Posts tagged homemade

Homemade Orecchiette

Three years ago, my inaugural post on this blog was about making fresh pasta. Jim and I had pulled our never-used pasta machine out from storage, mixed together an egg-based dough, and cranked out an overwhelming quantity of linguine for the first time. Despite this successful experience—and apart from two other tiring experiments with homemade ravioli and ricotta gnocchi—making fresh pasta never became a habit for us. But on Sunday I was feeling adventurous and energized, and decided to try my hand at it again, this time with orecchiette.

Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian. Small and circular with an indented center (hence the name), they are typical of the Southern region of Puglia, the area where my mother is from. Puglia’s flat landscape and arid temperatures are ideal for wheat production, making pasta and bread the most substantial elements of the region’s cuisine.

One of the interesting things about orecchiette and other traditional pastas from Southern Italy (such as cavatelli and strozzapreti) is that the dough is often made without eggs—flour, water, and salt are the main ingredients. A mixture of semolina and white flour forms the base of what becomes a chewy, dense pasta that can stand up to the most aggressive sauces. I have to say, this is one of the easiest doughs I have ever worked with. The absence of eggs creates an elastic dough that is quickly kneaded into a smooth ball, ready for shaping.

The rest of the steps on Sunday were decidedly un-exhausting. I divided the dough into 8 equal pieces, rolling each one into a long rope. After cutting them into compact squares, I pushed my thumb in the middle of each piece and gently dragged them a short way across my pasta board, creating a series of concave disks. I’ll admit, my first few attempts looked more like Fritos corn chips than perfectly circular orecchiette, but these are supposed to be rustic, right? Eventually I got the hang of it, and before I knew it, two cookie sheets were full of orecchiette waiting to be cooked.

In order to keep with the Puglian theme, I used my homemade “ears” in one of the region’s iconic dishes: orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. Because of their cup-like shape, orecchiette are rarely paired with smooth tomato- or cream-based sauces; chunkier sauces with meat or vegetables work better with this particular pasta. While the orecchiette cooked, I combined some blanched broccoli rabe with olive oil, garlic, and our favorite fennel sausage from our local pork store. Once tossed with these ingredients, the orecchiette formed a neutral, sturdy base for the bitter greens and strongly spiced meat, a classic combination that works every time. Now that I know how easy it is to make orecchiette, I see many more Puglian Sundays in our future. Cavatelli, here we come!

Recipe for Homemade Orecchiette with Fennel Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

For the pasta dough (recipe adapted from Michele Scicolone’s A Fresh Taste of Italy):

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water

Combine the all-purpose and semolina flours and the salt in a food processor. With the machine running, slowly add the water, until a stiff ball of dough forms. Remove the dough from the processor and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about a minute or two.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Take one piece and keep the remaining pieces covered with the inverted food processor bowl or another bowl. Taking the dough between your hands, roll it into a long rope about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces. With your thumb parallel to the long side of each piece, push it into the center of the dough and slightly drag the piece backwards. It will curl around your thumb, creating a concave disk. Set aside and repeat with the next piece of dough. When finished with all the dough, place the orecchiette on cookie sheets lined with napkins and a light dusting of flour. Cook right away or freeze. You should wind up with about a pound of pasta.

To freeze the pasta, place the filled cookie sheets in the freezer. Freeze until they are solid (about an hour or two) and then transfer the orecchiette to freezer-safe bags. They can be frozen for up to one month. When you are ready to use them, don’t defrost them. Add them directly to boiling, salted water and cook as usual.

For the Sauce:

  • sea salt
  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe, washed with ends trimmed
  • 4 links of high quality fennel sausage
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of water (big enough to hold the pasta) to a boil. Season with sea salt. Add the broccoli rabe and blanch for about 3 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the rabe from the water and set aside. Chop roughly into smaller pieces. Do not drain the boiling water.

While the broccoli rabe is cooking, cook the sausages under the broiler for about 6 minutes, turning them after 3 minutes. Remove from the broiler and slice into 1/2-inch pieces. The pieces will probably still be a little pink in the middle.

Add the pasta to the boiling broccoli rabe water, and cook until al dente, about 10 to 13 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the sausage and the broccoli rabe to the pan, cooking until done, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the pasta when ready.

Toss the broccoli rabe and sausage with the cooked pasta. Add a glug of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with pecorino romano or parmesan cheese. Serves 4. Enjoy!

Comments (5) »

Taking Stock of Chicken Stock

stock

For many years I couldn’t bring myself to make my own chicken stock. I relied on cans of low-sodium broth whenever a recipe called for it, sometimes employing a bouillon cube or two mixed with water instead. Due to fear or laziness—or maybe a bit of both—there was something about saving chicken bones in the freezer and having to “skim the scum” off a simmering pot of stock that made this project intimidating to me. I thought I’d try it someday, but in reality I found any reason I could to delay the project.

Then a year ago I read this post by the author Michael Ruhlman, and felt my cheeks grow hot with shame as he railed against the use of canned broth. I hung my head and vowed to change my ways. Well, in retrospect I must not have felt so badly, because it took me a full year to finally attempt my own stock.

After Jim and I roasted and feasted upon that grass-fed chicken from Grazin’ Angus Acres a few weeks ago, I threw the bones in the freezer and waited for a free afternoon to devote to stock-making. This past windy and rainy Sunday gave me the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and cook. I threw the chicken bones in my Dutch oven with a couple of chopped carrots, celery stalks, half an onion, a bay leaf, parsley, some fennel fronds, salt and pepper, and then covered it all with water. I used a recipe from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food as my reference, but stocks can be made with all sorts of leftover vegetables; there aren’t many rules. I brought the contents of my pot to a boil, quickly lowered them to a simmer, and kept my eye on the broth for the next two hours.

Other bloggers besides me have stated the truth: Making stock from scratch is easy. After lowering the soup to a simmer, there’s simply not much to do while it cooks. And although I diligently looked for the fatty scum to rise to the top, it never arrived. My broth simmered peacefully, filling my apartment with the comforting perfume of chicken and vegetables. After a couple of hours I carefully strained it from the vegetables and bones and figured out what to do next.

soup

I wound up using most of the stock that day, substituting it for water in a soup of kale, white beans, and crumbled chicken sausage. As I raised spoonful after spoonful of the hearty soup to my mouth, I focused on the broth, trying to see if I could tell the difference between it and the canned stuff. My homemade version was definitely a creamier, richer broth than I was used to; Jim and I both declared it a success. I was proud that I had finally put the effort into making my own stock and conquering my fear of the unknown. But I was also pleased that I knew exactly what ingredients went into my broth. There were no suspicious flecks of unknown herbs, and I was able to control how much salt went into it.

After I made the soup, I was left with about 2 cups of broth. I promptly stored my stock in the freezer, where it will wait for a future risotto or perhaps a pasta dish. I’d love to say that I’ll never use canned broth again, but I imagine I might break that vow one day when I’m in a rush. Just don’t tell Michael Ruhlman. 

Comments (5) »

Working Out with Tomatoes

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been to the gym in over a year. I used to work out, but I don’t anymore, and I need to start again. But thanks to the arrival of tomato season, I’ve just discovered the perfect upper body work out: making fresh tomato sauce.

Last week I couldn’t resist all the tomatoes I saw at the farmers’ market near my office. Knobby, misshapen heirlooms, peppy yellow and red cherry tomatoes—it was difficult to choose, but I finally bought three pounds of juicy plum tomatoes and came up with my saucy agenda.

I borrowed my mother’s food mill, a simple metal contraption with a hand-operated crank that used to belong to my grandmother. After cooking the tomatoes for a few minutes, I turned, pushed, and swirled that crank over them, running the press forward and back again as the tomatoes’ skins and seeds separated from the pulp. When my right arm had enough, I switched to the left. I could almost feel my muscles getting bigger and buffer.

But what excited me more than my possibly chiseled biceps was simply making my own sauce from scratch and having a strong connection with the meal I was creating. It was so much more satisfying than opening a can of crushed tomatoes and cooking them down into a sauce. I actually smiled and laughed out loud as I spun that crank around and around. I never had this much fun on the StairMaster, I’ll tell you that much.

As the sauce slowly cooked on the stovetop, it thickened and became as crimson as an ocean sunset. I tossed it with some penne pasta and garnished the dish with fresh basil for a simple, sweet meal that I enjoyed from start to finish. With a glass of red wine and a green salad, I was set for the night. I’ll get back to the gym some other time, maybe after tomato season is over.

Recipe for Fresh Tomato Sauce 

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 medium onion, halved and then cut into thin strips
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • sugar 
  • basil
  • 1 pound of penne or any other ridged pasta
  • parmesan cheese
  • black pepper

Heat a large sauté or sauce pan over medium heat. Add your tomatoes. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften and their juices start to run out. Take the pan off the heat.

Spoon a small quantity of the tomatoes into a food mill. The food mill should be placed over a bowl, so that the pulp can drip into it. Turn the crank and run the food mill’s blade over the tomatoes, crushing them so that skins and seeds are separated from the pulp. You should turn the crank forwards and backwards, pushing down on it to add pressure. Repeat until you have strained all the tomatoes. Discard the seeds and skins from the mill.

Wipe out your original sauce pan with a paper towel. Over medium heat add a few glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add your onions. Sauté the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and discard.

Add your strained tomatoes to the pan. Add a few dashes of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a handful of fresh basil leaves. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir the sauce and reduce heat to low so that that sauce is simmering. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce is ready when it reaches your preferred level of thickness.

When ready, cook your pasta. Toss sauce with cooked pasta. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper. Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately. Serves 4. Enjoy! 

Comments (2) »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.