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.

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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!