Books and winter go hand in hand. I was planning to stick to library books for inspiration but a few purchases have crept through the door. The cost of a good second hand cookbook is usually less than half the price of a new magazine. Savers second hand store provides most of my cheap finds, while the Book Grocer is a great source of remaindered books.
Many species of fish are at their peak in winter. The snapper were almost jumping at the Preston market last week, along with a winter specialty, a rare item, small gutted cuttlefish. I bought one large snapper carcass to make fish stock to freeze, one snapper to bake, and 1/2 kilo of cuttle fish to freeze. Five fishy meals for $19. I was very happy with this baked snapper recipe from Neil Perry. We devoured young Roger the Snapper with gusto.
I am a late comer to the sweet, exotic taste of fresh figs. I put this down to the fact that I didn’t grow up with a fig tree in the backyard, and so I never tasted fresh figs as a child. If I mention figs to those of my mother’s generation, they always respond with the word ‘jam’, indicating that fresh figs didn’t feature in their cooking repertoire but knew them only in jam. Figs, until recently, were not sold in fruit shops and markets, being difficult to transport and keep. You either learnt to love them or hate them based on your ready access to the fresh fruit. Figs now appear in our markets, especially farmer’s markets, and often fetch a grand price.
In Italy, figs have been associated with Cucina Povera, poor rural or peasant food based on seasonality. Many amusing idiomatic expressions centre around the humble fresh fig. If you say ‘mica pizza e fichi‘ you are indicating that something you have, such as a fine wine or a new purchase, was quite expensive, not like pizza and figs which are cheap and commonplace. Another expression- nonimportare un fico secco, ( doesn’t matter a dried fig) means something is of little importance, not unlike the English expression ‘not worth a fig’ or ‘couldn’t give a fig’, the latter phrase now modernised in Australia, a land not shy in embracing creative variations of the ‘F’ word, to ‘couldn’t give a fuck’, or ‘a flying fuck’. Given that fresh figs are now too expensive and fashionable, figgy expressions may become obsolete, unless you grow them yourself.
Ottolenghi’s Fig, Yoghurt and Almond Cake
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar, plus 1 tsp extra
3 large free-range eggs
180g ground almonds
100g plain flour
½ tsp salt
Scraped seeds of ½ vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla paste
1 tsp ground star anise
100g Greek yoghurt
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm loose-based cake tin with baking parchment. Put the butter and sugar in an electric mixer bowl, and use a beater to work them well until they turn light and pale. Beat the eggs lightly, then, with the machine on medium speed, add them gradually to the bowl, just a dribble at a time, adding more only once the previous addition is fully incorporated. Once all the egg is in, mix together the almonds, flour, salt, vanilla and anise, and fold into the batter. Mix until the batter is smooth, then fold in the yogurt.
Pour the batter into the lined tin and level roughly with a palette knife or a spoon. Cut each fig vertically into four long wedges, and arrange in circles on top of the cake, just slightly immersed in the batter. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 170C/340F/gas mark 3 and continue baking until it sets – about 40-45 minutes longer. Check this by inserting a skewer in the cake: it’s done if it comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool down before taking it out of the tin and sprinkling with a teaspoon of caster sugar.
Serve cake with a syrup made of figs, or fresh yoghurt or marscapone.
Other highly recommended fig posts from bloggers this week.
A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.
This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle, a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in aid of travel fantasy.
Fior di Mandorle. Almond pastrieswith honey and spice
200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
100 g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 small organic orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 large, or two very small beaten egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing/confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 150c.
Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.
Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.
Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.
My next Sicilian instalment will be Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.
I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas this year. During the weeks leading up to that day, I won’t be counting plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins, gutting rooms and borrowing chairs, moving furniture to make more room, ironing table cloths, emptying fridges, making lists and more lists, and anticipating an event for 29 or so guests. On the day, I may be sitting under a shady tree, eating some simply cooked fresh fish, followed by a few light biscotti, enjoying a conversation, good music, and a bottle of wine.
Despite this once in a lifetime opportunity, or escapist retreat, the making of festive delicacies is, for me, very much part of December and still continues. Last year I enjoyed making Cuddureddi, a spicy little Sicilian tart. They were eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas day or were given away to friends. This year, I am looking to Sicily once again for inspiration. What could be more tempting than chocolate, almond and cherry biscotti, usually found in the pasticcerie in Siracusa, Sicily?
These little almond, cherry and chocolate bites can be thrown together very quickly and only take around 12 – 15 minutes to cook. They are soft centred, with the texture of a truffle more than a biscotto. They are gluten-free, dairy free and very moreish. Wrap a few in cellophane to give to your child’s favourite teacher, or give little gifts to loved ones during Advent. Dicembre e` un mese bellissimo, mentre il giorno di Natale puo` essere stressante!
Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/ Chocolate cherry amaretti biscuits
250 g finely ground almonds
120 g caster sugar
50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 extra-large egg whites, ( or three medium )
a pinch of salt
30 gr icing/confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 160 c.
Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and add to the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. ( Note- if you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.)
Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Form balls with the almond mixture then roll them in the icing sugar. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.
Bake until they have a golden tinge, approximately 12- 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20 balls. Note, my edited pics make the balls look rather large but they only measure around 4 cm.
Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno, 2016
For my dear friend Diane. Let’s spend next Christmas in Sicilia, cara mia.
Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.
Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.
An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.
I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.
Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.
This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.
And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.
2 large onions, sliced
55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
pinch of chilli powder
pinch of turmeric
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.
Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.
Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.
Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.
I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.
I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.
Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.
I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.
My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.
Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?
If you’re not Siciliani or Greek, you’re probably wondering what fave or broadbeans have to do with biscuits and the dead. Fave beans are the emblematic dish of death,
“The ancient Greeks saw the black spot on the petals of the broad bean plant as the stain of death and used the beans in funeral ceremonies but refused to eat them. Pythagoras thought that their hollow stems reached down into the earth to connect the living with the dead, and that therefore fave contain the souls of those who have died. The Romans honoured their connection with death but cooked and served the beans as the most sacred dish at funeral banquets.” ¹
The day of the dead, I Morti, is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 with FavedeiMorti, little sweet biscuits formed to look like broadbeans, as well as other sweets such as ossi da morto, bones of the dead, and sweets shaped like human figures. For many Siciliani, a tablecloth is laid out on the family tomb, complete with chrysanthemums, the flowers of the dead, and the family gathers for a picnic. This may sound rather morbid until you consider that on the day of the dead, I Morti, ancestors and relatives sneak back into the living world, back through that fissure in time, to be with the living again.
Given this fine Italian tradition ( not to mention its connection with similar Celtic practices), I went in search of a few customary and very simple recipes, from Siena to Sicily, to leave a few sweet things on the table or the grave, come November 1 and 2.
Fave Dei Morti
These tiny, crunchy biscuits are easy to whip up and are wonderful dunked in something strong. Despite their simplicity, they taste festive and are very moreish. I need to make another batch for the otherworldly ‘visitors’ on November 1.
100 gr almond meal ( or almonds finely ground to a powder)
100 gr sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbls rum
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
70 gr unbleached plain flour ( AP flour)
Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, egg and rum. Mix until well blended. Add the spices and flour and stir until the dough is well blended.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Flour a work surface very lightly and roll each piece into a log the width of a finger. Cut into 4 cm ( 1/12 inch) pieces and place them on a baking paper lined tray. Flatten each piece slightly.
Heat oven to 175ºC and bake until barely browned, around 16 minutes. Makes around 40 pieces. Dust with icing sugar and store well in a tin.
¹ Celebrating Italy, The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods. Carol Field. 1990
The Spring weather is so wet and cold this year that I’ve been forced to spend far more time indoors. The gardens and summer vegetable planting have been put on hold- again. To compensate, we are having four days of cheffy home cooked meals, little dinners for two that require a degree of concentration, an interesting sauce and some clever assembling at the last-minute. And that, dear reader, means more recipes on this blog. Today’s recipe started off as Duck Breast with Orange Spiced Sauce. I often find myself substituting fish or vegetables in meat based recipes found in good cookbooks, especially if there is a good sauce involved. In this way, each section of the book gets used. You should try this trick. Fresh Atlantic Salmon is probably the best substitute for meat, given that it is fairly robust and holds its shape well and is readily available.
The recipe is for four people. I simply halved it for our little dinner for two. The original used 4 200 g duck breasts, skin lightly scored. I have substituted fresh Tasmanian salmon and used around 160 g per person. This quantity is plenty for one serving, despite the tendency of major supermarkets to cut larger pieces, another reason to adopt a good fishmonger.
4 salmon pieces, ( not tail pieces) around 160 g per piece
knob of butter and a little olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon 5 spice powder
1/3 cup ( 80 g) brown sugar
50 ml red wine vinegar
1 cinnamon quill
2 star anise
2 cup grand Marnier ( or brandy)
2 cups baby green peas, just cooked
mint leaves to serve.
Preheat the oven to 220c. FF
Zest all the oranges, juice 2 oranges and set aside. Remove the peel and white pith from the remaining 2 oranges, then slice them into thin rounds and set aside.
Cut each salmon pieces across into 3 pieces. Combine 5 spice powder with 2 teaspoons sea salt, rub them into the salmon pieces in a bowl and set aside.
Place a large non stick pan over medium heat, add butter and oil to the pan and fry the salmon, skin side down, until quite crisp. Remove the fish and place them on a metal tray in the oven to complete cooking for 5 or more minutes.
Return the pan to low heat. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnamon and star anise, then cook on low for 3 minutes, until caramelised. Add the Grand Marnier or substitute, the orange juice and zest, then simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add the orange slices for 1 minute to warm through.
Cook the peas until just done and keep hot. Tear the mint leaves.
Warm the serving platter and plates. Place the peas on the serving platter, add salmon pieces and any juices from the tray, place the orange slices and mint leaves around the fish, then pour over the hot sauce. Serve it on hot plates.
The rain pours down, the light is low, let’s light the fire and eat well.
Adapted from a recipe found in Delicious, Simply the Best, Valli Little, 2011. p. 18
When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm. I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.
On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.
My mother, born and raised in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV, a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.
I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.
I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake – the Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.
Lemon Almond Syrup Cake
50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
200g almond meal
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
190g castor sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp almond essence
1½ large lemons, finely zested
150g of castor sugar
2 lemons zested ( or one large)
125ml of lemon juice
250ml of water
Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 – 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.
We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.
Pavlova is an easy dessert for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.
Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )
4 egg whites ( room temperature)
pinch of salt
250 g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon white vinegar
few drops of pure vanilla
Preheat oven to 180°c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150° c and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.
From Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion
While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.
Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.
200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
a dash of rum or brandy
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
some whipping cream to loosen.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.
Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.
PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte 🙂
Eggs are always in season around here, though the number increases dramatically during Spring. I’m now gathering around 15 eggs per day, requiring some strategic marketing as well as more baking. My grandmother, with regard to the economy of keeping chooks, used to say, ‘put in a shilling and get back sixpence’, and I often think this is true. Fresh egg pasta is one simple way to reduce the stash.
Take three eggs and crack them into a bowl over 300 gr of plain white flour, do a little mixing, some kneading, some waiting, followed by some cutting, and within one hour, you have enough pasta to feed a crowd. Of all the transformations that happen in my kitchen, pasta making is high up on the list, running a close second to the mystical and semi- religious transfiguration of flour, salt and water into bread.
I often use a softer flour for pasta making, such as an Italian doppio zero ’00’ flour but really, any plain white flour is just as good. After measuring the flour, add it to a bowl, then crack 3 large eggs into the centre and mix well. There is no need to make a little volcano of flour on a flat bench with eggs cracked into its crater. Volcanoes are messy things and explode in unexpected ways. Use a bowl. I usually have an extra egg yolk on hand, in case more moisture is needed to bring the dough together. I don’t use water, salt or oil. Just flour and eggs! After the dough comes together, knead well on a floured bench for around 10 minutes. As you knead, the dough will turn silky and more elastic.
I often cheat, and who doesn’t, by mixing the dough in the food processor, then when it forms a ball, I remove it to knead on the bench. There’s no getting out of the kneading: it is the only tedious part of pasta making so turn the radio on. (Did I hear you sing that old song, ‘who listens to the radio, that’s what I’d like to know.’? Has Jon Faine become a shock jock? Turn that man off and play some Puccini instead.)
Take the ball of kneaded dough and flatten into a disc, then wrap it in plastic and leave it for at least half an hour to relax and further hydrate. It won’t hurt to let the dough rest for longer so you can go out at this point, saving the fun part for later.
Attach your pasta machine to the bench. Flour up some cutting boards and tea towels. Cut one sixth of the pasta dough and feed through the machine at its widest setting. Fold it in half then feed through again. This makes the pasta sheet wider. Then continue to feed the pasta through the rollers, lower the setting cogs down a notch each time, stopping at number two. This part of pasta making is best shared with a helper.
Now you get to choose the shapes you want. My last week’s batch produced enough pasta squares for two trays of cannelloni, some cenci or rags which I love to add to soup, and a pile of cappellini, a finely cut spaghetti. Three eggs. Three hundred grams of flour. Three meals. It really is much simpler than my long winded description and the results are worth the effort.
I followed Stefano de Pieri’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, from his Modern Italian Food, 2004, which is reproduced here, unchanged. Sometimes it’s good to follow a recipe for a dish that you think you know well. You might learn some new tricks. I always use a heat diffuser when making besciamella or white sauce as it has a tendency to catch. And you will need to cut around 20 squares from your fresh pasta batch for this amount of filling.
parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus an extra handful
salt and pepper
home made egg pasta
freshly grated nutmeg
To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter and mix with the flour. Cook a little but without browning. Stir in the milk, bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon. Initially the mixture will be like a gluggy lump but as you add the milk it will break down more and more. Cook it gently for 20 minutes or more, taking care that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg to taste. This recipe should yield a fairly soft sauce, which is what we want. If it is too thick add more milk or water. If you think you have some lumps in it, pass it through a fine sieve and everything will be all right.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach, drain and squeeze dry. (I far prefer using proper bunches of spinach, rather than ready-trimmed little spinach leaves.) Roughly chop the spinach.
Heat the butter in a large pan and briefly sauté the spinach. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and mix well.
Roll the pasta through the last setting on your pasta machine and cut the sheets into sections about 10 cm wide. Cook the pasta sheets in plenty of boiling salted water, then plunge into a bowl of cold water. When cold, place on a tea towel to dry.
When you are ready to cook the cannelloni, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread a third of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the pasta sheets on a work surface and spoon some filling along the centre of each. Roll up to form fat cigars. Arrange the filled cannelloni in the baking dish and spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake for around 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.
If you like, you can introduce a tomato element to this dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of home-made tomato sauce over the béchamel before topping with the extra grated cheese. Don’t overdo the tomato though, as the acid can rather dominate the flavour.