I frequently like to play a game with myself along the lines of desert-island discs called desert-island meals. Disregarding all notions of nutrition/what would help you survive on said island, fresh pasta would have to be on the list (along with pesto, chocolate mousse, and some sort of salad to keep Mum happy). Realistically, it would be the last thing I would want to eat if being marooned on an island did actually happen. Not to mention the unlikelihood of having a convenient pasta maker to hand. But, logistics aside, it really is something that I would be happy to eat until the end of my days.
Fresh pasta is a different thing entirely from dried pasta. Yes, it is a bit of an effort to make – the mixing, kneading, resting, rolling takes time – but I’m always convinced that it’s worth it in the end. A pasta maker is pretty much a necessity to get the dough thin enough – I tried it once with just a rolling pin, and it was disappointingly thick and chewy. You need reinforcements in the form of willing volunteers to help coax the pasta through the rollers. I had three helpers to hold the ever-lengthening sheet of dough. If you are Italian, maybe you can do it single-handedly, but this would be quite a feat.
I sometimes serve the pasta with homemade pesto, but it really doesn’t need much embellishment. This time I went for parmesan, olive oil, salt, pepper and a few basil leaves. A green salad was meant to be an accompaniment, but having got so involved with making the pasta I completely forgot about it, so we had a salad course afterwards.
I made these to take to a tea party last weekend. It was a tea party that moved seamlessly into a cocktail party, from which I suffered a painful (but totally worth it) hangover.
Macaroons are notoriously tricky, and I have to admit that these didn’t turn out amazingly. They were a bit misshapen and cracked – definitely not living up to my fantasies of the perfectly round, flawless macaroons you see in patisserie windows. Along with my pastry-chef friend Vicky, we ended up making 3 batches (probably ending up with at least 60 macaroons) in an attempt to get more successful ones.
Most macaroons are dyed ridiculous artificial colours and are tooth-achingly sweet – so we used matcha green tea powder, giving them a slight bitterness and a lovely gentle green colour. For the filling we opted for a marscapone cream with lots of vanilla, which complemented the green tea flavour really well. So despite not having the most uniform appearance, they tasted good. And by the time we handed them round at the party, everyone (including me) was too sozzled to notice that they were anything less than perfect.
I made these to take on a beach picnic to south Devon with my friend Nicola. I was all ready to write a post about how we optimistically set out for the beach, then it ended up raining and we spent the whole time shivering and scarfing down the picnic before rushing back to the warmth of the car.
But actually, contrary to how British weather usually works, it was sunny and warm. I may have even got slightly sunburnt – given that the need to bring suncream didn’t even cross my mind. I experienced some much more disappointing beach weather than this when I was in Australia, which is surely the wrong way round. We spent the whole time gleefully whispering ‘It’s so warm’ – as if talking too loudly about the good weather might scare it away.
So these Greek-inspired filo parcels were not as drastically ironic as I had feared. We ended up consuming about three each, plus five different types of cheese (the hazard of having a friend who works in a cheese shop). So it was fair to say that the post-picnic discussion about whether to go for a bracing cliff-top walk or to lie on the beach groaning didn’t last long.
My friend Sally is a committed vegan. Although I would never want to adopt it as a lifestyle choice, I have recently begun to relish the challenge of vegan cookery. It’s fair to say that some experiments have come out better than others- this one was more successful, and more edible, than the green tea tofu ‘cheesecake’ disaster.
Main courses are relatively straightforward – we made a lovely Japanese vegetable curry with coconut milk – but it’s desserts and cakes that present more of a challenge. It makes you realise what a vital role eggs play in binding ingredients together and helping things to rise. The strategy I opted for here was to use almond milk to bind, and baking powder to help with rising, but it is still quite dense.
This torte is quite intensely chocolatey (chocolate being the primary ingredient), so needs to be served in modest slices. Some soya cream would be a good accompaniment to lighten things up a bit. The caramelised almond topping adds a pleasing crunch as a contrast to all the gooey chocolate beneath – you can use either honey or agave syrup depending on how much of a hardcore vegan you are.