Fresh pasta vs. dried pasta

Pappardelle with a tuna & tomato cream sauce

The other day I got into an argument with a friend's girlfriend about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta. Earlier in the week I'd sat in stunned silence as an acquaintance lectured me about how global warming was a conspiracy, but the topic of pasta is not one that I take flippantly. Her claim was that fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta, which is no more than a cheap, easy alternative used only out of convenience.

Bitch please.

Don't get me wrong, I love fresh pasta. I love making it, cooking with it, eating it, and although the opportunity has never arisen, were I to stumble across a bathtub full of it I would seriously consider putting on some Amy Winehouse and reclining. But it is by no means always better. Nor it is uniformly worse. Rather, fresh and dried are but two types of pasta, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and uses.

Fresh pasta is dainty, delicate, and hates to cause a scene. Around a domineering crowd it can be a bit of a pushover, but those who are willing to listen will find it really is excellent company. It pairs well with cream based sauces that won't overwhelmed the subtle egg flavour of the pasta, or as a discreet but solid delivery system for rich sauces with deep, warm, complex flavours like a meat ragu. Alfredo is the kind of sauce that fresh pasta does best: it's buttery and luxurious, so it's only fitting to serve alfredo sauce with a pasta that's equally easy and comforting to eat.

Dried pasta is a little more rough around the edges. It's tough, assertive and doesn't take any crap, but behind all of that it's loyal and has true character. You might be embarrassed to introduce it to your more 'proper' friends, but you know that if you were ever in a fight it'd have your back. Dried pasta will hold its own with sharply-flavoured sauces like a spicy, salty bucatini all'amatriciana, but its earthy flavour and al dente bite will shine just as much dressed simply with garlic and olive oil. No dish better illustrates the strengths of dried pasta than puttanesca — the pungency of the sauce would walk all over anything lesser.

Use this as a guide, not a rule book. That's another way of saying that if I break my own rules, don't harass me. I still can't decide whether I prefer carbonara with the more traditional dried pasta or with fresh — the two are completely different dishes and it depends on what mood strikes me. As always, all you can do is go by your own taste.

In return for reading my rant, I offer you this recipe. As far as the pasta-matching wankery is concerned, the sweet tomatoes & basil and touch of cream round out any strong saltiness from the tuna, making it an ideal sauce for the fresh pasta I've used here. Be sure to use the best quality olive oil-packed tuna, which really is night and day compared with the typical supermarket junk.

Pappardelle in a tuna & tomato cream sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 portion of pappardelle1
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, sliced thinly
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 large ripe, juicy tomato, diced (or about 1/3 cup canned tomatoes)
  • 1.5 tbsp cream
  • 65 g good-quality canned tuna
  • Salt, to taste
  • A few basil leaves, torn

1. Sauté the garlic in olive oil over a medium-low heat until it softens (don't let it brown). Add the tomato and cayenne pepper and turn the heat up to medium-high, cooking until the tomatoes break down. Mash them to a pulp with the back of a fork.
2. Stir in the tuna and cream, salt to taste, and remove from the heat.
3. Meanwhile, boil the pappardelle. When it is done, drain and add it the pan with the sauce. Add the torn basil leaves and toss over heat to combine. Serve.

(1) I made 1 egg's worth of pasta from this recipe, cutting it into thick strips to make pappardelle rather than passing it through the pasta machine's fettucini cutter.

Chicken korma (I think)

Chicken korma

This may be the wrong thing to admit in the first sentence of a post about chicken korma, but I have a confession to make: I don't entirely know what proper chicken korma is. Although I've eaten it countless times, I've ever had the same korma twice. A quick flickr search suggests that I'm not alone, either — korma seems to come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.

I have a bit of an idea, though. When I think of korma I think of a rich, creamy gravy, warm, sweet spices, and nutty, mellow flavours. As the story goes korma was first made for rich North Indian merchants wanted their curries to be as luxurious as possible, so unsurprisingly korma is not dish done by halves. Cook this low and slow to ensure as tender chicken as possible, and for the best results cook it the day before you plan to eat it. This is good advice for all curries, but the subtle flavours in this curry benefit particularly well from a night in the fridge before serving.

Chicken korma

For the onion paste:

  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil

1. Spread the sliced onions out on kitchen paper and salt well. Leave this for 20 minutes.
2. Heat enough vegetable oil to deep fry the onions until well-browned (but not burnt).
3. Puree the fried onions in a blender, adding just enough of the (cooled) frying oil to make a paste.

For the curry:

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 blade mace
  • 5 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4cm piece of cinnamon
  • 1 small onion, blended to a paste
  • 2 tbsp garlic & ginger paste
  • 600g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp roasted cashew nuts, ground
  • 1 tbsp blanched almonds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 1 quantity of fried onion paste (above)
  • 150 ml cream
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1. Add the mace, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom to the vegetable oil and ghee, and bring to a medium heat. When the spices become fragrant, add the blended raw onion and cook until it just begins to go golden. Stir in the garlic & ginger paste and ground nuts and cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, chilli powder, ground coriander, and sugar and stir well to coat the chicken. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour over about 1/3 cup of water with the garam masala and fried onion paste (above). Bring this to a very gentle simmer, then cover and cook until the chicken is very tender.
3. Add the cream and bring to a low boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then stir in the saffron and fresh coriander and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving, or ideally refrigerate overnight and serve the next day with basmati rice or naan bread.

Lamb, olives, & potatoes, two ways

Roast leg of lamb

One of the troubles with cooking for one is keeping costs down whilst avoiding repetition. A leg of lamb is delicious and more economical than most other cuts, but once the initial roast dinner is over it's each to get sick of lamb sandwiches all week. As good as risotto and pasta are at incorporating last night's leftovers, it's hard to shake the fact that you're eating the same thing you ate last night tossed through a bowl of penne. This was the situation I found myself in last week, with an impulsively-purchased leg of lamb, a large batch of olive tapenade, and some mashed potato. The challenge was to create two distinct dishes from more or less the same ingredients, and at the risk of sounding too proud of myself I think I did pretty well.

Roast lamb, skordalia, and olive tapenade

Dinner number one was roast lamb with skordalia and a minted olive dressing. I regret not writing down the specifics, but I can offer a general outline. First the lamb: Make a marinade of greek yoghurt, honey, crushed garlic, dried oregano, chopped mint, and salt. Rub this over the a leg of lamb and roast in a 220ºC/425ºF oven for 20 minutes, before reducing the heat to 160ºC/320ºF and cooking until the internal temperature of the lamb reads 70ºC/160ºF. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes, then drain well and mash with crushed garlic, salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a liberal amount of olive oil. To make the dressing, combine equal parts olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil with some finely chopped mint. To assemble, top portions of skordalia with slices of the rested roast lamb and drizzle with some dressing.

Potato gnocchi with lamb & olive ragu

For dinner number two I picked over the bones of the lamb roast to make potato gnocchi with a lamb & olive ragu. The gnocchi I've written about before, and the ragu recipe is below. It's meaty and very savory thanks to the olive tapenade, and goes well with grated parmigiano reggiano and finely shredded fresh mint. I used leftover roast lamb, but if you're making it from scratch, substitute lamb shoulder.

Lamb ragu

Ingredients:

  • 250g lamb, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp olive tapenade
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil to a high heat, then add the lamb and cook until it is well-browned. Remove and reduce the heat to low. Sauté the diced shallot and garlic with the bay and oregano until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, and cook until reduced to a pulp. Return the browned lamb and cover with water. Bring this to a boil then simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the lamb is very tender.
3. Stir in the olive tapenade, season to taste, and serve.

Better late than never: Olive tapenade

Olive tapenade

In the background: Bucatini with olive tapenade and chickpeas.

Way back in June I posted a recipe for chickpea & olive bruschetta, in which I promised that an olive tapenade recipe would shortly follow. Regrettably my good intentions were thwarted by laziness, and it's taken four months for me to make it again.

There's no good reason for it to take so long — olive tapenade is quick to make, incredibly easy, and can be used in all sorts of ways. If you ask me, the simplest and still one of the best is to spread it on a thick piece of Italian country bread that's been drizzled with olive oil and grilled. It also goes terrifically with pasta (it is after all 2/3 of the way to puttanesca), and last night I thinned it out with extra virgin olive oil, stirred in a little fresh mint, and used it as a sauce for some roast lamb. Delicious.

Olive tapenade

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp salt-packed capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the best you have)

1. Blitz everything in a food processor until well blended. I told you it was easy.

Sliders!

Sliders

No, I'm not talking about the moderately successful FOX science fiction series staring Jerry O'Connell. I'm talking about these:

Sliders

Sliders. Here in Australia, a land sadly bereft of White Castle restaurants, the concept of the slider is foreign to most. I've only heard of the thanks to the internet, and even then I still don't have a clear concept of what they are beyond being small burgers. So with that in mind, please be gentle in correcting me for what is no doubt slider heresy.

I wasn't even supposed to make sliders, to be honest. The idea was to make a regular burger, but when I got to the bakery late in the day to find that they were all out of burger buns, I bought a couple of dinner rolls instead. Fleetingly I considered making the patty smaller and photographing it to look like it was full-sized, but dear reader, I respect you too much to do that.

And that's the story of how I made sliders.

Sliders

Ingredients (makes about 14 sliders):

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 14 small burger buns/dinner rolls
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Chilli jam
  • Sea salt

1. Blend the onion and garlic with the tomato paste, mustard, pepper, and sugar to form a paste1. Mix this thoroughly with the beef mince and set aside in a cool place.
2. When ready to cook, set the stage: Half the burger buns and place cut side up on a baking tray, and cut bun-sized pieces of cheddar. Shape the beef mince into 14 equally sized balls.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pan2 to a medium heat, then add the balls of mince and press down with the back of a spatula to form a thick round patty. Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 5 minutes3.
4. While the patties are cooking, grill (broil) the cut surfaces of the burger buns until browned. Leave the grill on. Remove from the oven, set aside the tops of the buns and spread them with chilli jam4.
4. When the patties are cooked, place one patty onto each bun bottom, a seasoning of sea salt, and a slice of cheddar on top of that. Place back under the grill for 1 minute until the cheese is melted.
5. Replace the tops and serve.

(1) I find that this makes for moister patties than usual fine dice method, plus I hate biting into crunchy bits of undercooked onion.
(2) You want it to be a well-preheated heavy pan so the temperature doesn't completely drop once the meat is added.
(3) Use your heat with the timing — mine took 5 minutes a side because they were quite thick, but if you've got a hotter pan and thinner patties they will obviously cook more quickly.
(4) You don't have to use it of course, but have you tasted it? It's damn good.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Beef & green bean noodles

I simply can't resist ordering dry-style rice noodles when I'm in a Chinese restaurant. Pork, beef, duck, seafood, vegetables, they're all delicious. There's something about the perfect texture of fresh rice noodles that makes them so moorish, and as it turns out, they're a pleasure to cook as well.

If you've never cooked with fresh rice noodles before, I strongly recommend trying it. They're cheap, versatile, almost impossible to screw up, and it can't just be me that finds separating them to be a strangely relaxing experience. They're made by pulverising soaked uncooked rice into a paste, then spreading that out to a thin layer and steaming it. A layer of oil followed by a second layer of rice batter is poured on top, and the process repeated until you have a stack of steamed rice noodle sheets, ready to be cut into thinner strips. You could do this yourself if you were desperate, but just about everyone who isn't a Chinese farmer's wife buys them, and you don't want to be different, do you?

Fresh rice noodles

The other great thing about this recipe is flank steak. I'm shocked by what supermarkets pass off as "stir-fry beef" — If you're lucky it's tender-but-flavourless loin, but more often than not it's some unspecified cut that is sliced too thickly to become tender when cooked quickly. Flank steak, on the other hand, is perfect. It's a long, relatively flat muscle from towards the (wait for it) flank of the animal, with very a very obvious grain of muscle fibres that travel along the length of the muscle. While flank can be tough if not handled properly, very thin slices cut against the grain and stir-fried briefly are extremely tender. I took a photo of some raw flank steak to demonstrate how to cut it, but unfortunately it looked too much like an alien penis to post. Just remember, against the grain.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Ingredients (makes about 2 main serves):

  • 250 g flat rice noodles, fresh
  • 100g flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
  • Small handful of green beans, parboiled until almost done
  • 1 egg, whisked together lightly with 1 tbsp water
  • Small handful of bean sprouts
  • 4 garlic chives, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger1
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Peanut oil for cooking

1. In a small bowl, make the sauce by combining the dark soy, light soy, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil. In another bowl, combine the beef and beans with the garlic, ginger, chinese 5-spice powder, and white pepper. Pour over a small amount of the sauce (about 1 tbsp) and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of peanut oil in a medium-hot wok and add the whisked egg. Cook until almost set on top, then remove to a bowl. Meanwhile, separate the rice noodles.
3. Heat the wok to the highest heat, then add 1 tbsp oil and the marinated beef and beans. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the noodles and about 3/4 of the remaining sauce. Toss to coat the noodles evenly with the sauce, frying for about 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more sauce if necessary.
4. Remove from the heat, and toss in the bean sprouts, garlic chives, and reserved wok omelette which should break up as you toss it with the noodles.

(1) Alternatively you can mince a 1/2 inch piece of ginger — I just find that grating ginger is a quick and easy way to get crushed ginger. Make sure you grate it over whenever you plan to add it, to catch any juice.

Trippa alla Romana (Mario Batali's Roman-style tripe)

Trippa alla romana

I don't blame anyone for being hesitant about tripe. It looks weird, it can be unpleasantly chewy, and physiologically it's a tube for poop. A tough sell, really. But let's make a deal: I'll give you one recipe for tripe as it should be, and if you still don't like it I will never bug you about it again. In fact, I'll never bug you about anything — I wouldn't want to get on the bad side of someone who is so obviously insane.

There is one thing to remember when cooking tripe: cook it until it is done. When I was a kid I remember having the thought, "why don't our intestines digest themselves?" (Boy was I a popular kid). Now, years later, I understand — intestines don't digest themselves because they're made of something very, very tough: intestines. This is originally a Mario Batali recipe, and frankly his recommended 1 hour of braising is wildly optimistic unless you're intending to serve a hearty bowl of leather. Rather, check the tripe every hour and allow plenty of time if you need it to be ready for dinner that night — mine took 3 hours to achieve the melting tenderness I was after.

Serve it with some buttery toast to soak up what's left, and you'll never look back.

Trippa alla Romana

Ingredients:

  • 900g ox tripe
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract1
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 2 cups Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano, parmagiano reggiano, or a mixture of the two
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, sliced thinly
  • 1 thick slice of fresh italian bread
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the tripe in a non-reactive pot with the vinegar, vanilla essence, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour. Check the tripe every hour and cook until it is completely tender.
2. Drain the tripe, and once cooled cut into 1 cm strips. Heat the olive oil to medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the sliced tripe and chilli flakes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, adjust seasoning, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the cheese and mint in a bowl. When ready to eat, toast the bread on both sides on a grill or broiler, then spread generously with butter. Season with salt.
4. Spoon the braised tripe into a bowl, sprinkle over the cheese mixture, and serve with the toast.

(1) Although I've never experienced the funky taste that some people associate with tripe, the addition of a small amount of vanilla extract is intended to counter that.

Massaman beef curry

Massaman beef curry

It's a shame they've already awarded this year's Nobel prizes, because I've made a breakthrough. The difficult part now will be to figure out which Nobel prize to go for. It will heal all physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, so medicine/physiology is a possibility. Or perhaps it should be under chemistry, as a unifying model of fructose, capsaicin, sodium chloride, and tartaric acid. There's always peace prize, too — lord knows this it will bring people together. Can you win two prizes in one year?

Do they give a Nobel prize for hyperbole? How about modesty?

Of course, the inevitable Nobel millions should really go to Christine Manfield. Her terrific massaman curry paste recipe used here is just one of many pastes, spice mixes, sauces, and stocks from her cookbook Spices, which happens to be completely awesome. This is a woman who cares deeply about spices — let her three distinct garam masala blends be a testament to that.

It's no surprise that the curry paste recipe required very little modification. The only change I did make was the addition of galangal, and even then it seems like such an obvious omission that I'm wondering whether I copied down the original recipe incorrectly. As for the curry itself, I like to simmer the beef in coconut milk and spices until it's tender, then discard the spices and combine it with the curry paste, coconut cream, and vegetables. This infuses the beef with flavour and ensures that everything is cooked to exactly the right texture. The curry paste part of the recipe (after the jump) makes heaps — enough to cook at least three generous batches of curry. Once you try it you'll understand that this is a feature, not a bug.

Spring has sprung: Spaghetti genovese

Spaghetti genovese

It sure feels good to be home. I enjoyed my time in Whyalla, but a month away from home has taught me that there are some things telephones and facebook can't substitute. Driving home, I was looking forward to two things most — a night in my own bed, and a meal in my own kitchen.

Back in Adelaide I was shocked to learn that not only is it abnormal for every exposed surface to be covered in red sand, but that while I was away winter had become spring. Whyalla lacks seasonal flora, so the change of seasons is instead noticed by experienced locals who are able to sense a shift in the weather either slightly up or slightly down the scale of "uncomfortably warm and dusty". Back in Adelaide — where I am, at least — you wouldn't guess that we're still years into a chronic water shortage. The trees are green, flowers are blooming, and the skies are blue. Life is good.

As one does when life is good, I made pesto. Well, that was the plan. When it became clear that I'd left my paid-for pine nuts on the shop counter at the markets, I diverted course slightly and made what would be better described as a basil, cashew, and lemon paste. It doesn't quite have the same ring to it as 'pesto', but damn does it taste good. The generous amount of lemon makes it zestier than a traditional basil & pinenut pesto, which is perfect for a warm evening. I could even see this working at room temperature in place of your usual pasta salad.

Now without further ado, please allow me to officially return the second pancake to its regularly scheduled programming. Pesto & genovese recipe after the jump.

Chocolate & frangelico brownies

Chocolate & frangelico brownies

Brownies trigger fond memories in me. I wish I could say that they brought me back to the smell of my childhood kitchen as Mum baked a fresh batch, but the reality is far more prosaic and mundane. Rather, when I think of brownies I think of a bad day at work, coming to the end of a seemingly interminable ward round to find that some goddess among women (it's never the guys) has brought a plate of brownies to share in the tea room. It's not worthy of Proust, but dammed if a good chocolate brownie doesn't lift a bad day.

Like any man of good taste I prefer my brownies fudgy, and feel that adding nuts only serves to get in the way of that smooth, chewy texture. Unfortunately this is at odds with the fact that nuts taste great and pair perfectly with chocolate. But there is a third option. Ever since I learned that vanilla extract was simply alcohol infused with the flavour of vanilla beans, I've had fun experimenting with other liqueurs in its place.

Most nut-flavoured liqueurs are suitable substitutes for vanilla essence in desserts (especially custards), not because they taste the same but because they tend to pair well with the same things. Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, works particularly well owing to its status as the best damn liqueur there is.

Credit for the basic recipe that I've adapted goes to Martha Stewart by way of Emma. Even if you don't use Frangelico, this is an excellent go-to brownie recipe. Just be sure to share the love in your local tea room.

Chocolate & Frangelico brownies

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter (85 g, 3 oz)
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp less than 1/4 cup of cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp Frangelico
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat an oven to 180ºC. Melt the butter, chocolate, and cocoa powder in a double boiler or (carefully) in the microwave. Set aside to cool.
2. Beat the eggs, sugar, and Frangelico together in a large bowl until the mixture becomes pale and thickens slightly. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
3. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into the egg and chocolate mixture, and stir together until just combined.
4. Transfer the mixture to a lined, greased 8 inch square brownie pan and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting for best results.