Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homemade Pasta and Sauce with Meatyballs

For my birthday this year, my mom gave me a pasta machine. Last night, I decided that I was going to finally utilize the machine. I had just finished my book I was reading earlier in the evening, a tale of violence and murder, and I wanted to temper that with something completely different.

I have been collecting food and cookbooks for some time, and I wanted to start actually reading them, so what did catch my eye as I was browsing through our stacks but James Beard's "Beard on Pasta," which is kind of a funny title if you think about things like I do. A more appropriate title for me, though, might be "Pasta on Beard," as I sometimes find myself with reminders of earlier meals still stuck to the hair on my chin. James Beard himself stated "...truly the best way, the only classical and true way, to eat pasta is with gusto," and I agree. Let the sauce fly.

Making pasta is not entirely new to me. Once I made ravioli, and they were edible enough, though some fell apart from lack of good and proper tools and technique. I could not justify the effort and time involved in hand making pasta again. Pasta in a box is just fine generally--I love it--but freshly made pasta is a challenge. I read enough of the Beard book to give me a good start, learning that the best kind of flour to use is durham-wheat flour, which is a hard-wheat flour, though at this time I am not sure exactly what that means.

I have seen it done before, and I vaguely remember trying it once myself, but one technique for creating dough is to mound the flour, create a well, and drop your eggs into the well. One egg, two eggs, three eggs, and my wall of flour held up so well. The fourth egg presented a new challenge, as the flour levee broke, and the egg spilled forth. I scrambled to mix the flour and egg first with my fork and then with my hands, and I contained that spill.

Here comes the hard part. Pasta dough is not like pizza dough. It is tough, thick, and hard to knead. I knew I was doing a good job of it, though, because the counter was creaking and I broke a sweat after about 10 minutes of kneading. Occasionally, a crystal of salt in what was now a ball of dough glinted in the sunlight coming through the window, and I enjoyed seeing that.

I let the dough rest for about two hours. In the meantime, I rough chopped a big bag of very ripe tomatoes I bought at HT today from the bargain produce rack. I also diced a little onion and garlic and sauteed that in olive oil. Smells good, if you can imagine. After the onions softened, I threw in the tomatoes, some salt, and a handful of Pasta Sprinkle. I let that cook a good amount of time, then I squished the tomatoes with a masher before running the mix through a fine-mesh strainer. I need a food mill for this type of work, as straining the tomatoes was inefficient and time consuming. After all of this, I threw a bunch of meatballs into the sauce where they imparted another element of flavor to the sauce.

By now, the dough is well rested and ready to roll. In my zeal, I bumped the pasta machine, and it was falling, so I grabbed it before it fell to the floor. Unfortunately, the part I grabbed was quite sharp, and I sliced rather cleanly a half-inch cut in my finger. I decided it was a good time to take a break, as my finger was bleeding nicely.

Bleeding stopped and finger bandaged now, I started to roll my dough. This process was not bad at all as the pasta machine and its quick action performed most of the work. Now I have what looks like fettuccine. Nice. I am happy with the results so far, but my finger has started to bleed again. Bwahahaha.

I threw the noodles into a pot of boiling water and they cooked a few minutes. Mixed them with some of my sauce, topped the dish with some basil I tore apart and some grated Parm-Reg, and it's time to eat. I must say that I enjoyed the noodles and sauce quite a lot, as did the wife. The noodles had a nice chew to them, and some of them were a good two feet long. I am sold on fresh pasta. It is worth the effort, I am certain.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chile Con Carne De Cerdo


Awhile back, the HT had a buy-one-get-one-free sale on Boston Butts, so I bought one and cooked it. The other one I threw into the freezer until I decided what to do with it. Since the weather is getting cooler, and since I haven't made it for a while, I decided to try a new version of chile: Chile con carne de cerdo. That's chile with pork, in case you didn't know.

So I dug that slab of meat out of the freezer a few days ago to thaw. On Friday night, it was good and ready to be seasoned, so I made a dry rub composed of about nine ingredients that I will try to list from memory: garlic powder, salt, black pepper, garam masala, coriander, Pasta Sprinkle, onion powder, paprika, cumin, and I think that's it. I fully coated the shoulder after cutting off as much of the excess fat that I could, and then I placed it in the fridge overnight.

Saturday morning, I woke up and had that pork in my dutch oven baking at 9. At about ten, I turned the meat to find that a crust had developed. I picked off a small piece, and it was good and flavorful. At 11, the other side had a crust, and the pork was stewing in its own jus so nicely. I wanted to allow the pork its own separate cooking environment to incorporate the flavors of the spice rub into the meat.

At this time, I started my chile with a finely diced mirepoix sauteed in olive oil, Salt and Pepper. After a short time, I added a chile-powder blend. I did not make my own chile powder, but rather I used a mix of 4 different types of chile powders; one somewhat smoky, one quite warm, one a bit milder, and what remained of my aleppo pepper, which is moderately warm and flavorish. Once incorporated with the vegetables, the mix formed a paste with the oils and moisture elicited from the veg. The paste cooked awhile now to meld and bloom the chile powders.

I used canned beans in my chile. I have made chile in the past with beans I cooked myself, and if I had been thinking ahead enough, which I was not, I might have put the beans to soak overnight and got them cooking in the morning. Instead I used cannellini beans, kidney beans, and mostly black beans. Several cans of diced, crushed, and whole tomatoes as well, and into the pot went the beans and tomatoes. About a can of water, some Salt, more Pasta Sprinkle, and my chile is cooking. I cooked it for an hour or so before I added it to my Boston Butt, occasionally turning the meat after shredding off what was cooked already with a big old fork. Eventually, the scapula freed itself from the meat, and it was time to eat. I gave the bone to Napoleon.

I also made spelt-and-wheat-flour tortillas. After I flatted them, I heated some olive oil in my 6-inch skillet and cooked the tortillas until they were somewhat crispy. Along with some sour cream, I heaped the chile into the tortilla. Pretty good. I am going to eat a bowl soon. Thank you, Pig. You taste good to me.