Sunday, August 7, 2011

August Simplicity and Sophistication

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Being born when and where he was, the great artist probably missed out on the great joys of the humble hibiscus. I like to imagine the genius is in heaven's garden painting hibiscus blossoms on  canvas to record their uncomplicated joyfulness.  

 Hibiscus Peppermint Schnapps was shipped home from the Garden Writer's Association Portland Symposium in 2008.

This is her first BIG year of blooming. She's like one of those little Welsh singers that turn up seemingly from nowhere now and then. Only knee to waist high, yet somehow in their younger years belting out impossibly large notes that roundly dance equally alongside established Divas.

The cherry tomato vines were turning to toast in a mild heatwave. So her globes of fruit were picked and brought in before the main stems were relegate to compost heaven.  The little vintage toothpick holder displays their clusters as a bouquet to be snacked from.

Italian Cuisine thrives in California as it holds the opportunity to become really involved with the process of bringing food to table- of developing craftsmanship with a minimum of fuss or investment.  penned a nice review of the weekend wine. They described A Mano Chianti- "Garnet color. Baked cherry, praline and dried apricot aromas follow bright entry leads to a dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body with nice harmony and balance. Finishes with a pleasant clay, cedar, red apple, raisin, and peach fade. A very flavorful modern styled Chianti."

To my tongue- I found it pleasingly round, tasting of the grapes that came of age under full Italian sun. It is a hospitable wine, one that doesn't call attention to itself. Rather it is the  understated foil of its "date"- the food.

First up-

I have a confession to make. I am not always an easy woman to live with. If I had not learned to make fresh pasta, my husband might have left me years ago. But leave me, lose my pasta keeps my husband loving me despite my loooooong list of faults):-

My husband asked me to record what I cooked this weekend for the family cookbook. That is something he rarely does. so suffice it to say, the food is GOOD.

If there is any way you can take a pasta class- making fresh pasta is an art. Easily learned, there is no substitute for feeling the dough giving way under your hand. There are books, but contact Sur la Table, Williams -Sonoma or your local Italian Restaurant.

For those of you determined to wing it.  Start with a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. The big one. You need the motor of a diesel truck if you aren't going to burn in out the first half dozen tries. You also really want the pasta plates made for it. I know, I know, this can be done by hand. But trust me- you will work hard enough and when the motor starts up- time will teach your love a little bit of Pavlov reaction. Pasta can cure just about anything but cancer or diabetes. For those- see your doctor.

You will also find a kitchen scale the most reliable tool of perfection. My preferred basic mix is 8 ounces semolina flour plus 8 ounces all-purpose flour.  A generous tsp of salt- or more mixed in.  This is all mounded on a board like a volcano- into the crater are dropped 2 whole eggs, which the fingers work the dough to swallow up. Not waiting for the eggs to be absorbed, 1/4 cup of high quality olive oil- or for fun- truffle oil- are massaged into the mass. Then carefully, 1 Tbsp at a time, just enough water is added to make the pasta dough the density of modeling clay.

When the dough feels "right" I let the dough hook in the Kitchen Aid work it for another 10 minutes. Exhausted, at this point the dough is rubbed with a bit of olive oil and let relax. This is why you want to take a class. To "see"  and "feel" what exhausted and relaxed are like to pasta.

While the pasta relaxes, I go full tilt.

Gremolata  is a condiment that is more than a condiment. It is a little recipe that belongs to be filed in potions under seduction. Put in pasta, on meatballs or with vegetables. It is one of the easiest concoctions to make an every-woman look like a kitchen-genius. 

Gremolata can be kept on hand in the refrigerator for a few days- if you can possibly forget this condiment that elevates pasta, vegetables or any number of courses to gastronomic giddiness.  

Chop a small handful of hazelnuts and gently warm in a small pan with a splash of olive oil.  Working quickly- freshly grate the zest from 1/2 Meyer lemon. Toss in a handful of breadcrumbs you have saved in the freezer from one of those otherwise dreadly loaves they sell at 4 pm in the grocery stores. Despite coming from some of the worst bread sold in America- day old- they make fabulous crumbs. Roll fresh flat leafed parsley under a pizza wheel to finely chop.

Pull off the heat and freshly grind sea salt and pepper to taste. If you adore Asiago cheese- a fresh grating adds another layer to be appreciated without the taster knowing exactly why your pasta  is so much better than what was sold in the school cafeteria growing up. 

The Meat Balls

1 lb ground sirloin (85-15% is a tasty ratio)
2 Sweet Italian Sausages, casings removed
2 large Eggs
2 Tbsp flat leafed parsley, 1 Tbsp Oregano and 2 Tbsp Basil, All fresh, all  finely chopped.
1 Cup Sweet Onion diced finely
1 Cup Homemade Bread Crumbs (refer to notes with Gremolata)
1/4 cup Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.

GENTLY mix the above ingredients.

Pepperoni slices- Use a small ice cream scoop to measure the meat ball, press a slice of pepperoni in to each  and  then roll into a ball.  To help the balls hold their shape in cooking, I like to let them take a refrigerator break. 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Brown the meat balls in a skillet with either olive oil or bacon fat to get a nice criminalisation going. Then fill a baking dish with the balls. Bake to finish in the oven- about 15 minutes of so.
Now this is more food than 2 adults are going to eat at one setting. so play with the pasta sauce and other courses that so there is no perception of lack of variety. 

The pasta is made in fresh batches for each meal. Boiled in generously salted water for just 3 minutes, the lightness of texture and smoothness on the tongue is unforgettable. 

If you lift the pasta from the water to drain it, you can drizzle a few tablespoons of the pasta water  to help the cheeses and sauce marry the spaghetti more fully.

The first night, the spaghetti pooled on the plate to hold the meatballs, on which gremolata was rolled over. The sauce was simplicity itself- just fresh tomatoes from the garden were rough chopped and barely heated with smashed garlic and grated salt and pepper.  

The second night, the sauce was from an opened jar. However, depth of flavor was provided by a spoonful of Silafunghi Hot Chili Sauce from NapaStyle. Do go gently with the spoon fulls added. Too much to the uninitiated and you might need the  fire extinguisher you do keep under your cabinet, don't you?

Which would be its own kine of memorable. But not simple nor sophisticated.

That would be a story for a different kind of blog.


  1. Oh My Lydia!

    I am worn out! Even tho I have one of thos fancy heavy duty Kitchen Aid processors (with one of those hooks too)I would never try to do what you just described. I am just not that motivated to work sooo hard in the kitchen. You sound like you have a great love for creating in the food department. All I can say is that I hope someday I can have the great pleasure of tasting what your homemade pasta is like. Look forward to it! :):)

    Hugs, Trisha

  2. Wow. You make me want to drop everything and find a pasta making class! Or maybe you'd like to hold one in your lovely kitchen??


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