Gadgets and the mattarello

Very recently the “mattarello” was brought to my attention in a blog. Such a fantastic Italian word, and such a great instrument when making your own pasta. I admire people that can handle that stick properly, and when I see it being used I always stay to watch it a while. This youtube video shows one of these magicians.

The automatic rolling pin

I should admit that although I have tried a couple of times to roll and cut my own pasta using a rolling pin I have gone for the machine. A couple of years ago I treated myself to a pasta machine from Trebs. Since then I even more regularly make my own pasta using this machine. The advertisement says you can make pasta within 15 minutes, and that it has only to cook for 4 minutes. With me it always take a bit longer to make it, but I save this extra time by eating it more “al dente”.

Trebs pasta machine

The recipe that I always use is very simple:

  • 100 gr unbleached flour or semolina flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • a little salt

For the taste semolina flour is better, but since it has a coarser grain it is more difficult to work. To have just a taste of the semolina in your pasta you can mix the two types of flour. In that case use 1 part of semolina on 4 parts of unbleached flour.

Tonight I made tagliatelle with a special pesto. But that recipe I save for next time.


Bread, salt, and olives

Since the  pizza oven is going to heat up slowly and it is still early in the day, I decided to bake some focaccia.  It’s an excellent snack for the late afternoon, or like we did for lunch. Although it is not really needed, but since it is so delicious, I have made some olive tapenade with it. Both of these recipes have some things in common, but the thing I want to talk about here is the salt.

Salt, when and how

In the book “How to Cook” there is a separate part on the use of salt in the bread making process. Bread needs salt, firstly for the taste, but secondly, and also important is for the reaction of the yeast. Here we find an unstable equilibrium, too much salt will kill the activity of the yeast, and we end up with a flat bread that has not risen. On the other hand if we only add the yeast (and the sugar, which acts as the catalyst of the process)  it will act very rapidly, but will also die out quickly. So we need to find a way to start the process slowly, and keep it going as long as possible. For this reason it is good to experiment a little with the quantities. Of course the water temperature and the outside temperature matter. All in all it’s a precision job.

The second thing is something I have read once, remembered and never found back. So maybe you as my readers can help me out. I remember that when you want to keep the sparkling green color of the basil in your recipe you should first mix the garlic and the salt in your mortar and get it very fine, then mix the other ingredients. The salt will prevent the basil to oxidate to quickly (as will the lemon juice). A second trick is to cook and cool it quickly before using (some seconds in boiling water, then cool in ice water). In any case you should not get the basil too warm, and remember the friction from the mortar will get it warm too, as well as (of course) adding warm pasta.

The focaccia

In order to make the focaccia I make the dough with
  • 500 gr flour
  • 10 gr salt
  • 10 gr sugar
  • 10 gr dry yeast
  • 300 cc hand-warm water (37 degrees Celsius, I use a bath thermometer for this)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Fresh rosemary needles
  • Olive oil

Mix the yeast and the water

Mix the flour and the sugar on a clean counter, make a little volcano with a crater

Put the salt to the side of the flour

Pour the water into the middle of the flour and quickly mix it, preferably with one hand.

Keep kneading, the longer the better.

Let the mix rise for 30 minutes at room temperature.

This time I always use to make the garlic oil, and the olive paste

For the garlic oil, crush the garlic, add it to the oil, together with the rosemary needles. Let it rest.

After 30 min knead the dough again and form it quickly into the form you want. It should be about 3 cm thick. Make some holes in it with your fingertips and spread the oil (with garlic and herbs) over it. Put away to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, and bake the loaf for 15 to 18 minutes. In the pizza oven I just do not put any new wood on for a while, and close the door to keep the temperature.

The olive paste

  • 150 gr black olives
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 30 gr capers
  • 30 gr pine nuts (roasted, and cooled down)
  • 1 basil leave
  • Lemon juice, salt and pepper to the taste

Crush the garlic and the salt, then add the other ingredients and mix till you get a nice paste.

Looking forward to the comments on the bright green basil… You will probably have some ideas on that.

The Weather Forecast: Pizza

Already at the start of this week it was mentioned in the newspaper, “Do not get your outdoor furniture in yet, the weekend will be warmer”. It was cold and windy this week. But I longed for the weekend, and I knew what I was going to do! Fire up the oven for one of the last times this season, and bake pizza!

The Fornino Oven

A few years ago I bought a pizza oven. It comes as a construction kit, and needed some work with insulation material, wire netting, bricks and mortar, and patience. The last thing especially was troublesome. Once the oven has been built you want to fire it as quickly as possible to try it, but you have to wait. It should dry properly, and you have to dry heat it in several stages.

From a colleague that also has an oven, I got the book by Peter Reinhart, “The Perfect Pie”. This is very nice reading, starting off with a lot of background material before he actually gets to the recipes for the dough and the toppings. Although you can find a lot of nice recipes on the Internet, browsing through the cookbooks always has something special. So in the weeks waiting I finished Reinhart, and read the chapter on the search for the perfect pizza by Heston Blumenthal in his book “the search for perfection” (the episode is available on-line). And I must admit that although I liked the Blumenthal approach, I have chosen the Reinhart way of making pizza for the convenience.

So this Sunday afternoon I started to fire the oven, slowly to get the autumn cold out,  using some trunks from a tree that we fell last year. And in the meantime preparing the tomato sauce for the children and a special topping.

Caramelized onion

The Caramelized Onion topping is one of the wonderful recipes from the book of Reinhart. Although I have seen many recipes for this, I keep coming back to this recipe for a pizza with onions and some Gorgonzola cheese. It has so many wonderful flavors, and the mix is just delicious! One of the best moments is when you make a little hole in the middle of the onion sugar mix, and blend the balsamic vinegar in: the different flavors that moment…

So as the afternoon progressed, it smelled more and more of smoke from the wood fire in the oven, and sweet and sour on the gas stove. At the same moment balls of dough were being kneaded and set to rise. It is not summer anymore so it was dark already when I started with my first pizza. The high temperatures and the air circulation under the dome of the oven make it hard working for some minutes.

Spreading the dough, quickly turning and moving with my hands, trying to get it as round as possible without pressing to much of the air out of the dough. Spreading the topping over the pizza. Then, in a little more than a minute, the pizza is baked. It tasted so good.

I already look forward to the weather forecast for next weekend!

Coffee and biscotti

While in Italy I used to have my breakfast in the mornings at the little bar nearby. Sometimes with colleagues that had already woken up, often alone. Starting with a cappuccino and a pastry, often filled with nice thick cream.When I am in France, Portugal, or Spain, same ritual. But nowhere like in that small bar in Florence. After three mornings in a row you get recognized, after a week you do not even have to order anymore. Rituals!


After that first cappuccino always one or two quick espresso, some days in the same bar, some days on my way down to the town. Although at home I try to keep rituals like that, coffee never tastes like that quick, money on the counter, adding sugar, drink, and wave espresso in whatever Mediterranean bar.

But me and obsession for good coffee? The ones that follow me on twitter know that if there is a good infographics on coffee I will tweet. And yes, my windowsill is full with different caffettiere. And calling me before my first coffee?


In the chapter on coffee, in the Australian book I referred to in my earlier post, is a great recipe on biscotti. Due to the liquor not really suitable for the morning coffee, but so delicious! And last Sunday I was in the mood for cookie baking, but the greengrocer was closed. So today I went to get some wonderful citrus fruits to make my grated zest. Since there were no organic oranges, and I prefer unsprayed fruit for the zest, I used mandarins.

A second adaptation I made to the published recipe is that I use less sugar, I stick to 400 gram, instead of the mentioned 600 grams caster sugar. The dough always comes out very sticky, but after refrigerating for a while you can make nice logs. Watch out that the logs rise when in the oven, keep some space between the logs. Also experiment some with the baking time, I prefer some thicker slices, like in cantucini, but they take some longer to harden. But do not get them too hard.

I started this blog with the morning coffee ritual. Tonight, after dinner it will be espresso with biscotti. Unless I will find the cookie jar empty…

Melts on your tongue

Saturday morning when making the shopping list for the weekend my daughter said she wanted to eat that dish that melted on your tongue. Since I have two dishes that could really measure up to that description I decided to make both for dinner tonight. The combination is excellent, and my daughter is right: It melts on your tongue.

Fried potato, peppers and eggplant

The first dish, “fried potato, peppers and eggplant”, comes from a wonderful cookbook that was published after a successful Australian series. Almost two years ago SBS broad-casted the Italian Food Safari. A wonderful series about the food traditions of Italian emigrants in Australia who have kept their traditions and food for over a generation. The accompanying website has all the episodes and recipes. But I also ordered the book, a true must on your bookshelves I believe!

Steak slice with lemon and thyme

The second dish comes from another must have book. “Steak slice with lemon and thyme” comes from Nigella Express. The book has recipes that are simpler, and do not need as much time as many other recipes. Nevertheless they are not less delicious. Also here there is a fantastic website that has many of the recipes. The good thing about this website is the “switch to imperial” button that makes it possible to easily switch between measurement systems. Although… a recent and beautiful infographics from Shannon Lattin is a perfect help for doing all sorts of conversions!

So I went out to the local butcher and greengrocer. Some great Corno di Torro, another vegetable that has some beef in its name: a coeur de boeuf or cuor di bue. And a delicious Sicilian eggplant. He also had some new harvest lemon from the Amalfi coast. Only the ingredients alone…


When it comes to the planning in the kitchen, the both dishes fit well together too. Cutting the vegetables and while the potatoes are baking the meat can be prepared, plus of course the dressing the meat should marinate in afterwards. A thing that I added to Nigellas’ recipe is that I heat the oven on low temperature. While marinating the meat I keep it in the oven to keep it on temperature.

Fried potato peppers and eggplant

At the last moment you add the garlic and make it fry in the pan briefly before removing it. A variety on using garlic oil. Then the tomatoes and the basil leaves. Prepare the plates, and yes, my daughter was right: it melts on your tongue…

on the plate

The photographs are made while cooking with the camera of my phone, apologies for the quality.