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Handmade Macaroni From Scratch

Last week Bogdan and I went to Town Tavern in Royal Oak because Four Square told us the lobster mac and cheese was “to die for.” It was not.

For the most part it was okay. The lobster was cooked well, the macaroni was slightly overdone but acceptable, the sauce could have been creamier. It would have been okay overall (like 6.5 out of 10 maybe?) but the ritz cracker crust was burnt. I don’t mean browned, I mean charred. Seemed to be a theme since the truffle fries we ordered were also covered in burnt garlic, which as far as I know is a big culinary no-no.

We definitely had high expectations not only based on the Four Square reviews, but also based on the cost. At $17 for a small plate of mac and cheese it better be to die for.

Anyway, the point is that after that experience I decided I would make my own mac and cheese from scratch. It’s a longstanding fascination of mine to taste the most scratch-made versions of anything and everything. I especially love making super indulgent guilty pleasures from scratch. They can only get better, right?

When it comes to mac and cheese this means the best cheddar I can find, pure cream, and most importantly homemade macaroni.

The Origins of Macaroni

Have you ever thought about where macaroni originated? Since I started making pasta more often I’ve gained an appreciation for how certain pasta shapes must have developed. For example, I’ll never forget the first time I used the pasta machine and looking down at the long, thin uncut sheets of pasta it my hands it suddenly dawned on me that I was holding lasagna. It was a total revelation.

atlas mercato pasta machine

Lasagna is easy enough to understand, as is spaghetti and fettuccini, but when you consider more elaborate pasta shapes things start to get murkier.

Macaroni isn’t an obvious shape like lasagna or spaghetti. When I decided to make homemade macaroni it occurred to me that I had no idea how to do so. I scoured the internet and YouTube for help. I don’t have an extruder like this so that was out of the question. Luckily, Wikihow came to the rescue.

I don’t know if macaroni emerged spontaneously, the creative ambition of a bored Italian housewife somewhere, or if it came about with the invention of industrial extruders. Whatever the case, making macaroni by hand feels very old world and very traditional.

Macaroni Technique

The method I used was similar to the one described in the Wikihow post.  I made a double batch of my Go-To Pasta Recipe, rolled it out into thin sheets then cut into small roughly 2cm/1inch squares and used a bamboo skewer to roll them into little tubes.

On the one hand, it was tedious and it took a very long time to finish a bowl of macaroni. On the other, it was beautiful. Once I got the technique it was all muscle memory, like knitting. Knitting perfect little pasta jewels that we then got to eat.

Like all fresh pasta boil for up to 3 minutes for al dente. Do not bake in too much cream in the oven for an hour because you will regret wasting so much effort.

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Andouille Carbonara

We were at the farmers market asking around everywhere for chorizo. A few weeks earlier we attended a dinner to celebrate the engagement of two of our friends. They showed us a really neat Portuguese cooking method that involves setting alcohol on fire in a ceramic pig.

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How cool is that? As you can imagine I had to have one. I got the pig but the chorizo was no where to be found.   I asked everywhere but the closest thing I could find was andouille. I wasn’t sure if I would torch it (authenticity and all) but I knew I’d find something interesting to do with it in any case.

Carbonara is one of those things I crave every so often. What’s not to love about it? Creamy, cheesy, smoked cured meat….delicious. It was late on a lazy Saturday night and we had guests. We were all hungry for something comforting and rich. I was also hoping it would be easy and quick.

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I opened the fridge and stood there for a few minutes, thinking through the logistics of the different things I could make. I thought about pasta. I saw the andouille. That was that. The chives add a fresh counterpoint to the smokiness and flavour of the andouille. If you use andouille, look for a natural one without nitrites or preservatives like this andouille by Neto’s. You could use any sausage you have on hand like Spanish chorizo, Polish kabanosy, or even grassfed German Landjaeger. This makes about four average sized servings (or two enormous ones).

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Ingredients

4 servings spaghetti, fettuccine or other pasta of your choice

About 1/2 TBSP olive oil for sautéing

1/2 kg / 1 lb andouille (or other smoked sausage)

3 eggs

150 grams / 5.5 oz grated pecorino romano or parmigiano (you could also use gruyère in a pinch)

Salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Freshly cracked black pepper and chopped chives for garnish

 

Method

Boil pasta, al dente is preferable. The time depends on the type of pasta so check the package directions. Generously salt the water so it tastes like the ocean.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. While heating, cut the sausage into thin slices.

Pan fry the sausage until browned and crispy (or to your liking).

While sausage is frying, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk. Add the cheese and mix until incorporated.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain it reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the drained pasta in the skillet with the andouille and add the cooking liquid. Increase heat and agitate pan to keep things moving. You want to get it hot.

Once hot, remove from heat and pour into the egg mixture while whisking quickly and consistently until the eggs thicken. The residual heat from the pasta and sausage will cook the eggs. Pouring the hot ingredients over the eggs and working quickly will prevent scrambling the eggs. It should be salty enough from the pasta water and sausage but taste and adjust to your preferences.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper and chives.

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Creamy Portobello & Thyme Pappardelle

Mmmmm this was so SO good. It was Friday evening. We got in late after another rousing round of house hunting. We were really tired and just wanted something comforting and quick. This really delivered. Mushrooms are amazingly versatile and so delicious in so many ways. They impart a really satisfying and robust umami to this pasta that plays so well with the creamy and sharp cheese. Combine that with the herbaceous quality of thyme and spice of pepper and it makes for a really flavourful dish. I happened to have roasted garlic in the fridge from the day before, so it was a no brainer to toss it in. It would be pretty simple to make some:

Roasted Garlic

Turn oven on to 400 F / 200 C. Make a sort of bowl out of aluminum foil by cupping it in your hand. Place about 7 unpeeled cloves of garlic in and drizzle with olive oil. Close up the bowl of foil and put it in the oven (even if it’s still preheating). Leave it in there about 20 minutes. That’s probably how long it’ll take you to prepare the rest of the ingredients and cook the mushrooms. When ready remove from oven, peel and mash cloves and put them in the sauce.

A splash of white wine would also be lovely. Overall, I think it took me about 30 minutes. The mushrooms need to release their liquid and soften which is probably what takes the longest. This isn’t at all a finicky dish so feel free to make it on a weeknight!

Ingredients

4 servings egg pappardelle or pasta of your choice

About 1 TBSP olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 yellow onion

4 large portobello mushroom caps

2 TBSP salted butter

2 cups milk

1 TBSP corn starch

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated parmigiano reggiano plus another 25 grams / about an ounce petals for garnish (I used a mandolin to make the petals but you can also slice thinly or buy them pre-made)

1.5 tsp fresh thyme

7 cloves roasted garlic (see recipe above)

Fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Method

Boil pasta per package directions.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

While onions are sautéing, slice the mushrooms into 1 cm strips.

Add mushrooms to pan and cover (it might seem like a lot of mushrooms but they’ll reduce down significantly)

Uncover when they’ve reduced in size and darkened in colour. Use a spatula to gently turn them in the pan. Recover until they are consistently cooked. The mushrooms are very fragile until they cook through so they can break easily if moved. I wanted my slices to stay intact but it’s up to you how you want them to turn out. You may notice some liquid in the pan as the mushrooms release their water.

Once all of the mushrooms are roughly the same colour, add the milk to the pan and gently mix in. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and use your spatula to mix it in.

Add the thyme, roasted garlic, and grated cheese and mix to combine. Simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the milk has reduced to a sauce consistency. If it doesn’t reduce enough add a bit more cornstarch and simmer another 5 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.

Salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper, thyme, and parmigiana petals. Beautiful. Simple. Enjoy.

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