Monday, July 12, 2010

Cooking outside the box

Dear Readers,

Surprisingly, I have not taken any flack since I admitted to using a boxed mix as the basis of my Chai-Spiced Mini Cupcakes in my last post. Frankly, I’m shocked because had I been following a blog in which the writings were focused on all things F-O-O-D, I’d be chagrined at such a revelation. But thankfully, you readers are much more forgiving and I appreciate it.

Regardless of this recent transgression, I’ve noticed of late, I’ve found it necessary to return to my culinary roots, as they were, by making everything from scratch. I’m embarrassed to say, over the past few years I’ve taken advantage of….shall we say….’short cuts’ when producing vast quantities of food for vast quantities of friends and family on a very regular basis. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve ‘Sandra Lee’d’ my food (ie, “Semi-Homemade” of the Food Network sort), but hey, life is hectic and teens are endlessly ravaged; friends are waiting in the wings---you get the picture. So I may have cheated a tiny bit and doctored up a sauce here or there. But honestly, only minimally.

And yet, I’ve felt guilty and cheap in each instance.

Therefore, as a result and with the start of No Reservations, I have recommitted to cooking with only the freshest, locally produced and organic ingredients whenever possible. And the results my friends, are a vast improvement.

Following is a tried and true recipe for homemade fettucine pasta with garlic, homegrown basil and organic tomatoes. The pasta recipe is derived from Chef Mario Battali’s “Basic Pasta Dough” (see his Babbo Cookbook---named for our favorite of his NY restaurants). I say derived because like many recipes, pasta dough is one with which the cook needs to endlessly experiment under conditions unique to her kitchen; sometimes requiring more liquid or more flour, depending on a multitude of variables, such as temperature, humidity, equipment, etc. Pasta is one of those foods in which it becomes evident that cooking is indeed, an art more than a science. Buon Appetito!

Basic Pasta Dough

Makes 1 pound

3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

4 extra-large eggs

½ tsp extra-virgin olive oil

Mound 3-1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. (I made this directly on my granite countertop. I find it easier to move the dough around than on wood, and cutting the dough to the right size is a no-brainer.) Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs and the olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil, then begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour has been incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with the heals of your hands. (Really not as intimidating as you think.) Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board (or counter) and continue kneading for six more minutes…(more or less.) The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temp before rolling or shaping as desired.

Again, like all pasta dough recipes, you must be willing to experiment and change up quantities of ingredients in order to achieve the perfect, elastic and fluffy result. (Trust me, you'll figure out what that means by playing around with it.)

For Suzanne’s Fresh Pasta Sauce:

Saute olive oil and garlic until the garlic is softened, but not browned.

Add chopped fresh tomatoes or halved cherry or grape tomatoes.

Throw in some fresh mozzarella -- NOT the plastic supermarket kind!

Lastly, tear fresh leaves of basil and toss in the pan to enhance the flavor of the oil.

Pour over pasta and pass the freshly grated parmesan.

The Result:

You will note from the following pictures, I am enjoying greatly the use of a pasta attachment to my stand mixer. While this appliance is certainly not a necessity, I have found it to be a great enhancer of the homemade pasta experience since rolling and cutting the various pasta shapes by hand requires years of experience and frankly, I just don’t have that many years left.

And of course, making food with close friends always elevates the final product!


  1. yea A-Bomb...go lakers


  2. yea a-bomb...go lakers