Tag Archives: cheese

Carbonara

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Mention you’re cooking Bolognese to an Italian and you’ll get a serious rolling of the eyeballs. Risotto? More of a sceptical narrowing of the eyes. But Carbonara? That’s a fighting word.

Per person you will need: 120g dried pasta, 60g pancetta finely diced, a whole egg, 10g of butter and 20g of Parmesan or your favourite Italian hard cheese. It’s allegedly a Roman dish, so perhaps Pecorino might be better. Use whatever long dried pasta you have to hand: spaghetti, fettucine, linguine etc.

Pancetta can be replaced with sweet-cured belly bacon, but see below about getting some help from nutmeg and garlic. Fancy supermarkets often sell Pancetta pre-cubed in little sealed plastic pouches that can be popped into the freezer, meaning this can be whipped up al pronto if needs must.

If you have a bit of practice, then you should be able to prep and cook the sauce in the same time it takes to do the pasta, but I’d err on the side of caution, and start with the pancetta.

  1. Gently fry the pancetta and the butter, stirring occasionally, until it starts to colour.  Grind over some black pepper.
  2. Get the pasta going.
  3. In a bowl or jug, combine the egg and Parmesan.
  4. Once the pancetta is lightly browned, but not crunchy, turn off the heat.
  5. Once the pasta is done, use a teacup to fish out a few tablespoons of the starchy cooking water, and put to one side.
  6. Drain the pasta, and add to the saucepan with the pancetta, combining thoroughly. Add a splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen it up, and then the cheese and egg mixture, stirring like mad. Serve immediately, with more Parmesan.

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Stuff you could add…

This is where controversy begins. Don’t mention any of this to your Italian friends.

  • a clove of garlic, split down the middle, fried with the pancetta, and then discarded, is nice
  • a small grating of nutmeg won’t hurt – if you can’t get Pancetta, and you’re using bacon, then the nutmeg is useful
  • I don’t think cream is necessary
  • a spot of peperoncino, fried with the pancetta could be fun

Frittata

With all those leftovers floating around, it’s only right to write a few notes about making a frittata.

  • you won’t be able to fry everything at once, so have a holding bowl at one side
  • it’s difficult to tell how many eggs you’ll need, so always have a few spare
  • beat the eggs only enough to combine, the final product will be fluffier as a result
  • if you’re using potatoes, they’ll need to be cooked first (waxy ones like Charlottes are the best as they’ll hold their shape when sliced up)
  • if you’re using mushrooms, fry them until they’ve exuded loads of liquid, then pop them into your holding bowl, and reduce the liquid as far as you dare
  • cheese is mandatory, Comté doubly so
  • once under the grill, it will puff up alarmingly, so don’t have the oven shelf too high, or tragedy will ensue

Good things to include:

  • onions or leeks
  • potatoes (cooked, cooled and thinly sliced)
  • pancetta or bacon
  • stuffing (this is awesome if crumbled into the mix)
  • cold roast meat, shredded
  • a splodge of cream never hurt

Membrillo

Most of the time, I use this space on WordPress to keep notes, which can later be used to jog my memory, or at least accurately populate a shopping list. And then sometimes, it seems to encourage me to do foolish things that take time and make mess. This is one of those foolish things, but as foolish things go, it’s damned tasty.

You will need a copy of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, for therein are many wonderful things, including this. The quinces came from The Creaky Shed. They were very furry (a polite way of saying a bit mouldy) so needed a good wash and scrub.

They need to be hacked up, and this requires a certain amount of caution as they are hard and slippery. In the end a large serrated bread knife seemed to do the trick. You can see how rapidly they discoloured.

Icky bits discarded, and thence into the pot.

They need to be brought to the boil, and simmered until soft. This may take an hour. It may take three. So far so good. This isn’t too hard, you think. This isn’t too messy or demanding, you think. Now, you’ve got to push those stewed quinces through a sieve. This is a lot of work, and the results look like baby food, or possibly something else baby related.

In the end, 1.5 kilos of quinces, minus icky bits, yielded 864 grams of pulp. Back into the pot with an equal weight of sugar.

And feel slightly scared as it starts to resemble lava. Regular stirring to avoid burning on the bottom. If you need to destroy The One Ring, now is your chance.

Finally, heave it into a dish, lined with baking paper.

After an overnight stay in the oven at 50°C (central heating turned off) it comes out darker.

And then finally sliced up, with the baking paper left on the underneath. Mrs Grigson reckons it ought to keep six months in an airtight container, but somehow I don’t think it will survive to the other side of Christmas.


Art of the Tart

This is a rough and simple tart; not as refined as a quiche. The addition of egg to the pastry makes it remarkably forgiving. No blind baking, rolling, or faffing required.

For my 10″ diameter, 1½” deep pie dish, I use:

  • 220g plain flour
  • 110g butter, cold and cut up into small cubes
  • pinch salt
  • one egg
  • some milk

In a large mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour and salt until the consistency of breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and mix it in with a palette knife, or failing that, a spoon. You may be able to coax it into a ball with your hands, but more than likely you’ll need to mix in a tablespoon of milk; maybe more. Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

The basis of the filling is three eggs and 250mL double cream. For a richer consistency, you can replace one egg with two yolks. This produces a fluffy, but set consistency, for a more wobbly version, increase the cream.

Today, I’ve got some pancetta (10 wafer thin rashers, about 70g) so I fry that gently until crisp, and set aside. No need to drain on paper towels, as the fat is flavoured with the spices in the cure, and we want it to infuse the rest of the filling.

Push the pastry into the pie dish with your hands. (I don’t need to butter my ceramic dish, your mileage may vary.) You could roll it, but there’s really no need. If it tears, just patch it. If you end up with more on one side of the dish than the other, just rip some off and patch. As I said, it forgives much, although if you work it too hard, and it’s a hot day, the butter will start to melt, so whack it back in the fridge if this happens.

Today I spread the pancetta in the bottom of the pastry case, and beat together the remaining ingredients, with some salt, pepper, nutmeg, and some grated grana. Any kind of Italian hard cheese will do.

Into the oven at 150°C for an hour. The case looks underfull.

…and then the filling puffs up, alarmingly…

…before relaxing at the end. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn. You’ll see that the pastry shrinks away from the sides of the dish, so easy to rescue.

Variations

This is only the beginning. You could:

  • peel and slice 750g of brown onions, and gently gently gently fry them in butter for an hour or so, with salt, pepper, and maybe a clove – allow to cool and pour over the cream/eggs
  • do the same with some leeks, and add some goat’s cheese to the mix
  • replace the goat’s cheese with some salmon, smoked or otherwise
  • add some steamed (and vigorously squeezed) spinach to the fray

Smoked Mackerel Risotto

Smoked mackerel is one of my public vices. I can happily eat the stuff on its own, roughly shoved onto some toast with a squirt of lemon and some pepper. Never had it as a child (we used to have smoked cod, which was a chemical orange colour and horrid) so no nursery associations, but it strikes me as comfort food.

This, then, is a bit of an experiment. Can I combine the slightly sharp smoky fishiness with the gentle ooze of a risotto? The answer is yes, although the results don’t quite taste like risotto.

I used:

  • 300g Arborio rice (or your preferred risotto rice)
  • a large onion
  • 200g smoked mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked into large pieces (or some other hot smoked fish, if you prefer – note that most “smoked” salmon is cured and cold smoked, so not suitable for this recipe)
  • 150g shelled peas (frozen is fine, you could maybe use mangetout, but definitely some form of crisp legume)
  • about a litre of vegetable stock (fish stock would be too OTT for this)

Make the risotto in the usual way – adding the peas and fish about five minutes before the end.

You probably won’t need any extra salt, but more pepper than usual.

Some people get very sniffy about seafood plus cheese, but I think that stirring in maybe 25g of parmesan is the right thing to do. The sharp salty flavour helps balance the starchy goo.

In hindsight, it really could have done with a bunch of parsley, and maybe some lemon zest. Fresh thyme leaves might be worth a go as well.

Croque Monsieur

Ahem. Toast the bread first, in the toaster, but get the grill going now. Spread the toast with a layer of wholegrain mustard: this stops the ham curling up at the edges. Ham. Cheese: preferably hard and mean, so a strong Cheddar, Gruyère, Comté or Cantal.  Under the now hot grill until the cheese starts to bubble. Black pepper. Job done.

Pizza

I love pizza, as should all Right Thinking Men and Women.

It’s easy to make at home, and fun. A favourite procedure of mine is this: make the dough and the sauce the night before, as they’ll keep in the fridge. Then, get each guest to bring: a pizza ingredient, and a cheese. (Co-ordinate before, so we don’t have the scenario from Sesame Street where everyone brings potato salad to the King’s Picnic.) Then, all you need do is have plenty of cold, cold beer on hand, and whip up pizzas over the course of the evening. If the combinations become more eccentric as the night goes on, so be it.

Note: This procedure produces thin, crusty pizzas. If you want American style, deep pizzas, then I can’t help you.

The Dough

For enough dough to feed six in one sitting, i.e. make about six smallish pizzas, I use the following:

  • 300g strong flour (i.e. bread flour)
  • 200g plain flour – I’m not quite sure where these proportions come from, they’re scribbled on a piece of manky paper from years ago – you could probably just go with 100% strong flour if you prefer – you might also try 100% Italian “doppio zero” flour for authenticity
  • one sachet dried yeast (normally about 5-7g)
  • 10g salt (the posh brand of sea salt is good here, save the other stuff for boiling pasta)
  • a gloop, alright 20mL, of olive oil, yer best extra-virgin-on-the-ridiculous – you could be authentic and replace with the same amount of lard, this is called the strutto
  • 375mL very warm water

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine, and gradually add the water, whilst stirring.

You’ll probably want to stop after about 325mL, if the dough is fairly dry, add another 25mL, so you end up with something slightly sticky. If it’s still dry, then you may need the final 25mL. Mix in the olive oil. You’ll probably find that the spoon became fairly useless about halfway through the mixing process and you’ll need to use your hands.

Knead for about ten minutes, and then plonk into a clean bowl, cover with a teatowel, and allow to rise. It’ll need about an hour, depending on the ambient temperature. (Some recipes tell you to oil the bowl first, to stop the dough sticking. I’ve never had a problem.)

That’s it. You don’t need a second rising: it’s ready for action. At this point, you can also put it in the fridge, and it will keep for a week in an airtight container. Not too airtight, as it will continue to rise and you don’t want an explosion. (One of my friends says “three weeks”, as apparently the yeast is so mean, no other microbes will dare go anywhere near it.)

The Sauce

Forget this pizza bianca crap. There’s gotta be tomato sauce, and I think it ought to be homemade. Doesn’t need to be fancy, though. Assuming you’ve made the dough in the quantities above, you’ll need…

  • four cloves of garlic
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • a 500g carton of passata

Just chop up the garlic and fry it in the olive oil, when done, add the passata, bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. After about an hour the sauce will have reduced by half and be ready for action.

Now, that’s a pretty inoffensive sauce; inoffensive being a synonym for unexciting. I’d also consider some of the following:

  • chuck in half a teaspoon of chillis when frying the garlic
  • a spoon of dried oregano once you’ve added the tomatoes
  • some anchovies
  • a shake of the Tabasco bottle
  • a teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • some dried basil (save the fresh stuff for the pizza topping)

The Topping

Less is more, alright. Anything that can be, should be thinly sliced.

  • salami and olives
  • prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella
  • anchovies and anything
  • raw prawns that have been marinated in something interesting
  • capers, crème fraîche, and smoked salmon (put it on after the pizza has come out of the oven)
  • those “chicken tikka mini fillets” you get from M&S, some mango chutney, and a splash of yoghurt (with some dried mint mixed in) once it comes out of the oven
  • anything from the antipasto counter at Camisa’s
  • someone said that putting bolognese sauce on it was wrong – I was so intrigued by this that I tried it with some leftovers and it was marvellous

Putting it all Together

Now for the fun bit.

Get the oven going, and crank it up as far as it will go. Place a heavy baking sheet on a high shelf, and let that heat up.

Get another baking sheet, the same size as the one that’s heating up, and use this as your rolling board: it’ll be obvious in a few paragraphs why. Spread a handful of dry semolina or coarse polenta over it, which will stop the dough sticking.

Break off a fist sized chunk of dough, about 150g, and start rolling it out.

This will make a pizza big enough to fit on a large dinner plate. I’ve never owned a rolling pin, so end up using a wine bottle. You want to get it about half a centimetre thick. Once you’ve got it reasonably flat, feel free to use your hands to stretch it. Make sure, once it’s done, that there’s plenty of semolina underneath, and it slides around without too much trouble. You’ll notice quite a bit of the semolina embeds itself in the surface of the dough. This will cook, and add an extra crunchiness to the finished product, so don’t be shy.

Put the ingredients on top.

Now take it over to the oven. With a bit of luck, and enough semolina underneath, you can slide it off the cold baking sheet and onto the hot baking sheet. About eight minutes in the oven should do it.

Stating the Obvious

Some things to note:

  • if you’re going to top with mozzarella, make sure it’s the industrial strength stuff from the cow, and not the exquisitely delicate stuff from the buffalo – you can use the latter, but if you do, pop it on a minute before you take it out of the oven
  • beer is mandatory
  • pineapple is an abomination
  • so is processed ham

Garlic Bread

For complete joy, the following Ten Step Method should be followed.

  1. buy a cryogenic baguette (the sort that’s packaged in a “protective atmosphere”, i.e. bag pumped full of nitrogen) that’s partially baked and meant for you to finish off in the oven at home
  2. crush two cloves of garlic (more, if I am coming to dinner)
  3. grate as much Parmesan as you dare (realistically about 25g)
  4. you could also add about a tablespoon of chopped up parsley
  5. mash together with 25g of softened butter (I don’t need to know how you softened it)
  6. cut baguette into slices…    …well, almost – you know what I mean
  7. put a wodge of the cheesy garlic butter in between each slice
  8. wrap in foil
  9. follow the instructions on the packet (probably 10min at 200C)
  10. exhibit extreme greed

Lasagne

This dish really does need you to do your maths first about volumes, dimensions, number of sheets of pasta etc.

I don’t need to tell you how to make lasagne, but to feed six, I used…

  • 600mL Béchamel Sauce
  • 1.6L ragù (meat and tomato sauce)
  • 375g dried lasagne sheets (more in reserve)
  • 250g Parmesan
  • 200g gorgonzola

…which came to the top of a 22cm x 30cm x 5cm baking dish.

Some things to note…

  • I start with a layer of ragù on the bottom, then pasta, then béchamel – it’s much easier to spread the béchamel over pasta than it is over meat sauce
  • I finish with a layer of pasta, topped with either béchamel or ragù
  • allow the pasta sheets to overlap by about half an inch, as they will glue themselves together
  • never finish with a layer of pasta on top, as it will curl up and escape
  • I chopped up the gorgonzola and snuck it underneath the top layer of pasta
  • put about half the Parmesan on top about 10 minutes before the end, so it melts, rather than cooks, separates and goes horrible (the other half is for the table)

No photos, sorry. Too busy cooking and eating.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Another gloomy day, so something from the Med is required to cheer it up. This is a hybrid of quite a few recipes – purists will doubtless shudder – but I’ll get my supper earlier.

  • two large aubergines
  • a litre of Tomato Goop (see earlier notes – I’ve added a teaspoon of dried oregano and half a teaspoon of dried basil)
  • 250g grated cows’ mozzarella
  • parmesan to taste (I’m a noted Parmesan Pig, so won’t embarrass myself by revealing the actual quantities)

This is what you do.

  1. Slice the aubergines lengthways into 5mm slices, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt, and then put under a hot grill, ’til slightly brown and sizzling
  2. layer the aubergines, cheese and sauce in a baking dish – try and plan it so you end up with about two or three layers (note that the aubergine slices will shrink when you grill them)
  3. bake for around an three quaters of an hour at 160C, and put a layer of grated Parmesan on top about ten minutes before the end
  4. serve with more Parmesan

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Caveats

A few things to note.

  • you don’t need to peel the aubergines
  • you don’t need to salt the aubergines
  • aubergines are oil hungry – you will need to use a brush – and rapidly at that – in order to get the oil onto them
  • some recipes tell you to flour and deep fry the aubergine slices – I think this just results in the final product absolutely swimming in oil
  • you could make a very simple tomato sauce just using tinned tomatoes, garlic and onions, plus a few favourite herbs – some Italian delis will make this stuff in bulk on the premises and sell it in little tubs
  • don’t use fancy buffalo mozzarella, what you want is the hard mozzarella made from cows’ milk: if it comes pre grated in a plastic bag, all the better – you can just pop the remains in the freezer

Variations

The following ingredients will add joy and happiness.

  • about a dozen anchovy fillets
  • a handful of chopped up black olives

Jane Grigson says not to even bother with grilling the aubergine – merely blanch the slices for two minutes in boiling water. (Her Vegetable Book lists some interesting regional variations as well.)

Mrs Grigson also very sensibly points out that once layered in the baking dish, this can be popped into the freezer instead of the oven, and brought out on another date.