A blade shines in the darkest of the nights
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!
Making of Pesto Sauce
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.
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.
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.
Taken from Cooking Light - Pasta
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Serves : 6
Making Meat Sauce (Bolognese)
Making Béchamel Sauce
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.
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).
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.
Makes : 4 - 6
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!
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.