Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pasta 101

Techniques and recipes for pasta vary widely – as do most things Italian. We’ve seen (and tried) many different recipes. Some include water and/or oil; some are much more fussy in their making.  We suggest that the following recipe is as reliable and easy as it gets. If you want to substitute a different flour, such as semolina or buckwheat, feel free. You may need to adjust the moisture content, but otherwise no changes are required. Similarly, you can add cooked spinach, but then you may want to remove some of the egg or add a touch more flour to compensate for the liquid being added via the spinach.

Basic Pasta Recipe

serves 6
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour

Blend the ingredients in a food processor until the mix looks like slightly coarse couscous and starts to come together - about 30-40 seconds. If it looks a bit dry and like fine couscous, you might want to add a little of the egg whites leftover from your yolks or add another yolk. The dough should not be at all sticky or wet though, so add the whites carefully if you need them (the dough will accommodate yolks much more readily – some of the pasta we ate in Piemonte a few years ago had two dozen or more yolks per pound of pasta).
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Turn out to a very lightly floured board and knead for about 30 seconds to a minute. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic and let rest for an hour in the fridge.

A video of the kneading process – the intent is to show the texture and consistency of the dough at this stage.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, cut it into manageable pieces (4 evenly sized balls or more if you want). Roll through a pasta maker until you reach your desired thin-ness. We almost always go for the thinnest setting, sometimes the one just slightly thicker if the dough is fighting back for any reason. Cut into the desired shape.

Cook in rapidly boiling water until the pasta floats. This will take about 2 minutes or less if you’re pre-cooking lasagna sheets one at a time.
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pasta floating and ready to serve!

To bake a lasagna, bake uncovered at your desired temperature (350-425 degrees, depending on how patient you are) until the pan is bubbling and the top is browned.

About Drying and Storing

The monkey is convinced that drying linguine for maybe 20 min before cooking it helps prevent it from getting gummy. I personally think that the extra egg yolk we started adding does that, but since the drying time is pretty much equal to the bringing a pot of water to a boil time, I let this one go.

If you’re making farfalle (aka bowties), this shape absolutely does benefit from a few minutes drying to set the shape.

To save pasta for later in the week, we cut it into its target shape (lasagna or whatever width of linguine), flour it generously, and leave on the cutting board for about an hour. Then we pile the pasta into a Tupperware container and store in the refrigerator.
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pasta prepped for storage – I actually pulled this out of the freezer.

I know that pasta is famous for being dried, but we really never store ours fully dried in the pantry. Sort of defeats the purpose of making it fresh in my opinion.

We never store filled pasta, except for cooked leftovers, nor do we make filled pasta from stored dough. Not saying it can’t happen or it shouldn’t; we just don’t.


  • The pasta will expand 10-20% when you cook it. A good-sized portion will look somewhat skimpy going into the pot. And a lasagna sheet that fits your pan exactly will be a bit too big after you pre-cook it.
  • You can assemble a lasagna using uncooked pasta sheets. In this case use a slightly runnier sauce than you would with cooked sheets. However, pre-cooking the pasta sheets yields a noticeably lighter lasagna, so we do go to the extra work to boil the sheets and then assemble the lasagna. So that the sheets don’t stick, boil one, top it, boil the next, etc.
  • When making lasagna, make each layer of filling super-thin. Store-bought pasta is thick and stands up to a filling layer that is 1/4” or more, but home made wants just the barest coating of ricotta or sprinkling of other toppings for each layer. A standard monkeyshines lasagna has 10-14 layers depending on the filling.
  • Representative layers of lasagna: each individual is thinly coated, but when all layers are added up, the dish is nice and firm and there's filling in every bite.
  • Tortellini are much more stable than ravioli when boiling. We almost never make ravioli anymore because they’re more prone to coming apart while boiling. Plus tortellini just look cooler.
Here is a video on shaping  tortelloni (slightly larger than tortellini, but otherwise the same).
  • Filling for a ravioli or tortellini should be fully cooked or nearly so. Since the pasta requires only ~2 minutes to cook, the filling needs to be safely cooked going in.  For the same reason, don’t plan on a melted-cheese type filling.
  • A tortellini or ravioli filling should be fairly dry.  A wet filling will run out towards the edges of your shape, making it difficult (read: impossible) to create a good seal.
  • Lasagna fillings can be raw or cooked, depending on what they are. It generally takes 25-30 minutes to bake a lasagna until its richly browned and bubbling, so things that will cook in that time can go in raw and things that won’t need a head start. I usually do very lightly cook vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms) before adding to a lasagna, but leave prosciutto raw.
Some of our favorites:
  • Asparagus, mushroom and prosciutto lasagna
  • Tortelloni with roasted butternut squash and goat cheese. (see our butternut squash gnocchi recipe for the roasting technique)
  • Pappardelle with slow-cooked meat sauce (aka ragu aka sugo)
  • Tortelloni filled with asparagus and ricotta, served with brown butter and herbs
  • Veal, prosciutto and Savoy cabbage tortellini (aka agnolotti dal plin)
  • Fettuccine with parsnips, pancetta and sage

Friday, January 22, 2010

White Chocolate Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Cookies

The Monkey has been on a cookie-making tear for several months now. There is a satisfying simplicity to making cookies: they don’t take long to put together, the kitchen smells really good while they’re baking and they’re always a nice treat, whether at morning, noon or night.
After many recipes and adaptations, I think this is it – the perfect balance of sweet, salty and just plain tasty. I’ve always had a soft spot for cranberry-orange, and the white chocolate adds just enough of a sweet note (accordingly, the sugar content is somewhat lower than most similar recipes). The texture is maybe a bit softer than many oatmeal cookies – almost cake-like. And since they’re oatmeal cookies, they’re positively good for you, right? What’s not to like?

1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar (I use a ~50:50 mixture of white and brown)
4oz butter
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 cup oats (not the instant kind)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 ºF/190 ºC. Mix the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. Soften the butter (I zap it for 5-10sec in the microwave) and cream together with the sugar until light in texture. (I use a stand mixer, but a hand mixer should work too). Lightly beat the egg together with the vanilla essence and gradually add to the butter/sugar while continuing to mix. When it’s incorporated, add the orange juice and zest.
Next, add in the flour ~1/4 cup at a time, mixing everything together. When you have a smooth but sticky dough, fold in the oats, cranberries and chocolate chips. Scoop put balls onto a nonstick cookie sheet (you’ll probably need 2 sheets). The balls can be as big or as little as you like, but I make them with about 1 rounded tablespoon; this yields about 20 cookies overall.
Bake for 12 minutes; if you use 2 cookie sheets one above the other, swap the sheets around after 8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, leave to cool and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Daring Cooks Do Satays

The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day. satay_0014_web_large

In a break with tradition, we followed the recipe exactly and liked both the satay marinade and the peanut sauce (well, we did add a bit of harissa to the peanut sauce to spice it up).  For the meat, we cut two large, boneless pork chops into thin strips and marinated them for most of the day. For fun, we also made a tofu satay which was marinated in coconut milk, fish sauce and garlic. 

While we both love the crispy-creamy texture of broiled tofu, tasters in the monkeyshines kitchen unanimously preferred Cuppy’s marinade for flavor.  Served with rice and a nice Thai-inspired salad, dinner was ready in a few minutes (not counting time to marinate) and we had plenty of leftovers for the next day. We had planned to cook the satays over glowing coals on our Weber grill, but it was raining so we used the (indoor)broiler instead.


Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce

Satay Marinade

1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 T ginger root, chopped (optional) (2 cm cubed)
2 T lemon juice (1 oz or 30 mls)
1 T soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp ground coriander (5 mls)
1 tsp ground cumin (5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (2-2.5 mls)
2 T vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil) (30 mls)
1 pound of pork (loin or shoulder cuts) (16 oz or 450g)

Feeling the need to make it more Thai? Try adding a dragon chili, an extra tablespoon of ginger root, and 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz or 15 mls) of fish sauce. (I keep some premature (still green) dragon chili peppers in the freezer for just such an occasion.) Monkeyshines: So do we!

1a. Cheater alert: If you have a food processor or blender, dump in everything except the pork and blend until smooth. Lacking a food processor, I prefer to chop my onions, garlic and ginger really fine then mix it all together in a medium to large bowl.
2a. Cut pork into 1 inch strips.
3a. Cover pork with marinade. You can place the pork into a bowl, cover/seal and chill, or place the whole lot of it into a ziplock bag, seal and chill.
4. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak your skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes before preparing skewers.
5. Gently and slowly slide meat strips onto skewers. Discard leftover marinade.*
6. Broil or grill at 290°C/550° F (or pan fry on medium-high) for 8-10 minutes or until the edges just start to char. Flip and cook another 8-10 minutes.

* If you’re grilling or broiling, you could definitely brush once with extra marinade when you flip the skewers.

Peanut Sauce

3/4 cup coconut milk (6 oz or 180 mls)
4 Tbsp peanut butter (2 oz or 60 mls)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp brown sugar (5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (2.5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground coriander (2.5 mls)
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well.
2. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often.
3. All you’re doing is melting the peanut butter, so make your peanut sauce after you’ve made everything else in your meal, or make ahead of time and reheat.


Thai-inspired Salad


Napa cabbage
Small Persian cucumber (or about 1/3 of a regular cucumber)
Thai bird chili
Fish Sauce
Lemon juice
Toasted rice powder (optional to garnish)*

* toast a few tablespoons of otherwise uncooked white rice under the grill, then bash it up in a mortar and pestle until fine. The texture will be slightly ‘gritty’, which sounds unpleasant but it actually adds a nice toasted note and a hint of crunchy texture to the salad.

Mix the fish sauce, honey and lemon juice to make a dressing (this is a bit non-traditional, but we didn’t have any lime handy). Slice the rest of the ingredients. Lightly sauté the shallot to take the edge off, then toss everything together.

There was some discussion on the DC boards about whether the satay recipe is truly authentic (nobody claimed it was), but the monkey’s philosophy has always been that authenticity takes a backseat to delicious.


Thanks Cuppy for a great recipe!