Pasta

Homemade Pasta

Is homemade pasta really worth the effort? In my opinion the answer is an emphatic yes!

Personally I really rather enjoy the satisfaction of rolling the dough out into luscious sheets of pasta, so I don’t find it too much of a bother at all, but that’s just me.

You can roll the pasta out by hand but I wouldn’t recommend it, rather get yourself a good quality pasta machine. Given how much cheaper it is to make your own pasta verses buying the ready made stuff, it is an investment that will pay for itself (well almost). You can also use the pasta machine to make your own ramen which was incentive enough for me to get one!

My basic rule-of-thumb when it comes to making your own pasta is 1 large egg and 100g of flour per person. This recipe is for 2 people, but feel free to add more flour and eggs depending on how many you are feeding. I also don’t add any salt to my pasta, but feel free to add a pinch if you are so inclined.

I usually have some left over which I dust with extra flour, place in a freezer bag and immediately put into the deep freeze – when you are ready to cook the pasta, drop it into the boiling water straight out of the freezer.

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Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter

For somebody who loves feeding others, I seem to have a propensity for surrounding myself with people with serious food issues.

The omnipresence of my famously flavourphobic partner aside, my small circle of family and friends seem to be a motley crew made up of those with various intolerances, medically restricted diets, committed (and occasional) vegetarians, coriander-loathers, banana-haters and even someone who can’t eat anything green. Whilst I love feeding each and every one of them, they do, however, present somewhat of a challenge to cook for. Luckily (for them?), I do love a good challenge and catering for theirPumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter specific needs and preferences does force me to try out new things. More often than not, the end results become firm personal favourites.

Which brings me to this particular recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel and Burnt Sage Butter – a dish so insanely good, just saying the name makes my mouth water! Born out of the need to feed a friend who is a borderline vegetarian (and a selfish desire to use a ravioli mould that I bought when last in Rome), this delightful little dish is damn near pasta-perfection on a plate.

A variation of the Italian classic Ravioli di Zucca, the addition of the thinly shaved fennel is a refreshing twist, both in terms of texture and flavour. The crisp fennel and lemon cuts through the richness of the pumpkin/pasta parcels and burnt butter, giving the original dish much needed balance.

This satisfying dish makes for an amazing starter, as it does a worthy main.

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Lasagne

It may not be considered the most exciting meal these days, but lasagne will forever be a dish close to my heart.

Believe it or not I was a painfully fussy eater when I was a child and lasagne was one of the few dishes I really enjoyed. Fuelled by an unhealthy affinity with Garfield the Cat, my youthful appetite for lasagne was as insatiable as  that of the grumpy ginger feline himself! Whenever my mother asked what I wanted to have for a special occasion the answer was always the same: lasagne, lasagne, lasagne!

LasagneIn a world obsessed with carb-cutting, the humble lasagne has become somewhat of a relic of family style cooking – a dish that your good old mum would make because she doesn’t know any better or hasn’t bought a new cookbook since 1985. A crying shame really, as this oven-baked Italian classic is a victim of its own popularity. Much like the equally misunderstood and shamelessly corrupted Spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne is in fact a dish of noble proportion and should be appreciated as such. Made well and with love, lasagne is truly a paragon of pasta perfection.

Rich and layered, lasagne is to food what a  hot water bottle is to a winter’s bed: the ultimate comfort. To build the perfect lasagne each layer must be generous and distinct, a balanced ménage à trois of punchy ragu (meat sauce), cheesy béchamel sauce and silky pasta.

Lasagne also needs time to rest before serving. Allowing it to cool down will afford each layer the opportunity to solidify its presence in the overall dish and not be overwhelmed by the molten maelstrom of flavour that is a lasagne immediately after it’s taken out of the oven. At least half an hour is needed for everything to cool down although a couple of hours would be better, but overnight in the fridge would be ideal.

Lasagne reheats wonderfully in the microwave in just a few minutes or in an oven (covered in foil) at 180°C for about 15 minutes.

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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

IMG_6913 (600x800)One of the ultimate “love it” or “loathe it” meals, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is a dish accustomed to evoking passionate reactions in all those who dare eat it! Robust, seductive and “easy”, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca appropriately translates into English as “Spaghetti of the Whore”.

In spite of its alarmingly rowdy name, puttanesca has probably less to do with salacious ladies of the night and perhaps more to do with its “trashy” ingredients. The dish is alleged to have been created by a restaurant owner in the 1950’s to appease some rowdy late-night patrons. As closing time was upon them, the patrons supposedly demanded the owner quickly whip them up something to eat, insisting that it could be made with “any kind of garbage (puttanata)”. With just some leftover tomatoes, capers and olives, the obliging owner threw together a simple pasta sauce that would become the classic dish we now all know and love…or loathe. At least that’s the PG version of puttanesca’s origins and is perhaps nothing more than Wikiepdia-lore – we will never really know for sure.

I, however, prefer to believe in puttanesca’s seedier origin-story as it speaks to the heart of the unrefined character of the dish. This is a pasta sauce born out of back alleys of Sicily, ordered with harsh whispers and eaten with the appetite of the insatiable and unsophisticated. This is a dish that is as unapologetic and unrepentant as the women who reputably ate it. Puttanesca is a sauce that holds nothing back – there are few pasta sauces that pack this much of a punch with each mouthful. Coarse, salty and bordering on the uncouth, to my mind Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is indeed a dish that is aptly named!

Aside from its history, the one other point of contention with regards to puttanesca are anchovies! Whilst I cannot imagine puttanesca without them, I must point out that the addition of these divisive little fish to the sauce isn’t always the norm. In fact, anchovies were a later inclusion to the dish and are still only used depending on regional tastes and variations. Outside of Italy though, anchovies are synonymous with puttanesca and I see absolutely no reason to advocate otherwise.

Irrespective of which version of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca’s history you chose to believe, or whether you want it with anchovies or not, the next time you order it at a restaurant just bear in mind what you are really saying to the waitron. Depending on the neighbourhood you are in, when you utter the words, “I’ll have the puttanesca, please”, you might get more than you bargained for!

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Black Pud’tanesca

Black Pudding Pasta: Black Pud'tanescaSome days I just need to have a black pudding fix.

Yes, I know many think it’s gross, but my love of black pudding is a cherished hangover from my days when I lived in Newport, South Wales. Back then, I loved nothing more than a visit to my local greasy-spoon cafe, just off the Cardiff Road. This place was the Real McCoy: the accents were thick, the tea was brutal, the vinyl tablecloths slick with grease and the fry-ups were a full-on, no-holds barred affair – even the bread was fried! It may have been a coronary hazard, but was pure greased bliss. Even now the mere thought of fried eggs with baked beans, black pudding and fried bread is enough to make my mouth water and my arteries contract.

Thankfully these days I’m slightly more circumspect about my breakfast choices, but now and again I find myself craving a bit of black pudding. More recently however, I have been trying to find new ways of incorporating this maligned British delicacy into my cooking. As a result, it has found its way into various risottos, been served elegantly with smoked haddock and even added to salads; all delicious, but by far my favourite effort has been Black Pud’tanesca! Akin to a punchy traditional Puttanesca, this robust pasta sauce is not for the fainthearted. A gutsy dish, big on flavour, it had me hooked with my very first bite; each successive mouthful was followed by an “oh my God, that’s amazing!”, culminating in a flurry of unashamed plate-licking, a second helping and more “oh my God”s!

Seriously good, easy to make and impossible to forget, this humble pasta sauce will forever change the way you see black pudding. Be brave and prepare to be amazed; if you’ll forgive the pun, this recipe is bloody delicious!

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One-pot Lamb with Orzo

One-Pot Lamb with OrzoTired of doing loads of dishes? Need a one-pot wonder meal that even the kids will love? Then this is the recipe for you. This is simple, relaxed cooking at its best and is sure to become a firm family favourite!

Not to be confused with the Greek liqueur Ouzo, Orzo is a diminutive Italian pasta which resembles a large grain of rice. Unlike other pastas that are usually served with a sauce, the orzo in this recipe is actually cooked in the pot along with the lamb and tomatoes. This method of cooking the pasta allows the orzo to absorb the nuances of the sauce, resulting in a dish that is simply bursting with flavour!

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Ragu alla Bolognese

Penne al Ragu BologneseThe one thing that surprised me most about Italy is how simple italian food really is; nothing is added that isn’t necessary and ingredients are given the room to speak for themselves.

In Florence we chanced upon a delightful local eatery called La Burrasca, just on the dodgy side of the Central Market. My partner, who has a famed aversion to all things “flavoursome” (with a particular loathing of garlic) fretted over whether the penne al ragu on the menu was cooked with the offending clove; after all this was Italy, they put it in everything. We asked our waiter if the ragu was made with garlic and his response was quite unexpected; “Of course not, this is ragu! It would not be ragu if there was garlic!”. Delighted, my partner ordered it and loved it. So much so, he ordered it three nights in a row!

So the humble ragu taught me an important lesson in italian cooking: keep it simple. It seems the obligatory addition of garlic to all Italian dishes is a culinary assumption most of us are all guilty of making. Unsurprisingly, the Italians harbour an aversion to extraneous elements being added to their most treasured dishes. Why mess with Tuscan perfection? After all a ragu is a ragu and you don’t need to add garlic to make it taste italian.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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