Sunday, 16 January 2011

Kitchen Conquests: The Best Maths Book I Have Ever Owned

For Christmas I was given The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy.

If Italian food is your deal, or more specifically pasta, you need this book. Having said that, it's not for beginners. It's not that the recipes are especially tricky to follow, but if you're the kind of cook who needs glossy photos displaying how every other recipe should look at the end of cooking, you'll be disappointed.

Luckily for me, as well as being mildly stupidly obsessed with all things food and home related, I'm also something of a design geek. I totally understand when designers can't sleep because they just can't find the right font. So a book detailing countless pasta shapes where each shape is illustrated in nothing but thick black ink made my heart beat a little faster. It's very stylish, which made this the most perfect book for me and a genius Christmas present. It gives a couple of recipes to use with each pasta shape and lists where each sauce can be used with alternative shapes. It also explains where each shape originated and how it got its name. It's basically a bible of pasta.

I spent an entire evening pouring over the book, trying to decide which shapes I should go for during this first round of pasta mathematics. I eventually settled on Toriglioni and Farfalle. I already had some Fusilli in the cupboard and added a purchase of egg Taglierini to my bounty for future use.

There's a lot of guff spoken about pasta and whether fresh is better than dried etc. But as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's a decent brand and it doesn't collapse too quickly on cooking, there's nothing wrong with using dried pasta. I was advised by a friend from an Italian family that they all used De Cecco. Since then I've never used anything else. It's fantastic.

Much as I love my pasta machine and lovely as it is to spend an afternoon squeezing dough through it, turning the tiny handle and speaking in a dubious Italian accent, few people have got time to do it, including myself. By the way, when I speak English in a terrible Italian accent it's something like the Italian chef on the Simpsons. When I pronounce Italian words in Italian, I'm told by bona fide Italians that my pronunciation is "very authentic." *SMUG-FACE*

My first dish was Tortiglioni Con Lenticchie (with lentils).  I'm always a little concerned about putting two starchy food together in one meal, but it crops up a lot in Italian cuisine so I just try to trust that it will work. This dish can easily be eaten by itself, but I had some salmon and spring greens in the fridge and decided to make it an accompaniment.

It really couldn't be simpler. I cooked the lentils with onion, garlic and chicken stock until soft. The recipe mentioned water but I'll always substitute with stock if it means improving the flavour. Once the pasta has cooked it's combined with the lentil mixture and served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a hit of flat leaf parsley. It still surprises me how tasty such simple food can be.

My slightly over-done salmon was a reminder that cast-iron pans retain an incredible amount of heat.  A lesson learnt. The spring greens were shredded and blanched before finishing with butter and a flash of malt vinegar.  
A few days later I decided to try the farfalle recipe. Farfalle literally means 'butterflies' and is one of my favourite pastas. It's both pretty and doesn't have the heaviness of some thicker pastas. For this reason it's perfect for light, summery dishes. My recipe of choice was definitely a summer meal - Insalata di Farfalle Zucchine e Pinoli (Salad of courgettes, lemon zest and pine nuts.) I wanted it. Really really wanted it. But that particular January evening provided nothing but dark skies, gale force winds and torrential rain. It wasn't a 'cold pasta salad' kind of night. Faced with the dilemma of choosing between winter and summer I decided to adapt the recipe by adding the dressing to warm pasta instead of chilled pasta.... with mixed results.

Courgettes and garlic are sauted in olive oil for approximately five minutes before being set aside in the pan to cool slightly. Later they are joined by toasted pine nuts and are tossed with cold, cooked farfalle, fresh basil and parsley and a whisked dressing consisting of extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The dish is then topped with a grating of parmesan. The flavours are amazing! My problem was that I added hot pasta to the rest of the ingredients, which meant the dressing didn't quite hold together in the way it would have in a cooler dish. I felt that I'd added too much oil. I hadn't, it's just that the additional heat was distributing it a little more thoroughly than I'd wanted. I can't wait to make it again. Properly!

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