Italian cook up!

Recently I have been doing some creative cooking on Friday nights as a way to wind down and relax with friends. Which is weird, because most people would eat out with friends or avoid creating more work for themselves at the end of the week.

Having said that, it is much cheaper and probably healthier eating in with friends than out. It also helps having an extra pair of hands to do some chopping/washing task. The down side of cooking creatively at home is that you have to wash up afterwards, and you end up with a mish mash of random ingredients you don’t know how to use up.

Cooking with people also reveals certain aspects of your personality. I realise that I’m actually quite controlling in the kitchen. Throughout the night, I heard my self saying “Just let me do it” several times. I would say I’m usually quite accommodating of people in other areas but somehow I end up being surprisingly intolerant in the kitchen. I guess there goes my chance of appearing on My Kitchen Rules haha.

So the last couple of Fridays I ended up making some gnocchi and risotto; both I found therapeutic in cooking. With the gnocchi dish, I served it with pumpkin, ricotta and some fried sage in burnt butter. Sorry for the half eaten photo. I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture…I know, such a blogging novice.

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Recipe 

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200 gm pumpkin cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • Oil
  • Mixed dried herbs
  • 1 floury potato
  • 00 plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Butter
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Knobs of ricotta
  1. Place pumpkin with a bit of oil in a pot over low to medium heat. Sprinkle in some herbs, salt and pepper and cover. Let saute until the pumpkin is just soft.
  2. In the mean time, steam potato or if you want bake it until soft.
  3. Pass through a potato ricer into bowl. Let cool a bit.
  4. Mix through an egg yolk gently and season with salt, pepper and a bit of parmesan.
  5. Add in a scant handful of flour and gently fold together.
  6. Flour your bench top and tip the mixture out. Keep adding handfuls of flour and kneading gently until the dough is just dry to touch.
  7. Roll out into sausage shape and cut into little pillows of gnocchi. Keep flouring as you go along. Place gnocchi pieces on a tray and try not to have them touching each other. Keep going until you’ve used up the dough.
  8. Boil up a big pot of water. Add in a tablespoon of salt.
  9. When the water starts to boil, start heating up some butter in the pan until brown. Turn off the heat.
  10. Place gnocchi into boiling water and boil until they start floating to the top. Let it boil at the top for another 10 seconds and then scoop out and into your browned/burnt butter. At this stage you might want to turn on the heat to your pan again.
  11. Add in the pumpkin pieces and season with salt and pepper to your tasting. I also melted in a bit of ricotta at this stage.
  12. When all the gnocchi pieces are in the pan together with the pumpkin, scoop out onto your serving plates.
  13. Add some more butter in the pan until it is just about to brown. Add in your fresh sage leaves and fry until crispy. Pour over your gnocchi.
  14. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and knobs of ricotta.

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The other dish I made was a porcini risotto.

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Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200 gm arborio rice
  • 100 gm dried porcini mushrooms
  • Around 5 button mushrooms sliced thinly
  • 1 brown onion diced finely
  • 3 cloves of garlic diced finely
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • Oil
  • Half a cup of red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half litre of vegetable stock
  • 3 or 4 little knobs of butter
  • 2 heaped tbsp of grated Parmesan
  • Around 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Finely chopped parsley
  1. Soak porcini mushrooms in cold water until soft. Wash them thoroughly and place in another half litre of water and bring to boil. Then turn heat off and let soak for half an hour. Strain the mushrooms reserving the liquid in a bowl.
  2. Heat oil in pan on medium heat, saute onion, garlic and mushroom with thyme until the onion are slightly translucent.
  3. Turn heat to high. Add in rice and stir around until mixed through with onion and garlic.
  4. Add in wine to rice and let it evaporate into the rice. Keep stirring.
  5. Turn heat down to medium.
  6. Add in the porcini mushrooms.
  7. Add in a ladle of the mushroom soaking liquid. Be careful not to agitate the bottom of the bowl and stir up any unwanted grit.
  8. Keep stirring as you put in the liquid. Do it gently but make sure all the rice get to soak in the liquid.
  9. Keep ladling in the mushroom soaking liquid.
  10. When all the soaking liquid is used up, start using the vegetable stock.
  11. Keep ladling, stirring as you go along.
  12. When the rice is nearly up to your preferred consistency, add in parmesan cheese.
  13. When it the texture of the rice is right, turn off heat and season with salt and pepper to your tasting.
  14. Scatter around the knobs of butter and cover the pan. Let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavours settle and soak up that butter.
  15. Take off lid and add in the lemon juice. Stir around gently to make sure everything is mixed together.
  16. Dish up and garnish with parsley.

Beef and pork ragu with freshly made tagliatelle

Over the long weekend, with the luxury of waking up a bit later than usual, I reverted back to a really bad habit of watching youtube videos in bed. Specifically cooking videos… While tapping away on my phone’s screen, I stumbled onto a very charismatic and vibrant Italian cook called Gennaro Contaldo. I didn’t realise how famous he was, but then I found out he was a part of the show Two Greedy Italians. And he mentored Jamie Oliver….He was so entertaining and passionate that I had soon watched nearly every single one of his recipe videos. His family ragu in particular aroused the greatest craving which was quite inconvenient considering that it was 12:30 in the morning.

Coincidentally, it was also my cousin’s birthday which provided a perfect outlet to bring that ragu from youtube to life. Here’s the video which started it all, and the recipe. The video is a bit different from the recipe but they are both fine. To match the ragu, I also took the risk to make my own pasta. I tried making pasta before and ended up with thick pieces of rubber. After chatting to a former chef at work I found out that I should have used 00 flour instead of plain flour as it has a mid-protein level and is ground finer. I followed a guideline by Jamie oliver which is pretty simple: 100gm flour to 1 egg. I mixed up the egg with the flour until it was roughly combined then tipped it out on the bench and kneaded away. After some strenuous kneading (~5 min) the dough was done. I wasn’t sure whether I should knead longer but then the dough felt smooth and came together like playdoh. I let my dough rest for 3 hours and hoped for the best.

And wow it turned out so well this time. Finally, something that looks like the images in the recipe. After flattening it out as much as possible with my rolling pin (I don’t have a pasta machine) I folded it up and cut it into ~0.5-1 cm widths. I purposely cut it up roughly so it looked handmade haha. After the ragu had finished cooking I boiled some water, slipped the pasta in and let boil for around 2 minutes. Then I dunked it into the ragu and let it soak in all that meaty simmering flavours.

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O my gosh it was so delicious. Too bad it took such a long time to make or else I would have this more often. The pasta was silky soft with a bit of bite and the ragu was just delicious. I broke up the meat after cooking so each mouthful had ribbons of beef intertwined with the pasta. Yum.

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I must have shaken my hand while taking this photo out of hunger. I started cooking at 4 and started eating three and a half hours later.

I would highly recommend trying Gennaro’s recipe and tasting it for yourself.