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The BloggerAid Cookbook

Homemade Fresh Pasta

I know I have been sadly neglecting my blog ever since I came back to Singapore (my 2nd home) and I'm honestly quite ashamed of it. Frankly I thought I would have more time to spent on writing and cooking for my blog but I was sadly mistaken. I had completely forgotten one very important factor: Little One is on summer vacation - that means she has no school 5 days a week for 2 months!!! And that means it's 'mommy! mommy! mommy!' from 7 am till 10 pm (strangely she can't seems to go to bed early like she did in France). Lucky me, I just happen to have a kid who is a morning riser no matter what time she goes to bed. Initially I thought 'no problem, I can occupy her, cook and blog at the same time. After all I did it before when she was little and she wasn't school then. It shouldn't be any different.' Ha! I found out the hard way that as Little One grows older, the more time and attention she commands of me. There goes my first-time mum theory of 'as they grow older, they'll be more independent and will play more on their own.' The first week in Singapore were new and exciting for Little One - language barrier didn't even posed a problem for her. Frankly she didn't even care if the other person or little kid didn't understand French. She just carried on blabbering to them, much to the amusement of the locals and kids. I have to say she did try her very best to think of French words in English and speak it but wasn't very successful. However within a week in an English speaking environment (or Singlish, depends on how one sees it), she now speaks English very fluently and can carry a long conversation with strangers on the street or train. I also encourages her to speak in French with me or Pierre so that she doesn't forget her other language.

As predicted, the excitement of being in a new environment quickly wore out and she got bored at home with no kids to play with (all the little kids in Singapore are either back in school or in full day care centre while their parents are at work). So I decided to enrol Little One in a local kindergarten for 3 hours each day so that she can at least play with little kids and at the same time, learn Mandarin (she's very keen to learn that) and English in an local environment. She loves her new school and looks forward to learning Mandarin every day, except writing Chinese characters which she finds it very hard and difficult. Who can fault her on that? Even I, at my age, find it hard to write certain characters. Learning how to speak Mandarin is a lot easier than learning how to write and read Chinese.

Now today's much awaited recipe was taught by a lovely Italian lady to Little One and her class during one of her many school excursions. The older kids visited the Chadieu Castle while the little ones like poppet got to learn how to make fresh pasta. We, the adults (teachers and parents volunteers for this outing) were frankly more excited than the kids! The kids were asked to of course wash their hands first, then each took turns to 'play' with the dough. Some cracked the nuts while others grated the cheese. And at the end, all the kids enthusiastically set to work, pinching, rubbing, churning out little pasta worms. (yes, we are horrible child labour exploiters!) Boy, did they do a very good job and they couldn't wait to taste their hard work. While the pastas were cooking, the teacher's assistant distracted the kids by asking each one to grace us with a song. You should have seen how every kid was tucking it in hungrily and savouring it to the last (not that they were hungry but they sure have gourmet taste buds). Little One loved it so much that she asked for another serving. All the kids went home all excited at the prospect of making pasta at home with their mum. The next day, some mum I met at school curiously asked me what exactly did their kid made during the excursion because she/he was excitedly talking about making something with flour, water, nuts, cheese etc. I guess this shows the pasta making session was a great success!

Made this delicious pasta with Little One I did, not once but twice at home. Well, Little One got bored pretty fast and I was left to finish the rest myself. Be warned, if you are doing it alone, it's quite labour intensive!

Homemade Fresh Pasta (with Pesto Sauce)

Serves: 5-6

Ingredients

Making Pasta

  • 500 g durum wheat semolina/hard wheat flour (Semoule blanche de blé dur, fine)
  • water

Pesto Sauce

  • 1 packet Fresh Basil leaves (a bunch)
  • some hazel nuts or pine nuts or walnuts or almonds or macadamia nut (roughly chopped or broken)
  • 1 or 2 garlic (roughly chopped - add more if you wish)
  • a small block of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan - roughly grated or broken up)
  • Olive oil
  • salt & pepper for seasoning
Homemade Fresh Pasta
Directions

Making of Pesto Sauce

  1. In the food processor or blender, put the basil leaves, roughly chopped nuts, garlic, some parmigiano-reggiano and a lot of olive oil together. Season it with salt & pepper.
  2. Blend/process it until it is a puree. Stop and scrap down the sides in mid process if necessarily, to ensure that it is well mix and blend.
  3. Adjust the amount of olive oil according to your desired final consistency (thicker or thinner) ie. more olive oil if you prefer thinner consistency.
  4. Your pesto sauce is now ready to be mixed with your pasta.
  5. Store the sauce in an air-tight container with a thin layer of olive oil on top if there is any leftover or if you are not using it immediately. The pesto sauce keep well in the refrigerator for a week or more.
Homemade Fresh Pasta

Making Pasta

  1. In a big bowl, mix fine durum wheat semolina with some water. Continue to add water bit by bit while stirring until it forms a dough. If it is too wet, add a bit more durum semolina. If it is too dry, add a little bit of water.
  2. Knead the dough until it is smooth and soft.
  3. Take a small portion of dough off and cover the rest with a cloth.
  4. Lightly flour your working surface or your plate/dish and your hands too. Pinch a really small bit of dough off, roll it in between your palms. It should form a small noodle strand that looks like a worm. Drop it on the flour surface or plate. Continue to do the same with the rest of the small portion of dough.
  5. Once your plate is filled with pasta, sprinkle a little bit of flour on them and delicately mix them up without flattening them or distorting their shape. The flour prevents them from sticking to each other, forming a big lump.
  6. Continue rolling the pasta until all the dough is used up. Once all the pasta are done, set them aside.
  7. Bring a pot of water with some sea salt in it to boiling point, put in the pasta and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until al dente.
  8. Serve it hot immediately with freshly made pesto sauce and some freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano on top of it.
  9. Bon appetit!
Homemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh Pasta
The Verdict

This home made fresh pasta is simply the best I have ever tasted - most notably their texture feels definitely better in the mouth. It is so good. I'm terribly lousy at describing taste and texture so you'll just have to take my word for it and try it yourself to believe it!

Bottled pesto sauce never really did a thing to me. Frankly I never cared for it... that is until I made and tasted home made pesto sauce - it ROCKS! So totally different from the flat taste bottled sauce. The home made pesto is strong and tasty (full of flavour).

The whole family (parents-in-law, sis-in-law plus Pierre & Little One) loves it very much. Everyone went for 2nd helpings until nothing was left in the pot.

Notes

.
For the pasta, I didn't think to measure the water volume when I made this as that is how I learned it from the Italian lady at Little One's outing. I'll try to measure it next time when I make this again.

For the pesto sauce, I didn't give an exact amount because I also forgot to measure it. In any case, this sauce is rather flexible. You add the garlic, parmigiano-reggiano, nuts & oil according to how much you want in them. Add more garlic if you want it more garlicky. You can also toast the pine nuts before blending them together with the sauce.

Homemade Fresh Pasta
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Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce (Tomato)

Tomato has always been my favourite fruit, or more precisely favorite veggie until I learned it was actually not one. So what makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable, a vegetable? Basically if it has seeds, then technically (botanically), it's a fruit. So does that means cucumbers, green beans and walnuts are all fruits? Yes. And the rest of the plant where the fruit is from like the leaves (spinach), stems (celery), roots (carrots) and flowers (cauliflower) are referred as vegetables.

For the record, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, A & K, molybdenum, potassium, magnesium, dietary fiber, chromium, and vitamin B1,B2 & B6, folate, copper, niacin, iron, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, vitamin E and protein. With all these healthy benefits, we should eat more of this fruit. Don't you agree?;-)

Tomatoes are sensitive to cold, so don't put unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator as the cold temperature will impede their ripening process. It is best to store them at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. However, if the overripe tomatoes are not ready to be eaten, keep them in the refrigerator (it will keep for another one or two more days). Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator tend to lose flavor but they will regain maximum flavour and juiciness if taken out 30 minutes before using them. To hasten the ripening process, place tomatoes in a paper bag with a banana or apple.

As you might guessed it by now, today's recipe is all about tomatoes, lots of it.:-) Today I'm introducing a very popular Italian sauce called marinara sauce. Why is it popular? Simply because it is very quick and easy to prepare and the simplicity of this sauce makes it a very common and versatile base for many Italian dishes. The word marinara derives from the Italian word for sailor, marinaro (please correct me if I'm wrong). This sauce dated back to the 16th century, originated from Naples - back then, it was a very popular sauce to cook by the cooks on board sailing ships as it is easy to whip up, meatless and the high acid content of the tomatoes makes the sauce last longer.

This is my all time favourite pasta sauce. I have tried so many times to replicate this sauce sans success until my mom-in law gave me this book recently. All that went wrong with my 'tryings' is simply I didn't add enough tomatoes. Duh! Something so simple yet has such big enough impact on it. Amazing, isn't it.

Sphaghetti with Marinara Sauce (Tomato)

Taken from Cooking Light - Pasta

Serves: 6

Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp minced garlic
  • 2.7 kg or 6 cups tomatoes (coarsely chopped & peeled)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil (chopped)
  • ¼ cup fresh persil (chopped)
  • cooked sphaghetti (600 g uncooked sphaghetti)
Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
Directions
  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, let it cook for about 2 minutes stirring it frequently.
  3. Add tomato, season it with salt & pepper, bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, let it simmer for 25 minutes, stirring it occasionally.
  4. Add in chopped basil & persil, let it cook for 1 minute.
  5. Serve with pasta and parmesan (optional).
Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
The Verdict

Obviously it's very tomatoey, and you'll taste the difference if you use quality tomatoes. I only had dried basil and persil but this was so flavorful and "sunny", just imagine using fresh ones! Little One loves it and so did the adults who had 2nd and 3rd helpings.

Notes

Normally I cook a big batch of it and freeze the sauce in small batches - it comes in handy on days when I don't know what to cook or run out of food in the fridge or a very hungry kid or adults who can't wait for me to slave over the stove to present a big meal.:-)

For some kick in the pasta, add some dried chili when you are cooking the garlic. You can either remove them before adding the tomato or just leave them in. If you have little mouths, scoop up some sauce aside for them and throw in some freshly cut chilies to the rest of the sauce for adults.

Peeling tomatoes

Score a small 'X' with a knife at the bottom of each tomatoes. Place them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and quickly plunge them in iced water to stop the cooking. The skin is easily removed once the tomatoes are cooled.

Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
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Lasagne

It's funny how I have thought for years that lasagne were difficult and complicated to make - I mean, looking at the multiple layers of pasta and tomato sauce oozing out with the cripsy cheese on top etc. I thought only chef could whip that up... definitely not for the layman I used to be.

Now you would have thought that since I have now done quite a few dishes, making lasagne would be child's play for me... well, a few days ago I was still thinking that making lasagne was really complicated and beyond my cooking capability.:-p Why in the world do I still think that way, I have no idea. It's strange, isn't it. However after making these lasagne the other night, I realised that sometimes something that may look complicated sometime isn't. You should have seen my jaw dropped on the floor when I was preparing them - it is really is child's play: a layer of this and a layer of that, repeat it a few times and top it with grated cheese. Et voilà !

For this post, I really have Pierre and Michèle to thank for. Why ? If not for him thinking of his mom's lasagne and requesting for it, I wouldn't have overcome my cooking shyness. And thank you Michèle for sharing your recipe with us.

Lasagne

Serves : 6

Ingredients
  • 1 pack lasagne
  • 1 clove garlic (cut into half)
  • 3 onions (chopped)
  • 450 g minced beef & pork
  • 600 ml tomato puree
  • herbes de provence
  • salt & pepper
  • grated cheese
  • 750 ml béchamel sauce
lasagne, lasagna
Directions
  • Prepare your béchamel and meat sauce first and set it aside.
  • Rub the halved garlic all over the sides and base of a deep rectangle baking dish (or gratin dish). Don't throw it away after that - chop it up and cook it together with the meat sauce.

Making lasagne

  1. Preheat oven at 210°C (410°F - gas mark 7).
  2. Spread some béchamel sauce on the base of the prepared rectangle baking dish (or gratin dish), then lay each piece of lasagna side by side. It should more or less cover the dish.
  3. Put some meat sauce all over the dish, followed by a layer of béchamel sauce on top of it. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top of the béchamel sauce.
  4. Lay another layer of lasagne on top of it, followed by the meat sauce, then the béchamel sauce and some grated cheese. Repeat this until all meat is used up and end the dish with lasagna and a layer of béchamel sauce with grated cheese generously sprinkled all over.
  5. Bake it for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown like gratin.
  6. Serve hot and enjoy !

Making Meat Sauce (Bolognese)

  1. Heat up pan with some olive oil, when it's hot, stir-fry the chopped onions until it is golden and sort of transparent (it will be very aromatic). Throw in the chopped garlic.
  2. Add in the minced beef & pork and mix it well, making sure that the meat are broken up into small pieces.
  3. Sprinkle the amount of herbs de provence according to your liking. Season it with salt & pepper.
  4. When the meat is almost cooked, pour in the tomato puree and mix it well. Check to see seasoning is to your taste. Add more if needed.

Making Béchamel Sauce

  1. Melt 50 g butter in a pot at medium heat, add in 50 g plain flour and stir it vigorously with a whisk. Continue to stir vigorously until you obtain a mousse like mixture.
  2. Stir in 750 ml milk a little at a time (make sure it's well incorporated), vigorously to avoid getting lumps.
  3. When about half the milk is in, switch to a balloon whisk and start adding large amounts of milk instead, but always whisking briskly.
  4. Whisk it until it thickens, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting.
  5. Season it with salt, nutmeg and pepper.
  6. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes (whisk it from time to time) and then remove from heat.
lasagne, lasagnalasagne, lasagnalasagne, lasagna
The Verdict

The flavour of meat sauce and béchamel blend so nicely together giving these lasagne a rich and creamy taste that makes you long for the next bite, just to get more of the flavour. It is so good that you can easily over-indulge yourself. So be warned! The texture is a bit rich because I put a lot of béchamel sauce, you might want to put a little bit less of it if you like your lasagne to feel less creamy.

Notes

This is a great dish to prepare in several quantity and freeze it to be baked later whenever you wish.

Btw: In the US, this dish is commonly known as 'lasagna' (singular) while the rest of the world refer it as 'lasagne' (plural).

lasagne, lasagna
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Gnocchi, Gnocchi ... oh sweet delicious Gnocchi!

Gnocchi (pronounced 'ɲɔkki ) means dumplings in Italian (gnocchi is the plural of gnocco, which literally means 'lump') - made of potato and flour (there are different variations) that Pierre and some of my friends love so much. It's amazing how many food in common my friends have with my better half. It's just so weird at times.:-) Now, here's how our gnocchi adventure started:

A few days ago, while I was chatting with my friends on-line, I got a message from Pierre with a link to an article from Le Monde newspaper. I did a quick read through without really noting anything special about it. After a long silence from my part, Pierre asked me from his desk excitedly : Did you read the article I sent you ? to which I answered Yeah, so ? and he was going Well ? ... me : hmm... not bad. At this point, he was getting a bit exasperated at my air nonchalant. Him: Isn't it cool that she made gnocchi herself ? with that hopeful look in his eyes. I was about to say hmm, yeah. So ? again when it finally hit me. Oh you mean you want me to make these gnocchis ? ... now tell me, how can I say "no" to that "excited wishful puppy" look.:-D

Gnocchi

Makes : 4 - 6

Ingredients

Gnocchi

  • 1 kg old potatoes
  • 200 g Plain flour (approx.)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 egg
  • Salt

Sauce

Directions

Gnocchis

  1. Wash the potatoes and cook them (with the skin) in a pot of salted water.
  2. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them slowly (to keep them warm) as you peel each potato skin off while it is still hot.
  3. Flour the work surface and mash the potatoes over it using a potato masher or a food mill.
  4. Sprinkle half of the flour on the mashed potatoes, make a well in the middle and add in an egg, 1 yolk and a pinch of salt.
  5. Mix the potato-flour mixture together with your hands and slowly add in the rest of the flour as your work on till it forms a dough.
  6. Continue adding flour a little at a time while kneading the dough, until the potato dough is no longer too sticky but firm and is soft and fluffy - avoid incorporating too much flour.
  7. Cut the dough into a few smaller portions. Then sprinkle the work surface with a little flour, and place the first piece on it.
  8. Roll the dough into one or two long sticks approximately 2 cm (¾ inch) in diameter. Then cut it into pieces ¾ inch (2 cm) long and then roll it into a round oval shape in your hands.
  9. Roll the pieces along the prongs of a common fork using one finger, in a way so that the side of the piece running along the fork will be ruffled and the side you are pressing with your finger will be a little concave. Or simply press the gnocchi with your thumb with a rolling motion to create a small concavity.
  10. Spaced the gnocchi on a piece of cloth. Let it stand for 1 or 2 hours.
  11. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Once it is boiling, drop the gnocchies in a few at a time to avoid damaging them.
  12. After about 1 or 2 minutes the gnocchi will float to the surface, this means that they are cooked.
  13. Remove them as soon as they float to the surface with a large slotted spoon or strainer, draining thoroughly. Do not let the gnocchi overcook.
  14. Serve it immediately with sauce.

Sauce

  • Melt the cheese in a bain-marie (double boiler) with crème fraîche till well blended.
gnocchi doughgnocchignocchi
The Verdict

Wow! It's a million times better than the prepackaged ones. Everybody loves it, even my picky 1 year old baby. It's soft and taste like thick pasta with a slight potato flavour. It is not chewy like those industrial ones from the supermarket. I personally love it - I wasn't a fan before but now I'm converted (and I'm not saying this because it's me who made it !) Pierre and our guests had theirs with the gorgonzola cheese sauce while I had mine with crème fraîche mixed with a bit of butter (not a fan of blue cheese).

Regarding the preparation itself, I made them using fresh potatoes because I didn't understand what it means by "Vieilles pommes de terre". I thought it was some special type of potatoes. I just didn't make the connection between "vieille" and "old" in English. (I know, I know ... silly me, go ahead and have a good laugh - I don't know where was my brain that day). Next I over mashed the potato in my enthusiasm that it became a puree. And I should have worked the dough on a work surface instead of a big bowl. In the end, I had to use almost 500 g of flour to get a nice dough - over twice what the recipe said.

By the way, rolling the gnocchi on the fork to get the shell-like shape takes some practice but you will get the hook of it pretty fast. Or you can just simply imprint your gnocchi with your fork or thumb.

I'm so glad that with all the silly mistakes that I made, they still turned out great.:-) That made my day!

Note

Don't drain gnocchi in a colander as you would do with pasta. Gnocchi are very soft and may be damaged.

It is preferably that you use old potatoes which have higher starch content than fresh potatoes and avoid my mistake.

The classic accompaniments of gnocchi are tomato sauce, brown butter or sage sauce, or melted butter and cheese.

gnocchi


Edit on 08/24/2007:
this is my entry for the Hay, Hay, It's Donna Day #14 hosted by Lynne

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