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Butta la pasta! Roman cacio e pepe

I have an obsession with all things Italian; the language, the people, the cities and –naturalmente– the food. It’s the kind of food that is very difficult to argue with. My 75-year-old grandfather appreciates a good spaghetti pomodoro just as much as my 18-month-old cousin, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who does not like pasta. Sure, its carb-tastic-ness is not particularly waistline-friendly, but good God, who can resist the steaming, fragrant allure of a hot dish of fresh pasta every once in a while? This is exactly why every time I visit Rome I simply resign myself to the idea of gaining a pound or two over the course of the trip, and you know what? TOTALLY. WORTH. IT.

My favorite Roman indulgence is the simple pasta dish cacio e pepe. It literally means “cheese and pepper,” and is, in my opinion, an ode to the wonderful simplicity of Italian cooking. The dish is not about any particularly fancy cooking skills (although some precision is required when making the sauce), but rather, like much of the food consumed across the Bel Paese, it is about the intrinsic quality and freshness of the few ingredients that go into it. But I cannot stress this enough. When the star ingredient is cheese, it is a crime to use anything but the absolute best quality of cheese you can get your hands on. It really makes all the difference with such a minimalist dish. And on a cold dreary day like this one, there is truly nothing better.

You will need:

  • 250 grams pasta – you can use pretty much any shape. I made my own fresh linguine using a basic egg pasta recipe, see here from a previous post.
  • 3-4 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmeggiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

Boil the pasta in generously salted water until just slightly undercooked. Drain but reserve at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water for later. In the meantime, melt 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet. Add the cracked pepper and, over medium heat, toast for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water to skillet and heat until simmering. Once the liquid begins to simmer gently, add the pasta and 1-2 more tbsp butter. Over very low heat, add the Parmeggiano and stir constantly until melted. Remove from heat, add Pecorino, and continue stirring. Check that pasta is al dente, and serve warm.

Buon appetito i miei amori!

In good health,

F

* Photo credit bonappetit.com

 

Nobu’s yuzu dressing

Over Christmas, I was given chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s first cookbook, Nobu: The Cookbook (shocking title, I know) as a gift, and one of the best things it taught me was how to make Nobu’s famous yuzu dressing. The recipe is not complex at all, but it was good to go by the cookbook because I had experimented many times before and couldn’t quite get the proportions right.

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit with a yellow-green rind that is almost like a cross between a lemon and a lime, but its juice is very sour and definitely more potent than lemon or lime juice. The fruit itself is quite hard to come by in many places (I certainly haven’t had much luck finding it in Dubai), but in the US yuzu juice is quite widely available at good specialty food stores (I bought some at Williams Sonoma).

This is essentially quite a simple yuzu-soy vinaigrette that goes well with many dishes; as a dressing for salads or cooked veggies, as a sauce for raw fish dishes such as tuna tartare or sashimi, or as a dip for homemade tempura. At his restaurants, Nobu serves this dressing with his scallop filo dish and with the mushroom salad. I have slightly modified the cookbook version, which calls for 6 tbsp of grapeseed oil, as I find that this makes the dressing far too oily. Feel free to play around with the proportions, but start with less oil because you can always add more.This recipe yeilds about 3/4 cup of dressing, which you can store in an airtight jar in the fridge if you don’t use it all in one go.

Whisk together 1/4 cup (about 50ml) yuzu juice (or substitute with equal parts lime, lemon and grapefruit juices…not quite the same, but decent enough), 3 tbsp grapeseed oil, 5 tsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 tsp minced garlic. How easy is that?!

In good health,

F

DIY pasta


A while back a friend of mine jokingly told me that she’s never met a pasta she didn’t like. I must say I agree. A couple of weekends ago I decided it was time to take my relationship with pasta to the next level by making my own, and pasta-making may have quickly become one of my favorite kitchen activities. And let me tell you, it is far less complicated than I had thought…but far more messy! There are many recipes for fresh egg pasta out there, some very simple, some slightly more complex. I started with one of the very simple ones courtesy of Mario Batali. You can make any kind of pasta you like using this basic recipe; I made butternut squash ravioli. This recipe makes about 15-20 medium-sized ravioli.

You will need:

For the pasta dough:

  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil

For the filling:

  • 1/2 large butternut squash, cubed (about 3 cups)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 2 tbsp salted butter

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 stick salted butter
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • Handful raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Parmesan cheese to taste

Pile flour into a mound in the center of a large wooden cutting board and create a deep well in the middle.  Beat together the eggs and oil (and any other desired flavorings) and pour into well. Using a fork or preferably your hands (my tool of choice), begin incorporating flour into egg, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you incorporate flour, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape but do not by any means fret if the whole process is a runny mess! It definitely was for me, but the dough started to come together when about half of the flour was incorporated into the egg mixture. Once that happens, you can move onto the next step: the all-important kneading process. Do not underestimate the importance of kneading or knead for less time than required; the process helps warm and stretch the gluten strands and gives the dough the elastic texture you are after, which is key to a light pasta.

Slowly incorporate egg and oil mixture into flour well...this WILL be messy...I found using my hands easier than a fork

Once the dough starts coming together, place on a lightly floured surface and begin kneading it with your palms to incorporate all the remaining flour. Once the dough becomes cohesive, re-flour the work surface and continue kneading for about 3 more minutes or until the dough is elastic and slightly sticky. Re-flour your work surface and knead the dough for 3-4 more minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Once rested, roll dough out into 1/4 to1/2 inch thickness using a rolling pin, and run through pasta press to produce desired shapes.

After proper kneading and resting, the dough should be smooth and elastic

I initially tried to force the dough through the press without first flattening it out..much more difficult! Try to get it to 1/4 inch thickness with your rolling pin first

Beautiful sheets of fresh pasta dough

For the filling, cut half a large butternut squash into 1-inch cubes. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add squash, salt, freshly cracked black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, and sautée until squash cubes begin to soften. Drizzle 1/2 cup hot water (or vegetable stock if desired) onto squash, toss in a whole vanilla pod, and cover pan. Let steam until squash is extremely tender, about 15 minutes. Once fully cooked, toss out vanilla pod and mash squash with a fork. You can do this with a food processor, but I opted for doing it manually with a fork to retain some texture (I didn’t want it to resemble baby food).

Cook filling with salt, pepper, nutmeg and vanilla

Mash squash with a fork rather than in a food processor to retain some texture

Once pasta is rolled out, cut out ravioli shapes using a cookie cutter or ravioli mold. I don’t have a ravioli mold so I just used a glass to cut out round shapes. Place 1 tsp filling onto pasta circle, cover with another circle, and mash edges together with a fork to seal. Boil ravioli for 5-6 minutes, until al dente. Meanwhile, heat remaining quantity of butter over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add sage leaves and walnuts and heat for 2-3 more minutes, until flavors infuse. Drizzle butter sauce over ravioli, garnish with parmesan, and serve warm.

Fill ravioli cut-outs with 1tsp of filling each

e ecco la pasta!

Buon appetito!!

In good health,

F

My kitchen is for dancing

Food for thought!

In good health,

F

The shape of my heart


Happy belated Valentine’s Day my foodie darlings! I have quite an impressive backlog of long-overdue posts, but I’ll start with my most recent adventure: vday projects. As I’ve said before, I’m not in love with Valentine’s day..but a homemade thing or two from the heart is never a bad thing. The great thing about these recipes is that you can make them any shape you want, so I thought, why not make them heart-shaped for my Valentine?

On Sunday evening I baked some French Laundry-inspired cookies, and in honor of the occasion I made them heart-shaped. They sat in the fridge for just under 48 hours (inside a sealed tub and wrapped tightly in clingfilm, of course!) and I must say that they “aged” very well, because they tasted better to me two days later than they did fresh out of the oven…the flavors had time to really blend together I guess. And while they probably don’t hold a candle to Thomas Keller’s version, I’m not going to lie, these were pretty damn good…buttery, flaky, light and just the right amount of sweet. You may have to wait another year to make heart-shaped ones, but no reason not to make them in all sorts of other shapes until then!

On the morning of Valentine’s Day I also made heart-shaped pancakes (recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart – I blogged about it here), served with a side of fresh strawberries, a nice cup of tea, and -of course- some good old maple syrup.. YUM!

For the shortbread, you will need:

  • 225 grams (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 78 grams (2 3/4 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter – MUST be at room temperature; I left mine out on the counter overnight
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • Coarse salt, for sprinkling,
  • Course granulated sugar and butter for dipping cookies

Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Sift sugar and flour twice into a large bowl. With a sharp knife, score vanilla pod in half lengthwise, and scrape out beans with the back of your knife. Add vanilla to sugar and flour mixture. Cut butter into small (1 inch) cubes and scatter over flour. With your fingertips, gently combine flour and butter by massaging flour into knobs of butter. The mixture will NOT form a cohesive dough, so don’t force it to because you don’t want to overwork it. Once incorporated, your “batter” should look like small beads. Place onto a piece of clingfilm, form a loose ball, wrap and chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

scrape out all that vanilla goodness!

You can shape the dough into a loose ball, but don't try to make it overly cohesive or you'll risk overworking it

Once chilled, GENTLY roll out dough into 1/2 – 3/4 inch thickness, and cut to shape of choice. Lay cookies on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and sprinkle with a teeny amount of course salt. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate baking sheet and bake for 8-10 more minutes. If you prefer pale cookies, take out after initial 15 minutes. Place cookies on a cooling rack. Once cooled, lightly brush the surface with melted butter, and dip face-down into a bowl of granulated sugar. Return to cooling rack until set.

Cut your dough to shape...

...top with a few granules of course salt...

...and bake until golden, then brush lightly with butter and dip face-down in sugar. TA-DA!

For the pancakes, you will need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter, plus more for brushing pan

Martha's pancakes...

...vs. my pancakes. She just has a better camera :)

Preheat your skillet on the hob; it is hot enough when water sprinkled on the surface splatters and pops. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the egg, milk, vanilla and melted butter and whisk until smooth. Lightly brush surface of skillet with butter. Place batter into a piping bag and pipe heart-shapes (or any other shape!) onto the skillet. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes, or until the pancake cleanly comes off the pan. Flip over and cook for 1 more minute. Wipe surface of pan with a paper towel and brush with fresh butter between each pancake. Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.

What did you all do this Valentine’s Day?

In good health,

F

*Top image courtesy of designsponge.com, Martha Stewart pancakes image courtesy of marthastewart.com. All other images are my own.

Is it February already?!

Wow, how did January go by so quickly? Last time I checked, it was inching by ever so slowly. I have a burning need to vent today, because a whole month of the new year has already passed me by and I somehow didn’t notice. My mom once told me that in life, particularly when something (e.g. work) is keeping you very busy and you are putting in long hours at the office, the days and weeks move very slowly, but the months and years fly by. It’s quite a depressing thought… When did we stop working to live and start living to work? Yes, of course work is important, but at what point did it become the focal point of ALL of my waking hours during the week, and sometimes even on weekends? My job is usually very interesting, but during crunch periods (like this month) when I’m busy and stressed and cranky from lack of sleep, I forget to enjoy my life. I truly FORGET. I become so focused on getting stuff done so that I can stop feeling stressed, but in the process I often forget to have lunch, I forget to take care of my skin, I forget to even look outside the window at the light of day. Not to even mention that I never have time to venture into the kitchen. I slump into survival-mode: wake up, work, (eat..sometimes), shower and (sleep..sometimes). Wash, rinse, and repeat. Hmm.. not the most inspiring routine. And the thing is, it doesn’t usually take much to break this routine..it’s always little things that make all the difference to my happiness and my mood. A vase of fresh flowers on my bedside table to look at in the morning, a pretty new blouse to wear to work, a nice glass of red wine with a friend or my boyfriend to help me wind down from my day, a yummy meal to look forward to, a realllyyy juicy bitching/gossiping session, or even just a really, really funny joke in the office to counter all the seriousness and numbers. Yes, working 16-hour days will probably still suck, but if I can do, see or eat something wonderful each day, it will definitely suck a little less. So there you go, I just found my new year’s resolution: to spruce up every single day of this year with one of these “little things” that makes me smile. A month late, but hey, we’re not counting January anyway.

Ok, rant over. Back to the fact that it’s already February, which can only mean that Valentine’s day is just around the corner. I find it a bit of a silly “holiday,” but I also think it’s weird to ignore it completely, so it’s always nice to give something small but meaningful. So if you are a frazzle-brain like me, it’s probably high-time to start thinking about gifts. I doubt I’m going to buy my boyfriend anything this year, first off because he has EVERYTHING and I want to save the precious few gift ideas I have for more important occasions (lol), but also because my affinity for home-made things is now stronger than ever. I eat at restaurants all the time because I’m always away for work and therefore don’t have access to a kitchen most of the week, so I have almost grown averse to eating out during my time off. Funny problem to have, I know, but more than ever, I now truly appreciate the value of a lovingly home-cooked meal. So, in that same spirit, I think a lovingly home-made gift for your Valentine is the perfect way to say “I love you.” And this applies to non-romantic Valentines..a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a best friend. Here are a few ideas about how I plan to show all the amazing people in my life just how much I love them this Valentine’s day.

Heart shaped-pancakes

What a great way to start anyone’s day! Serve with a side of colorful red and pink berries to build on the v-day theme.

Find Martha Stewart’s recipe here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate-dipped strawberry bouquet

I blogged about my craving for chocolate-dipped strawberries yesterday (see post here), but why not turn this classic into edible roses for your Valentine? After the chocolate sets on the dipped berries, poke a long skewer into the stem-end of each strawberry, and arrange in a small pot using a piece of styrofoam to hold the “roses” in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate truffles

I have made no secret of the fact that I LOVE chocolate, including when I blogged about chocolate truffles a while back (check it out here). I think they make a great v-day gift because they’re so luxurious yet so easy to make. Wrap them up pretty in pink or red tissue paper to create that Valentine-y feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

Frosted sugar cookies

This is probably the simplest of all cookies, but who can resist a good sugar cookie? Make heart-shaped ones using a cookie cutter and frost them with red sugar icing and sprinkle with sugar, then pile them into little goodie bags, tie them up with a pretty ribbon, and give them out to loved ones.

Get Food Network’s recipe for the cookies here, and customize the basic sugar icing recipe by adding a few drops of red food coloring.

 

 

 

 

Creamy fudge hearts

Uh….yuuumm! Aren’t these just gorgeous? Make your own using Martha Stewart’s recipe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In good health,

F

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