Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pretsels

Like most baking endevours, pretsels are therapeutic. A little needy, perhaps, as they need to be enriched with malt syrup and a bit of butter. They need a good 90 minutes to proof and benefit from a cooler rise. They need a bath before baking, an eggwash and a hot baking stone.. but their great redemption comes in the eating: dense and chewy with contrasting bursts of crunchy coarse saltiness and that distinct 'pretsel' flavour achieved from the soda added to their bath.

And exhibiting their stereotypical behaviour, they get on smashingly well with beer.


This ale, from Mill Street Brewery, was a fortuitous find. Tankhouse has enough going on in both the hop and malt departments to stand up to the rich pretsels served alongside a stoneground artisanal mustard from Rayes.

Cheers to that!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

'nduja


'Nduja is a traditionally prepared paste of porkfat, ground offal, chilli peppers and salt.

Salivating stuff, huh?

While I admit that this, on paper, doesn't sound that good, it really is.

Native to the Southern Italian region of Calabria, 'nduja is ground fat and meat (nowadays) that is well seasoned with crushed, dried peppers and salt. The resulting rustic and highly spiced paste is often stuffed into a casing just like salami. It was a good way to preserve the fat, if you were lucky enough to have a pig to slaughter or access to its offal. Probably the earliest form of Calabrese convenience food, this could easily be rendered down in a saute pan with diced onions, garlic, and either a few fresh tomatoes or a small jar of conserva, then simply tossed with pasta.

Imagine our surprise when on the plane from Wellington last May, reading about pasta 'nduja in the pages of Australian Gourmet Traveller! Calabrese-born Salvatore Pepe of the Cibo Espresso franchise had contributed his version for their Masterclass Classic Cucina article.

These days, as Pepe also points out, better cuts are used and it can be less spiced and salted as it can be refrigerated if required. While the newfound fame of what was once considered peasant food ('nduja, pasta con cece, fagiolini..etc.) hasn't changed it's appearance on our table, it is amusing to point out to my suocero who has never imagined eating these dishes anywhere else but a casa.

Pasta 'nduja - Sangiorgese style

Recipe makes sauce for 1 pound of dry pasta. Select a ridged rigatoni or penne.

Half pound of 'nduja:
If you are lucky enough to have a butcher who will sell this by weight or:

Chop 200 g pork belly,
50-75 g trimmed chopped pork shoulder.
1-2 Tablespoons of smoked dried chillis, ground.
(or 1 Tbsp ground chilis and 1-2 tsp smoked ground paprika)
1-2 Tablespoons salt, preferably sea salt.

Mix ingredients in a bowl to distribute salt and chilli. Place mixture in mincer or meat grinder and process through fine die. A food processor will also work, just be careful to keep it emulsified (by pulsing) and not overwork or over heat.

I prefer to use this after a few days so the flavours have a chance to mingle. Although we use casings, it is easily stored in plastic wrap as well.

Open a wonderfully economical bottle of Cannonau di Sardegna, pour yourself a glass.

Heat saute pan over medium flame. Add olive oil and saute about 1/2 a large onion until soft. Add 'nduja in chunks with 1-2 cloves of garlic moving nduja around until it melts. Once melted (the fat will separate from the meatier bits), add 500mL of homemade conserva. Allow to simmer and reduce slightly. A few minutes before pasta is done add some torn basil leaves and chopped parsley.

Drain pasta, toss with sauce. Take pasta in serving bowl with cutlery and your wine glass to the dining area. Pass fresh grated Parmigiano at the table.

Mangia!

UPDATE: Had the opportunity to get some 'ndjua recipe tips from the locals. 

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lupini anyone?

These are lupini beans. Maybe you've enjoyed them in one of the Mediterranean countries where they are a popular bar snack but I found many people dislike them citing their offensive bitterness. While they are bitter, a little work makes these tasty wee protein rich pods addictively edible.

Here's how:

First, determine if you have presoaked lupini or if yours need soaking. If they simply taste kind of bland, salt your lupini in a bowl, stir well, pour yourself a glass of wine and mangia!

Lupini that are inedibly bitter (and shouldn't be eaten due to high alkaloid levels) will definitely require a soaking after which they are perfectly safe and delicious. To soak: Place the lupini and plain cool water in a plastic container. Leave at cellar temperature or in the fridge changing the water over a few days, depending on the level of bitterness. A few days, up to 4-5, might be required. I don't add salt to the soaking water as I find it makes them too salty and a little bit tough. More on lupini here.

Another possibility, rarely found, however, is that your beans are hard, dry and near brown. If this is the case, not only will you need to soak them, you'll have to cook them too.

When ready to eat, these are firm, not brittle crunchy, but with a definite bite. You should remove the exterior husk before eating by either biting through it and discarding it before chewing or you can manually pinch them out of their 'shells'. They shouldn't be terribly slippery so the latter is a preferable method if you aren't keen on spitting them out at the table. Provide a small dish for rubbish (or feed them to your chickens or pigs.. they are favourite) .

These have been soaking for a few days in anticipation of today, La Festa di San Martino. Serve salted alongside other snacks, an olive mixture, chestnuts, walnuts, and hard bread with sarde to accompany beer and wine.

Salute!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Another anniversary

My, how time flies.. Today marks the second year of writing here at la tavola. Not as monumental as, say, a 50th Wedding Anniversary.. but still worth a mention. And at 155 posts, it isn't as busy around here as it is in some kitchens.. but I get in my fair share of mixing, baking, braising and other therapeutic culinary pursuits.

We also received a call last evening from a good friend visiting from Verbania. So a bit of a celebration dinner tonight, pasta of course, and a few glasses of wine..

Salute!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bocconotti

These little nuggets of lemon pastry shelled almond goodness are Calabrese bocconotti.
























An exterior shell of a mild lemony pasta frolla (of sorts) fashioned from egg yolks, olive oil, and flour inside which is an almond (amaretti type) biscuit filling made even more decadent by the addition of grated dark chocolate and a pinch of cinnamon. Sugar and whipped eggwhite make this nut based interior light and tender.

I use small vintage fluted petit four/tartlette molds bought from an Italian homeware/hardware shop (but the molds are stamped Sweden). They resemble tiny brioche molds.. a picture can be found here.

Like nearly everything else, bocconotti can vary from region to region in Italy. In Rome, they are filled with ricotta and covered with another layer of pastry. Around Italy's ankle, in Potenza, this Carnevale pastry is cut into rounds for straight edge molds and filled with cherry preserves. Bocconotti from Abruzzo are also covered but the filling (jam and ground almonds) is slightly more akin to this Southern interpretation. You'll likely also note a big difference in the recipes is the use of olive oil as oppposed to butter in the North and lard in Basilicata.

As for the actual amount of flour in the Calabrese 'recipe', good luck. It is a rare Calabresella that doesn't go by how the pastry feels and actually measures flour. I start with about 200 grams and add incrementally from there.. I've never truly measured the final amount.. but will pass it along when I make them next. With Christmas looming, that will be soon.

If you are adventurous, already in the know, or simply cannot possibly wait, here is the recipe as I have it. This makes cookies for a small village but you can easily cut it by half, especially if you aren't in possession of between 70-80 molds. The method will follow.

Calabrese Bocconotti

Pastry:
6 egg yolks
6 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp olive olio
Flour/farina (see comment above)
2-3 tsp grated lemon zest

Filling:
6 egg whites, whipped to stiff but not dry peaks
225 grams ground almonds
225 grams sugar
85 grams dark chocolate
pinch cinnamon
1-2 tsp grated lemon zest

Bocconotti are typically served with a liberal dusting of icing or confectionary sugar and are never far from their complementary companion: a steaming cup of espresso.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Eggplant fritters

Or fritelle di melanzane, or milangiane fritte in dialect, these golden eggplant studded fritters are very similar to patei AND they are tasty bits to have with beer.

Also delicious is this version, by Alex and Mari at Cuoche dell'altro mondo. So good in fact, they were gobbled up before I remembered to take a photo. I'll definitely be making them again in a few days when we celebrate the Festa di San Martino.

Festa di San Martino is the day we taste the new wine, il vino novello. Although traditionally, acompanied only by castagne arrosto, the menu will include a big bowl of olives, lupini, eggplant fritters, pasta and rapini, good bread and some cheese. A few slices of raw fennel will help to make room for the aforementioned roasted chestnuts, which I seem to be able to fit in no matter what.

All of us who made wine this year will be gathering for the festa.. I know it is hardly picnic weather but we'll be in the shed round the wood burner, roasting chestnuts and remembering the warm days of winemaking season.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The mandoline workout - gaufrettes

Gaufrettes refer to several edible wonders depending on which part of Europe you hail from.. they can be a sweet French biscuit, a Belgian waffle, or these savoury treats, like Gamelle's, made from potatoes.  I've also made them sturdier to line small ramekins similar to Bea's timbale. When turned out to serve, they make a stunning cover to herbed goat's cheese, pancetta and asparagus.

They also look lovely curled as a garnish. And, of course, they are delicious on their own.

I adore potatoes. There are so many ways to prepare them but crisps (or chips in North America), something I considered a treat as a child, remain a guilty snack that is still without substitute. Although wonderfully crisp when fried (using the oil blanching technique), I'm not as keen nowadays, however infrequently, to tuck into a bag or deep fry for all the obvious health reasons.  My solution: bake-fry my home-grown potatoes and sprinkle them with savoury rosemary salt.

To make gaufrettes, a mandoline is essential. I have a Bron and love it.  I use it regularly to slice everything from aubergine to zucchini and now it's time to give the humble potato a go. Pick a suitable potato type for the purpose and slice on the ridged blade, giving the potato a quarter turn each time to attain the lovely waffle pattern. There is a fine balance between thin and having them stick to the pan (not as much a concern with frying) so I slice just thin enough to achieve the holes. I place the slices in cold water until they are all sliced to prevent browning (and sticking together when frying) if I am making more than a small batch. To dry the potatoes of their starch or water (if soaked), I just lay them out on a tea towel and, in the meantime, prep a small batch of rosemary salt.

For the flavoured salt: In a mortar and pestle, grind some coarse sea salt (about a Tablespoon) and a sprig of rosemary (trimmed of woody bits and given a quick chop) until about the texture of regular table salt. If you don't like the rosemary bits (again, not ideal for frying or if you plan to store leftover salt for another use) don't chop it so that you can remove it whole or sieve it out. I like the smattering of rosemary over the gaufrettes so I leave it right in.

Place the gaufrettes on a lightly oiled tray, or alternatively, if you've got one of those refillable oil spray bottle thingies, give the tray and potatoes a liberal spritz, a healthy dose of rosemary salt and bake at 180C (or a little more if you are able to keep a close watch on the action in the oven - but not too hot). I give them a good shake and turn a few times as the baking process can take awhile and prefer a slower cook to prevent over browning/burning on the edges. I don't bother to peel them which is why they look quite toasty in the picture.

Break out a deck of cards, open a favourite brew and once these cool a little (they'll get increasingly crisp as they cool), enjoy! Just don't use the last of your potatoes, because you might be back in the kitchen making another batch when these are devoured.

Salute!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Crostata


There is something to be said for simplicity. Ricotta tart, creme brulée, pear bruschetta, baked pineapple with caramelised vanilla sauce and ice cream.. the list for simple but stunning desserts is endless. But for breakfast, in the land where the dark brown spread of choice is Nutella, and the Christmas panettone has yet to arrive, only a jam tart (or crostata) will do.

This tart is a bargain on the effort versus enjoyment scale. A bonus to the time constrained lovers of home baking.

The pastry. A simple shortcrust, chilled butter cut into flour.. it's sweet but with the grated zest of a lemon mixed with the egg. It has a slight tartness that balances the sweetness in the crust perfectly. This shell is NOT baked blind and the filling is quickly spread over the base adding to its ease of preparation . Before filling, however, use a fork to make sure the rolled dough is sufficently dotted with holes.

The filling. The filling is easy as. Although I have gone through the reduction process for apples, rehydrated figs and used other high maintenance fruits, any good quality jam will do. All the better if it is a fruit forward product (conserve) that might cost a bit more.. it's all worth it. There are also home-made quality tinned pie fillings that perform well in this crust. Not overly sweet, they are made to be baked down as a filling so the end result is less cloying. They'll suffice in a pinch.

And the recipe:

Dough

115 g butter, chilled
200 g flour
50 g sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
lemon zest (of half a lemon)
1 egg and 1-2Tbsp cream for wash

Cut cold butter into flour, salt and sugar until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

I use a fork and quickly move the mixture around the bowl to get an even texture. Grate the lemon zest over the 'dough' and add the egg. Combine until dough holds together, if it does not, add a little water. This should be no more than 1-2 Tsps.

Roll dough onto 2 disk shaped portions. (One slightly larger for the bottom layer an the other to be rolled out and cut into strips for the lattice top.) Set in fridge to chill for 30 miuutes.

Once dough has chilled, place bottom crust portion on floured board and dust rolling pin with flour. Roll out to even thickness (approx. 3mm) and drape around the rolling pin to carefully lay over a lightly greased 23cm tart pan (I like a round with a removable bottom section to assist with transfer to plate). Gently press corner sections down into pan without stretching dough too much, gently trim the edges to fit and patch any tears with trim. Cover dough with holes.. i.e. poke all over with fork.


Filling

350 g of conserve, jam or tinned pie filling (choose a good quality product with concentrated flavours). I'm quite keen on raspberry. Alternatively, any fruit that has been reduced down to a concentrated 'jam' will work here. Raw fruit and all their liquid will ruin the pastry.

Pour and spread evenly the filling of choice into the tart shell.

Roll out remaining dough and cut it into strips. Fashion into a lattice pattern over filling and trim edges again to be evenly matched to the shell. Press lightly to ensure a good seal and no shrinking. Use pastry brush to glaze lattice with egg/cream mixture.

Bake at 190C for about 30 minutes or until crostata is well browned. At gas 5, my oven takes 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool on rack. A wedge served with espresso is a nice after mass breakfast. As for how well this tart keeps, I can't say. There is never any left.