Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Trucker's Pasta

As you probably know by now, I love pasta, and I judge books by their pasta recipes; if there is something intriguing about a name or a combination of ingredients I've never heard of before (and that sounds good to me), then I usually get the book.

This is from Made in Sicily, a lovely book by Giorgio Locatelli, who went to Sicily and found out how this old island - part of Italy and yet its own world - goes about cooking. This pasta is substantial, as its name implies, and yet there is no meat in it; and really, barely any cooking to speak of, besides boiling the water for pasta and some brief chopping.

The main problem I had with it was finding the right kind of pasta - the almighty bucatini, which looks like a fat spaghetti and pretty much is...until you look at it and see it's hollow! This is truly tubular pasta, therefore, and it is the one most suited to this dish. You could use linguine for it as well, but bucatini simply looks more truck driver-like to me. (For UK residents - I found mine at Sainsbury's; otherwise an Italian deli with a halfway decent pasta section should have it.)

Be warned: this is a very filling pasta. You don't have to know how to drive a truck to eat it, you just have to be hungry. I'm going to give you the recipe for four people - it can be easily divided into a meal for two, or one really hungry person.


450g chopped tomatoes (I used ones from a box because I could; canned is just as good)
2 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced as finely as you can
10 basil leaves, finely chopped
5 mint leaves, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g bucatini (or linguine if you can't find it)
80g pecorino cheese, grated

Once you have all these, the battle is half over. First, the sauce - get a big bowl and put the tomatoes, oil, garlic and herbs in it, one after another, and stir them up well and let them sit for an hour. You can just leave the bowl right there on the counter, it doesn't have to go anywhere special. Towards the end of the hour is a good time to get the water boiling and grate the cheese.

Once the water's boiling, make sure the pasta gets in the water all at once (Locatelli says you should use a fork to curl it). Cook it for a while, but drain it before it's absolutely done; save some of the pasta water and add it to your sauce. Add your pasta to the bowl and mix up well, adding about 70g of the pecorino and continue until it's nicely coated. Transfer to a good warm plate or bowl and add the rest of the cheese and be amazed at how a sauce as simple as this can taste so good. Salute!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Slacker's Delight

For those of you who cringe at the very idea of baking something just to have dessert and enjoy experimenting...also a 'cupboard/fridge cleaning' dessert, for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing.

Ingredients per dessert: one muffin, one scoop of ice cream, dark chocolate, double cream/half-and-half, golden syrup (optional)

The first ingredient is a muffin that is just a bit stale - not so much that it can't be eaten, but it is not just-fresh either. Get a serving bowl and break the muffin up into pieces, not too big, not too small. If a muffin can be broken up rustically, this is what you are after.

Then, ice cream. It doesn't matter if the ice cream in question is superdeluxe or ordinary as its main function is to add moisture to the muffin in question; the ice cream should go well with the muffin, of course, but that is a matter of taste I'll leave up to you. Put on just enough to make a good impression, as opposed to drowning the muffin altogether.

Now then - the cooking part. Get chocolate - the darker, the better - and break it up into pieces. Rig up (however you can) a bowl to melt it in, over boiling water. In my case I use my larger mixing bowl over the pot I make pasta in, as the bowl is large enough that no steam can turn back into water and mess the chocolate up. You could use a microwave for this I suppose, but chocolate is a delicate thing, so don't put it in there for much more than half a minute, I'd guess.

Melt the chocolate slowly - and the higher in percentage in cocoa it is, the longer that will take - and add a teaspoon or two of cream and stir. Be patient; use as much chocolate as you think you'll need for sauce, and wait and stir when it starts to melt. If you have some golden syrup around, put in a little of that, one squeeze will work. Stir some more and remove the bowl as it's hot enough now to keep going without being directly above boiling water. Stir until it's smooth and then using a spoon drizzle your sauce over the ice cream, leaving some for bowl-licking purposes, of course.

Good eats, as the man says! This recipe came from my own kitchen, though I am sure it has been done hundreds of times elsewhere.

What I've Been Up To

In case there's anyone still wondering about this blog - and there might well be - my only excuse for not writing here is that I am usually too busy doing other things, foodwise - namely, cooking, shopping, planning, eating or searching for yet another cookbook for my ever-growing/bookshelf-ingenuity-challenging cookbook collection. It grows and grows, people, as I fall, it seems perpetually to me, for one right after another. That said, there are only a few books I ever actually want at any given time, and this makes things easier. Not better, but easier. (I should also point out that my husband had a stroke just over two months ago and that has also, understandably, delayed my posting anything here.)

Of the making of cookbooks it seems there is no end; my only defence is my pickiness, which means that sometimes I just don't find anything, even in a good charity shop where there's more than one shelf. It takes an indefinable something to make me say yes to a book - and there's lots of ways a book can turn me off, including being too big (Ad Hoc at Home, I'm looking at you), being too much a restaurant-style food at home book (too many to mention but the cooking has to suit my modest kitchen), using Marmite (no explanation needed), being mainly about seafood (I don't really eat it, nor do I have much interest in it, frankly), and so on. Encyclopedic tomes with no discernible author, books with 'fabulous' in their titles, books published by a corporation (like Marks & Spencer or Sainsbury), books by anyone on tv that I am not familiar a North American I naturally stray away from anything too "British" as I am not part of the "we" or "our" these books are so concertedly pitched towards.

What do I like? I am quite partial to pretty books; American books; books where the author (and again, I don't really care if the author of the book wrote it or not; the voice has to be consistent and trustworthy though, which means I want it to be well-written) seems to be on my side as opposed to the side of the food. Books by non-chefs are fine with me, as they will actually explain whatever it is that needs doing with a bit more care. Simplicity and charm always work; I am not, like some, in search of perfection or wanting to master every cuisine known to mankind. Humor is needed in the kitchen and is needed in cookbooks, whether they know it or not.

Above are some of my newer editions, all trustworthy books that I got in various places. My aim is to cook from them all, as you know; and I will write about what I've cooked (and give you the recipe, of course) when I do.