Posts Tagged ‘Varenna’

Homemade Fresh Pasta

May 22, 2011

There are certain things I just won’t cut corners on. I won’t make cookies from a box, bag or anything that says “break and bake.” I won’t ever buy marinara sauce from a jar. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of buying a pre-made cake.

But, before you think I don’t have a full-time job, multiple hobbies and a life outside the kitchen, let me tell you what I DO cut corners on. I will, every once in a while, buy a pie crust (my grandmother would cringe). I have been known to buy jams from a jar, salsa from a jar and – gasp – dips from a jar. But the one shortcut I did every week, every Thursday, without batting an eyelash, was buy fresh pasta. That is, however, until I went to Italy.

When I experienced a cooking class outside of Varenna with the talented Moreno, I had a new outlook on Italian cooking. Much like the view I have on cooking, Italians enjoy making the food as much as eating it. And, the more steps of the process your hands touch, make or mold, the more love you can put into the dish you will serve your loved ones. Dear Moreno made pasta from scratch. No attachments to mixers. No crank machines. Just his hands, a rolling pin and a few simple ingredients.

I would be fooling myself (and overestimating the size of my kitchen) if I thought I could make pasta with a rolling pin. But it did inspire me to make pasta. After all, I call it a sin to not make your own gravy, so why would I buy fresh pasta?

Step one was a pasta maker, and I was lucky enough to get one from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to try it. I searched back for Moreno’s recipe which had semolina flour (and I couldn’t find it anywhere) so I looked up a few recipes online for all-purpose flour. I cleared a Sunday afternoon, got out my machine, and went to work.

I would be lying if I told you the first time it was perfect – in fact, it was far from. The dough just didn’t feel right in my hands (sign one) then the crank number the recipe called for made the pasta feel too thin (sign two). But, it gave me enough hope to try again.

Four times, and four recipe alterations later, I finally got it. The perfect pasta noodle. While I am still mastering tagliatelle, I think ravioli might be a natural progression. However, anything more complex, I am buying from the store!

A few tips when you make pasta:
1. Don’t cut short kneading the dough. If you don’t do it for at least 10 minutes, the dough won’t be right. You will be tired, and wonder why, but you feel it in your hands when the dough takes form.
2. Don’t forget to let it rest. It needs this time after being needed for so long. At least for 3o minutes.
3. Don’t be afraid to use flour once the noodles are made in order to separate them.
4. Go into the process knowing you will tweak your recipe many times before finding one that works.
5. Allow yourself at least an hour for the process (if not a little more).
6. It tastes better and is much more fun if you make it while sipping red Italian wine and listening to Italian music.

I would love to give credit to someone this recipe but I used one I found online and changed it so much, I don’t even recognize it anymore. So, I suppose I should credit myself (although there surely are many duplicates out there).

So in Italian fashion, when I make pasta, the whole meal tastes of the love I put into it. I recently revisited my pistachio cream pasta the time I finally nailed my noodle recipe. It was almost like a different dish – a dish entirely made from scratch. No shortcuts. But lots of love.

HOMEMADE FRESH PASTA
Serves 2-3

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ Tablespoon warm water

Put flour on a marble, wooden or smooth countertop and create a “volcano” and create a well in the center. In a bowl, mix the eggs, salt and olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the well and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, pulling flour from the area around the well. You might have to add the yolk in multiple phases in order for it to fit in the well without spilling over.

As things begin to get incorporated, keep kneading (even if your well breaks) and add the water if necessary. This will be messy, but keep going! Once you have the mixture in a ball form, begin kneading the dough. Fold it in have and press against the counter. Start a timer and knead for no less than 10 minutes and you will see your dough begin to take shape.

Once your 10 minutes is up, cut your dough in half to form two little balls. Put them in a bowl (or two separate bowls) and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

If you are using a crank machine, take the first ball and press onto the counter to push into a flat pancake. Make sure your pasta maker is on the widest setting (mine is 7) and crank the dough through. Keep flour on the dough to keep it from getting sticky. Keep changing the setting every time until you get the thickness you want (for mine the perfect thickness is level 3). Then, crank it through the cutting side, keeping it floured and you have fresh pasta! This pasta can also be frozen, I am told, but I have yet to do it.

The flour with the well of egg mixture in the center.

My husband demonstrating how to knead the dough!

The balls of dough after they have been kneaded.

Passing the dough through the pasta press.

Cutting the pasta. The last step!

Dinner!

The Culinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 1 (Venice & Lake Como)

June 12, 2010

So yes, it has been a month since my last blog post. No, I didn’t stop cooking and I certainly didn’t stop eating. I spent 2 weeks in Italy, vacationing with my husband, and 2 more debating how on earth I would going to write a blog post (or multiple blog posts) about it.

The reality is, we will be doing this in phases. We took a cooking class in Lake Como that warrants its own blog post. Also, each region had such different, unique food – I will be breaking this out into Northern Italy (Venice, Lake Como), Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera, Tuscany, Umbria and Rome.

So, I will start from the top…

I was lucky enough to have been to Italy once with my parents, but I barely dipped my toe into the culture, the food and the wine. I knew I needed to go back. On the flip side, my Italian husband (whose grandfather came from a small town in Tuscany called Pietrasanta) had never been. We love food. We love wine. It seemed so obvious.

So, on our 3 year anniversary, I surprised my husband with plane tickets for the next spring, and 8 months later we were on a very long Delta flight to Venice for two weeks of relaxation, romance, scenery, food and wine. And more wine.

I did my culinary homework before the trip – reading about the foods in each region and studying up on my issues of La Cucina Italiana (I highly recommend it). I started to learn what areas were known for, what you “have to have” in each city, and the importance of all of the Italian basics.

VENICE

Our trip began in Venice, and I will admit I was so enamored by the romance and a bit blurred by jetlag, that I didn’t take photos of much food in this city. But, it was obvious the abundance of seafood. Our first night when my husband got Carbonara (my personal favorite) I went with a seafood pasta. Of course, it was a small taste of what 2 weeks in Italy would be like – food heaven. Also, in Venice we had our first gelato (which was followed by MANY more) – there is nothing else like it! Gelato is make with milk instead of cream (which is how ice cream is made) so gelato is lighter and smoother.

Below are a few food and wine pictures from Venice:

Gelato

Street market stall

Panini

Drinks at Cafe Florian - I had the house red, Rob had sambuca

VARENNA, LAKE COMO

After a mere one night in Venice, we took the train to Varenna on Lake Como. I was particularly excited about this city, and not for the chance of running into George Clooney (although it would have been nice.). I have heard that Lake Como is a gem – a still somewhat off the beaten path vacation area for wealthy Milanese. The alpine lake is a crystal blue, the alps show their snow caps in the distance and the little villages are quaint and surreal. Every view was a postcard.

Beef Risotto with Red Wine Sauce at La Vista

Our first night in Varenna we had reservations at Ristorante La Vista – very well known for amazing cuisine. We each started with a shrimp bruschetta that was amazing, the freshness and slight citrus of the dish woke up your palate. My entree was a risotto with beef, yet instead of the traditional broth sauce, it was a heavy wine sauce, drizzled with a red wine syrup. It seemed so intriguing on the menu, I knew I had to try it and it was so rich and deep with flavor. I could never recreate it.

Filet of Beef with Balsamic Reduction at La Vista

My husband had a filet mignon with a balsamic glaze. I beamed with pride when he told me it tasted like my filet mignon I make for him with balsamic (on this blog) but of course the quality of the balsamic in Italy surpasses anything we have in the US, so it certainly was a notch above. Dessert was a chocolate dream on a plate. And complementing our meal along the way was a splurge wine – a Barolo. Lake Como is close to the Barolo region and as we attempted to eat regional cuisine and drink regional wine on the trip, we knew it was the right wine for the night. It was one of the best bottles of wine I have ever had.

Chocolate Goodness at La Vista

As if we hadn’t had our culinary overload on our first night, on day two we were picked up in the Varenna square by Francesca who wove us up some hills for 10 minutes (Italian driving at its best) to her father Moreno’s restaurant in Perledo. We partook in a cooking class at his restaurant – 5 hours of cooking, drinking, eating and hearing Moreno’s stories. As I mentioned, this experience deserves its own entry, so I will do one at a later date.

Other food and wine we enjoyed in Varenna (and nearby Bellagio, after which the famous LasVegas hotel is named) included:

The Barolo at La Vista

In Northern Italy, an Aperitivo (drink before dinner) always included lots of snacks

Chianti Classico

Tiramisu - my favorite!

Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Sausage and Fennel

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs

Filet Mignon with Green Peppercorn Sauce

Melon with Proscuitto


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