Paris and I are back in the kitchen together. This can only mean two things. Beetroot and kale. So here you have it: handmade pasta tinged pink with beetroot juice, stuffed with kale pesto. Kale pesto – hipster, much? But we’re going to embrace it. This is one of the more time-consuming and intricate of mine and Paris’ culinary meanderings, but we’re more grown up now. We’ve been ‘collaborating’ for over a year now – all the way back to that Quinoa Porridge with, you guessed it, beetroot. Therefore, we thought it was high time we pushed the boat out and did something that could definitely be called a recipe, and not just a random selection of ingredients we cobbled together (which usually involved beetroot and/or kale…).
Having ‘worked’ together pretty often now, we have got better at anticipating what each other is thinking when we create the recipe, and seeing in a similar way when we style the shots. I was pretty sure we had an almost identical picture of what the finished shot would look like before I took a single picture. And having another pair of eyes when setting up the shots always helps, as they invariably see new ways of viewing the subject that you’d not considered.
So anyway, back to the pasta. I am not a handmade pasta virgin, in fact I have made it before in the early days of this blog, have a look at the recipe here (and please excuse the shockingly bad photography…). So this is fresh pasta mark II: a more complicated recipe, with better photography. When embarking on pasta making, I always start with the thought that it is going to be so much more hassle than it’s worth, and why didn’t I just go to Sainsbury’s like any normal person? But when I get lost in the hypnotic rhythm of rolling out the dough to a paper-like thinness, and carefully folding the dough around the filling, time passes effortlessly. The final result is a pretty special thing, and always tastes better than I remember – especially as I’m usually pretty hungry by this point. Fresh pasta is something that is greater than the sum of its parts: I find it hard to believe that flour, oil, a few eggs, and in this case a bit of beetroot and glorified cabbage, can make something so amazing. #foodblogwin
Food is my main motivator for travel. That, and taking photos: of the scenery as well as the food. The thing that excited me most about my trip to South-East Asia and Australia last year was the different tastes that awaited me in the five countries. From paad thai on the streets of Bangkok via smoked duck in Singapore to kangaroo in Adelaide, South Australia, it was a pretty epic range of tastes. One of my favourite destinations in terms of food has to be Italy. Italian food is so much more than just pizza and pasta – although the pizza and pasta are, usually, excellent.
I first had farro in Florence, in a tiny café nestled somewhere in the city’s ochre-coloured, labyrinthine streets. We took refuge from the baking hot sun in the middle of the day, and had several platefuls of a very memorable salad: farro with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. When I first tried it, I thought the mysterious grain was simply pearl barley, but that for some reason it tasted so much better than the dowdy English variety. Farro is in fact Italian pearled spelt, very similar to pearl barley but with a nuttier taste which makes it altogether more likeable. It’s great cold, in refreshing salads, or warm, with unctuous layers of tomato sauce poured over it.
It seems I’m not the only one who is a fan of farro: there was an Ottolenghi recipe in Waitrose Magazine this month for grilled lettuce with farro and lemon. Here, in keeping with Italian simplicity, I decided to combine my new favourite grain with some chicken baked with lemon, and some gently fried courgettes. A spray of roughly chopped parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon finished it off. This dish could work as well warm as cold – more suitable for lunch cold and dinner hot, maybe. But for the purposes of needing good midday light for the photos, I had it warm for lunch, rendering that previous claim somewhat redundant.
If I had to pick a country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would have to be Italian. Disregarding the resulting enormity of my thighs, of course. There just seems to be infinite possibilities surrounding a love of simple ingredients. Endless varieties of pasta and risottos to keep me entertained for a long while. And Italian puddings are often so decadently creamy, and don’t have the fiddly precision of French desserts – both epitomised by this recipe.
As is often quoted, ‘tiramisu’ means ‘pick me up’ in Italian. This is due to the fact that it is laced with coffee and a more than generous (in this recipe, anyway) amount of booze. This is one of my go to recipes when I bring a pudding to a party, and has, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit, made a perfect hangover breakfast the next day.
The combination of alcohol suggested seems to vary a bit in between recipes. One most have in common is Marsala wine, a sweet fortified wine originally from Scicily. So I used this, along with amaretto liqueur, as I have a long-abiding love of the stuff.
I have started feeling very festive all of a sudden. I guess it must be due, in part, to decorating the tree today. This was accompanied by the crashing overtones of Handel’s Messiah, not directly Christmas-y, but, being choral, it puts me in the festive mood nonetheless. Having resisted the descending season with some effort for the last few weeks– even with the repetitious Christmas playlist pounding its way into my head at work – it now seems time to embrace the inevitable.
I made the optimistic, blasé resolution way back in October to make edible Christmas presents this year. I already have the Rhubarb and Ginger Gin in the bag, along with some Quince Cheese, but need to supplement it with something else. I decided to take the plunge with Florentines, which I have never attempted before. More to the point, I’ve only ever eaten a nice on one occasion. I managed to eat a total of about ten in small little ‘tastes’, which I assured myself were for quality control purposes.
I underestimated just how many I would need (due to, unfortunately, having lots of friends and family to give them to) and the amount of time it would take to make around 100 Florentines. They are basically simple, but anything made in a large quantity gets a bit stressful, and you end up staring around slightly manically, covered in bits of whatever it is you’re making. I kept leaving trays of cooked Florentines around the house to cool, then forgetting about them. The tipping point came for me when I’d thought I’d finished, only to find a rogue batch on top of the washing machine a few hours later.
So far on the blog, I have strictly alternated between sweet and savoury recipes. I’ve mostly done this for the sake of my waistline – to stop me getting too carried away with puddings. But I got so excited when I made zabaglione for the first time that it simply couldn’t wait.
I’ve always been aware of the existence of this famous Italian dessert, but never eaten it or made it before. I had to ask an Italian who comes into the café where I work how it is pronounced. It took him a while to decipher what I meant by ‘Zabag…Zabagglionee- you know….that frothy thing with eggs..’. ‘Zabalyioney’, is correct, if you’re wondering. Said in an Italian accent with lots of gesturing. Almost as much fun to say as it is to eat.
Zabaglione only has three ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, and alcohol. But this is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There is a magical moment during the whisking when the mixture increases in volume, morphing into this amazing foamy, meringue-like substance. It is traditionally made with Marsala wine, but I used amaretto liqueur, as I love the stuff. I also added some crushed amaretti biscuits to give a bit of textural contrast to all the voluptuous creaminess.
Panna Cotta is one of those things that I’ve eaten many a time, but never tried to make. It always seems a bit intimidating, given the need to get the set absolutely right, so it holds together but still wobbles just the right amount. I’ve heard it should wobble like a silicone breast implant. Given my limited experience of silicone breast implants, I was aiming for a set that was, rather more childishly, like jelly.
Panna Cotta means ‘cooked cream’ in Italian, and is pretty easy to make. I chose to flavour the cream with elderflower. And before this conjures up a bucolic image of steeping fresh elderflowers to make homemade syrup, I’ll admit that I used bought elderflower cordial. The cordial sunk to the bottom, forming a layer on the top of the panna cotta when it was turned out – a happy accident. I served the panna cottas with some caramelised hazelnuts and strawberries, partly to give a bit of textural variation and partly to make the dish look more classy than a breast implant.