Monday, April 11, 2011

Tortellini d' Erbetta

  This is a pasta dish I made recently for my Dad’s 80th birthday lunch. It is a regional speciality from his home town of Piacenza, Italy. It highlights the region’s wonderful produce but we can quite successfully reproduce it here in North Queenland, Australia. Tortellini d'Erbetta translates literally to Short Grass Tortellini but of course, we use whatever delicious, leafy greens we have. I like silverbeet.

The cheese/silverbeet ratio is up to you. More of one, less of the other, as you please. 

The shape of the half moon is how we always make them. How small and delicate you make them is up to your expertise. They taste delicious just the same. I assure you once you try these you will be hooked!  

I usually make the filling the day before.

You will need 2 bunches silverbeet which you finely sliced and steam. Then all the water squeezed out by wringing in a clean teatowel ( I had about 450g silverbeet in the end)

600g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
200g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (this is the best parmesan for this recipe, other good parmesan can be used but bear in mind the parmesan is the key to the flavour so get a really good one)
a little freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the filling ingredients.

For the Pasta:

5 eggs
500g flour

Beat eggs. Heap the flour onto a work surface and make a well. Add into the well eggs and salt. Gradually incorporate the eggs. Knead well. Allow to rest for 1 hour.

Make the sauce or butter or whatever you want to call it while you wait.

250g butter
10 cloves garlic, chopped very fine
lots of fresh basil, finely sliced
more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Melt butter with garlic allow to heat and flavour. Do not brown garlic

To make the tortellini:

Cut off a small piece of pasta dough and pass through the pasta machine rollers. Fold and roll through again several time until the pasta is smooth and supple. Gradually reduce settings of the rollers until the dough is quite thin, maybe the last or second last setting. Lay the strip of dough onto the work surface. Spoon little mounds, the size of a small walnut, along the length of the dough allow dough to be folded in half lengthwise covering each mound. Press the air out carefully from around the mounds of filling. Press firmly to ensure the tortellini are well sealed. With a pasta cutter or knife cut around each tortellini in a half moon shape. Set aside on a well floured tray while you prepare the remaining tortellini. The leftover dough is reincorporated in with the next lot of pasta dough to be rolled. Continue in this manner until all the pasta or filling is used up.

Now have a large pot of boiling, salted water ready. Place a few (10 or 15) tortellini, depending on the size of your pot into the boiling water. Stir gently so they don’t stick to the bottom and cook until al dente. It will only take a short time, maybe 3-5 minutes. Scoop out with and drain well. Place into warm serving dish, spooning over some sauce, sprinkle of basil and cheese. Keep warm. Continue cooking and dressing the tortellini. Serve and enjoy! Not for the diet conscious!

This served 12 of us generously as a pasta course... but then again, come to think of it we didn't eat too much else after this! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Sourdough Bread - Pane Calabrese

Pane Calabrese

I am so excited!!!

 I actually had another post scheduled for today however I couldn't help but push it to the side (just for a little while) to tell you about my latest achievement!  Sour dough bread!

Ok, ok, I know you've all been creating starters and producing wonderful sourdough for some time but I really didn't think it was something I could manage. I mean, think about it,  capturing wild yeast? To the uninitiated it does sound odd and slightly fairytale-like.  Does that mean we are walking around with yeasts floating about? I'm still not really sure about the science in it but I created a starter, it bubbled and frothed as it should and then I made chewy, crusty sourdough bread!

I had been reading a little about starters and sourdough breads and had some great information from Rebecca  but it wasn't until I acquired Rosetta Costantino's book My Calabria that  I felt confident enough to try.

A few days ago I created my starter. Rosetta's starter requires a small amount of dried yeast to begin with, very similar to Rebecca's however in a smaller quantity which suited me.  I followed the instructions and after three days prepared to make my bread.( And also prepared myself for failure!)  First I made the bread sponge and then the next day planned my time around the bread. After the first rise where I left it for 4 hours there seemed to be only a little lift. So I shaped the bread, one a "filone" and four "friselle". I gently wrapped them in a cloth like babies and decided to use a barely warm oven for the second rising. Well, didn't I get a pleasant  surprise when I unwrapped my "babies". They had risen so proudly and  beautifully!

My "Filone" is not quite the "elongated loaf with tapered ends" that it should be.
Admittedly I had such little faith in my starter that it could raise anything that I misshaped my bread. So the filone "fattened" and the friselle no longer had a hole in the middle. But never mind that, I was pleased my little starter had worked so well!

The friselle are meant to be doughnut shaped
After baking in a hot oven the breads emerged crusty, brown and delicious. I am fascinated by the process and thrilled that it worked so well first up which has given me the confidence to experiment.

The filone are split in half after baking and rebaked until crisp.

The friselle should have been flattened before baking so as they wouldn't be so thick. My friselle are "tooth-breakingly" hard even when softened with water as is tradition. But it won't stop me trying these again. The concept of friselle is a dry rusk that keeps for months. Friselle must be reconstituted by being briefly soaked in water then can topped with chopped fresh tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil or more simply olive oil, garlic and oregano. 

The texture was perfect - crunchy crust and chewy interior.
I can totally understand the respect Rosetta talks about that the Calabrese have for bread and the bread starter. Within my own family, bread is surrounded by traditions and beliefs and great respect. Though I have baked many loaves of bread I have never tried to make sourdough bread or a starter. What a thrill it was to have such success and I can't wait to make more!

What I haven't mentioned is the book which guided me in my venture. My Calabria is a wonderful book for all who are interested in southern Italian cooking and traditions. Rosetta pulls the reader into her own family. You are included in her traditions, her youth, her garden, her family and her kitchen. And if your not, you would soon want to be a Calabrian! Viva Calabria!

Pane Calabrese  - recipe by Rosetta Costantino

Bread Sponge
4 ounces (115g) Bread Starter (see below)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water (105F to 110F/45C)

3 pounds (1 1/2 kgs) unbleached all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons salt
3 3/4 cups (900mls) warm water (105F to 110F/45C)

To create the Bread Sponge: Put the starter into a bowl and add the flour and water. Stir well with a wooden spoon.Cover with a cloth and place in a warm place overnight.

To make the dough the following day: Put the flour in a large bowl make a well in the centre and add the sponge. Dissolve the salt in the water and add to the well mixing with a wooden spoon or your hand. Bring the flour in gradually until it is all absorbed and knead for 10-15 minutes.  Shape the dough into a ball, dust with flour and place into a large bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave in warm place for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Rosetta recommends wrapping the bowl in a blanket. I didn't because I live in a the hot, tropics however next time I will use a barely warm oven to obtain the optimum temperature of 80F (27C). I left mine to rise for 4 hours because I wasn't satisfied that it had risen enough.

At this point Rosetta suggests to retain 4 ounces (115g) of the dough to use as the starter for next time. "Place in a bowl cover with a lid or plate and let stand at room temperature for one or two days to develop flavour. Then refrigerate in an airtight container." I had some starter left which I fed and I will use that but when I understand the sourdough more I will try keeping the dough.

With a knife divided the dough into three portions. Flour the dough and handle gently. Do not punch down. you can shape the dough however you like. I chose a filone and 4 friselle. I placed the dough on individual pieces of baking paper so once they were risen they would be easy to move. Ii tucked them all in close and wrapped them gently in a cloth. This is where I placed them into the barely warm oven.

Leave rise for 2 hours. I removed them from the oven after 1 1/2 hours and began to heat my oven and baking stones to 475F (250C). When the loaves were ready I baked them for 20 minutes then reduced the heat to 400F (200C) and continued to bake for 25 minutes until the loaves were well browned and hard on the top and bottom.

Rosetta says to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing - well we didn't, we tucked into the warm bread and enjoyed it!

To Create a Starter:
On Day One: combine 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast in a bowl ( I used a clear plastic container, don't use metal). Add 1/4 warm water stir well.Cover with a cloth or plate and leave for 24 hours.
On Day Two: Remove and discard one half of the starter and stir in 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 water. Repeat as for Day One.
On Day Three: Repeat as for Day Two. After 24 hours your can refrigerate the starter in an airtight container or proceed with the Bread Sponge.