Perfecting pasta and cooking from a veg box
Freshly made pasta is a luxury – silky soft strands, a little al dente, coated in a sauce. Yes I like caviar, oysters and the finest fillet steak but I would always be happy with simple food made well.
Italians understand this and can be quite dictatorial about which sauce goes with which type of pasta. On the other hand, Italian restaurants often embrace the highest form of culinary theatre, showing-off with gusto. Oversized pepper pots and zabaglione made at the table come to mind.
I was invited to a lunch for the launch of Dine Dubai at Caffe Florian in Dubai International Financial District which combined the two – pasta and drama. There was lots of fresh pasta (for starter and main – a little odd?) and the latter course was prepared in a hollow shell of Grana Padano, sprinkled with truffle oil and covered in shavings of black truffle. Tossing the pasta and grating on the truffle was carefully orchestrated and most enjoyable to watch.
The flavours were wonderful – the musky earthiness of the truffle with the tang of the cheese. But…and I feel a bit churlish criticising a free lunch, the texture of the fresh pasta, especially given the provenance of the restaurant, left me wanting. I made a mental note to give my neglected pasta machine an airing.
When I looked at my veg box I ditched an idea for a flights of fancy blue-cheese and fig-filled pasta; you have to use the ingredients you have or watch them languish in the fridge. Basil, potatoes and beans were in abundance so my choice was pasta Genovese. Even with making fresh pasta and pesto this doesn’t take long to make especially when you have some enthusiastic
child teen labour in the kitchen to help with the kneading. It’s the ultimate one pot cooking too. My bonus is that everyone in my family will eat it – a victory indeed.
And the result? Blowing my own trumpet here but it knocked the socks of the thicker, chewier CF version – my tagliatelle were fine, smooth and silky just how we like them. Excellent green beans are part of the Bumble Box at the moment and they were far tastier than the flown-in Kenyan variety especially combined with fresh, organic basil.
If you are inspired to make your own pasta there is a festino of recipes for the Monthly Mingle. Juls from Jul’s Kitchen is a self-confessed pasta maniac and she extolls us “get over your fresh pasta fear, roll up your sleeves and enter the Italian way of life.”
Pasta Genovese – for 4 people
Ingredients – pasta
400g pasta flour (I used Doves’ Farm)
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
Ingredients – pesto
Large bunch of fresh basil (if using the pots you will need at least two)
Small handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted (use a dry frying pan)
A sliver of garlic (about a quarter of a clove)
Extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of grated parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients – Genovese sauce
Two medium potatoes (about 200g), peeled and cut into chunks
Large handful of green beans
Parmesan cheese (for sprinkling)
To make the pasta: Place the flour and salt on a work surface (you could use a bowl but it’s easier this way) and make a large well in the centre. Break the eggs into the well and use a fork to lightly beat them. Incorporate a little flour from the edges of the well, a bit at a time, whisking all the while. Gradually incorporate more and more flour. When the mixture is no longer runny you can bring in all the flour. Use your hands or a dough scraper (my favourite method). Scrape and turn the shaggy dough until it starts to form a ball. Knead it for about 10 minutes until smooth. Let it rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes then cut in half. Keep one half covered in cling film or a damp tea towel (you can see from the pictures that my dough got a bit dry at the edges). Flatten the ball of dough with your hands and either roll out as thinly as you can or put through a pasta machine on the largest setting a few times. Fold the dough into the middle and roll through again until smooth, then gradually reduce the width of the rollers until you have a thin, smooth, even sheet of pasta. Continue with all the pasta then cut into sheets. Dust each sheet with flour, fold in half lengthways, then lengthways again and again and cut into even chunks (it got too dark in my kitchen for photos but you can see how here). Loosen the rolls into nests.
To make the pesto: Use a food processor (my small Braun is ideal) and blitz the basil, pinenuts and garlic in bursts until cut small (alternatively grind in a pestle and mortar but you will get a more pulpy result). Add the cheese and blitz once or twice to combine. Stir in the olive oil to make a fairly loose sauce without being runny. Season to taste.
To make pasta Genovese: Put a large pot of water onto boil (and warm a serving bowl in a low oven). Add the potatoes and simmer, test after 10 minutes – they should be almost cooked, add the beans and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes (depending on the size of bean). Add the pasta and bring back to the boil for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander placed over a bowl. Put the pesto into the serving bowl with the drained pasta mixture and some of the cooking water. Everything should be coated with the sauce. Serve with extra black pepper and parmesan cheese.
P.S. When I was finishing off this post an email popped into my box from Leek Soup having a rant about restaurants, farmers markets and making her own fresh buckwheat pasta. Serendipity as they say and I’m so tempted by Dina’s gorgeous recipe while my machine is out!
Could you live without pasta? My family couldn’t. What’s your favourite? Appreciate your comments.