packet of 00 flour in hand I headed over to the book shelf and retrieved it from its resting place between Elizabeth David’s books on Italian and Mediterranean cooking.
“Making Artisan Pasta” is full of ideas on how to transform ordinary “two-eggs-and-flour” home made pasta into something quite extraordinary, but two particular recipes captured my imagination: asparagus ravioli stuffed with asparagus mousse and egg yolk, and chocolate pasta. As it so happened, I had some fresh asparagus and eggs in the fridge, and some organic cocoa powder left over from a previous chocolate truffle experiment. I was in business.
Making home made pasta is much easier than what you think. Having a pasta-rolling machine helps, but it not essential. The few hundred dollars invested in this nifty gadget will be worth many hours of fun and joy and many happy meals. Believe me, I have two.
In its most basic form, pasta is made by mixing eggs and flour to form dough. The dough is then rolled out (by machine or hand) into thin sheets, cut into strings or pressed into shapes, left to dry a little and then cooked and served with a sauce.
The following tips will help to improve your pasta making skills, and elevate the quality of your home made pasta even more.
- Flour with higher protein content (more gluten) will absorb more liquid (water or eggs). Dough made with such flour will also dry out much quicker and crack a lot faster. Thus, keep the dough covered with a wet cloth or plastic wrap at all times.
- The dough has enough fluid content if you press your thumb into it and it comes away clean.
- If you are not machine rolling your pasta dough, you need to knead it for much longer to ensure that it is smooth and elastic. At least ten minutes of kneading is required for hand rolled pasta.
- Make sure all your base ingredients (eggs, flour or water) are at room temperature. This makes it easier to combine and knead. Work on warmer surfaces such as wood, and if possible avoid cold surfaces such as granite. Work on floured surfaces to prevent to dough from sticking, and make sure your flour your pasta machine too.
- All pasta dough should be rested after kneading and before rolling out. Cover the dough with cling film and let it rest for about 30 minutes at least. Dough from grainy flour such as semolina should rest longer. Resting allows the gluten to relax and thus makes the dough easier to work with.
- Allow the fresh pasta to dry a little before cooking it.
Those who have witnessed me at work in the kitchen will testify to the royal mess I make. I don’t care as it is all to their benefit.
With pasta it is no different. I spread flour on work surfaces with elaborate whooshes of both arms and often disappear behind a dense cloud of flour. I chop with loud conviction and crank the rolling machine with flamboyant song. And when the cat unintentionally walked over the leftover pasta dough, I encouraged her to do it again, for her fresh paw prints on the bright green pasta dough looked so pretty.
Hell, I might even be onto something special. A new form that would hold it’s sauces well. If only I remembered to wash her feet.
It was a good day that ended with eating well. Asparagus ravioli stuffed with asparagus mousse and egg yolk and for dessert, chocolate pasta with zabaglione and fresh strawberries.