Selection is a valid cooking method. I say in some ways it is the most important of cooking skills. to select the correct ingredients, to balance a giving plate with flavors is an essential skill, one that should not be overlooked, as important as properly cooking an egg or my feeble attempts at baking. i mention this because this weeks feast consisted of an antipasto course that was not so much prepared as selected. i make no excuses for it, it was as it should be and was damned tasty, regardless of the fact that i did little more than arrange the ingredients on a serving board. it was what was needed for balance.
this week, i decided on a bit of italian influence. a simple meal, consisting of freshly baked ciabatta bread, an antipasto plate and pasta arrabiatta with a bit of a twist. sometimes you just need a little pasta to make everything better
the long pole on this tent was obviously the ciabatta. baking is my achilles heel, i admit to the fault but i still plunge headfirst into it without regard to success or failure. i’ll admit that i know my failings. i should be much more careful about my measurements. i need to approach baking with a bit more respect for the balance of wet and dry ingredients. i know this. but still, i run cavalier over the whole thing and as a result, i could do better. don’t get me wrong, the bread turned out pretty good but the crust was just a bit chewier than i would have liked. small fault but a fault nonetheless. i did some poking around on the net and found a ciabatta recipe from the fine people at king arthur flower that is quite detailed and explicit. when followed properly, i would guarantee a positive result. here is a link to the pdf on their site that also includes a recipe for baguettes which i shall approach over the next few months.
because my liquid content was a little to high, my loaves flattened out a bit more than they should have. the dough should be very sticky but not runny. a little more flour in my mix next time.
it’s funny, i could swear that their were two loaves as evidenced here in the picture but by the time the pasta was ready and Eddie dropped by, only one loaf remained to be sliced. i guess its one of life’s mysteries that will never be unfurled.
for the antipasto, i decided to go with a fresh mozzarella sliced thick, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano, served up with a selection of garlic stuffed olives and Pepperoncinis, slightly hot, slightly sweet. a small bowl of olive oil with red pepper flakes and the slice ciabatta rounded out the starter.
i really enjoy making pasta sauce from scratch. i suppose everyone would make it slightly different but here is my take on it. as with the majority of dishes i make these days, this one starts out with a whole diced onion cooking down in a bit of olive oil until the onion is translucent and slightly brown. transfer the cooked onion into a saucepan and brown off about a pound of ground italian sausage. while the sausage is cooking, dice up 4 tomatoes. reserve one of the diced tomatoes and puree the other three. pour the tomato puree in with the onions and add the cooked sausage, draining off any excess oil first. bring this to a simmer and add it 4 red hot peppers cut into a large dice so that they retain some shape and texture in the sauce, 6 cloves of garlic, minced, a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped, salt pepper and a bit of oregano. you want to cook this down until a fair bit of the moisture evaporates, totally up to you how long, cook it accordingly for how thick you like you pasta sauce. meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. you want a lot of water in comparison to the amount of pasta you are cooking. this gives the pasta room to move around in the water and plenty of space for the excess starches to disperse. too small an amount of water and your pasta is likely to get glue-y and nasty. and nobody wants that. bring the water to a rolling boil and dump in the amount of pasta you plan on serving with the meal. don’t make extra, it will just get nasty if you try to reheat the noodles and its quick enough to make some more when you serve the leftover sauce. return the pot to a boil and cook for around 6 – 7 minutes until the pasta is al dente, chewy still but not crunchy. should be easy to bite through but not soft enough to squish with your tongue. i used spirals because all those crevices are great for collecting pasta sauce. drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pasta, stir well and drain. serve immediately topped with the pasta sauce and some freshly grated parmesean, looking a little like the picture below
the wine that accompanied this meal actually turned into a funny little story. Eddie picked up a nice bottle, a 2004 Amarone della Valpolicella. Props to him, its exactly the sort of wine i would have chosen to go with this meal. However, the wine had a different plan. over the past 5 years, the cork took a real liking to its position in the bottle. Both Eddie and I struggled mightily but were unable to dislodge it. the rim of the bottle has grooves in it now from the leverage applied to the corkscrew. Finally, the corkscrew we were using broke, leaving the worm lodged in the cork. so, leftover lager from last week was quickly substituted. you didn’t expect us to go thirsty did you? now i need to go and buy a better corkscrew and make another meal suitable for this reluctant wine…
All in all, another enjoyable meal, no real faults in it aside from my striking lack of baking skill. i will bang my head against that wall until i get it right if its the last thing i do.