Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Pasta ... it seems so simple! {And it is!}

Pasta always seems to be so simple to make ... you go to the store and buy a box of the dry somewhat-broken stuff, come home, boil some water and dump the contents of the box into the water. After about 12 – 15 minutes you drain the water off and (shudder!) some people then rinse the pasta under cold water (DO NOT EVER DO THIS!!). Then a sauce of some sort is heated in a microwave oven and dumped onto the pasta and maybe some cheese (from a can, may contain non-cheese items too) is plonked onto the table and the hopeful Gordon Ramsey wannabe hollers “Dinner’s On”!

This is ... disgusting.

This is not good food.

You can do better, I tell my class, and it will be a LOT cheaper and will make better pasta than you have ever eaten in your life. It will be simple, tasty and pretty quick. It does not contain any microwave anything and the cheese is made from the gift of real cows with nothing but a little salt and water used to make it. Here's how.

Make pasta ... remember the rule of 3s. 3 hundred grams of good hard flour, 3 eggs plus an extra yolk and 3 teaspoons of good olive oil. This takes technique and patience and a good strong pair of hands. Oh ... and a good story.

Clean your counter and dry it. Make a heap of all the flour on the counter and use a few fingers to make a well in the centre. In a bowl put the eggs and the oil. Gently pour the egg/oil mix into the well.
Stir with a fork until it starts to come together.

Work all the flour into the mushy mix in the middle. Start to knead. Clean the counter off with a bench scraper and start to knead strongly. Have someone tell the story to you, or you tell it between kneads. The time the cat climbed onto the ceiling fan and got dizzy and spectacularly ill after 9 turns. When you rode a bicycle into the back of a police car by mistake. Mowing the lawn for the first time on your own, not knowing a nervous parent was watching from behind a curtain. Knead and knead.

When the kneading is done and the pasta is a butter-smooth ball of beauty, wrap it in plastic and put it in the frig for a while to rest.

Take good olive oil and warm it up in a sauté pan. (Never call it a frying pan, always a sauté pan, says Chef. They’ll pay you more if you use the proper terms, and saying it right makes you sound well-trained and cultured. That’s got to be worth at last an extra 50 cents and hour!)

Infuse the oil with a bit of garlic (smashed, with the anima removed, of course) and some slivers of red onion. Gently infuse this for about 25 minutes. No colour on the garlic or onion ... just let these relax into a beautiful warm oil bath and give you all the flavour they have to give.

While this is being done, have a friend (the one who you shared the story with) grate fresh parmegiano into a bowl. Reserve this for use very soon!

While infusing the oil, take the pasta out of the frig and pass it through a pasta-roller machine and cutter. Have a BIG pot of boiling water going and, while rolling at the boil, salt it to the same salinity as blood, tears or sea-water. We all came from the sea, I tell them, eons ago, and the salinity we need in our bodies is a remnant of that part of our evolutionary voyage. (But don’t drink sea-water of course ... we have now evolved to be different!) Most people don’t put enough salt into the pasta water ... it makes a BIG difference getting this right! I show them with one sample, and the class is usually aghast at the amount until they try the result, and then they understand.

Just stick your finger quickly into the boiling water, then taste it, I teach them. You won’t get burnt and you’ll be able to accurately taste the salinity. Do NOT use any tool to do this other than your hand! First the brave try it, then most of the rest. A last couple hang on until the very end, then try to fake it. Then they realise this is not going to hurt them, and their bravery quotient increases dramatically!

Now that the infusing is done, take out the smashed garlic but leave the slivers of onion in the oil. Add a bit of fresh-cracked pepper to the oil and at the same time throw the fresh pasta into the boiling water. Cook for about 60 – 80 seconds and then get it out FAST and directly into the infused oil. It will sizzle a bit. Stir quickly with a pair of tongs or a wooden spoon. Serve immediately onto hot plates, and add freshly-grated parmegiano to taste.
If you have a few pieces of freshly-torn basil leaves, scatter them in as garnish.

Then eat.


First image is from

Aaaand ... Away We Go!

Well now ... a new semester, a new school year, new opportunities all ‘round. Hard to know where to start!

Our first day, by our tradition, is called “Make Me Cookies” day. Chef does a quick introduction to the kitchen and basic safety, then invites all the new students to just leave their backpacks, purses, everything in a heap on a far counter. Everyone is taught how to wash their hands properly ... the first of many, many detailed lessons.

Then ... the first recipe, the first chance!

Chef makes everyone into teams of four. The recipes are handed out. “I Am Hungry!” cries Chef. “Feed Me!!”


And away everyone is sent on a productive exploration. This event is designed to let all the new students get to know the kitchen, to find out what is kept where, and learn some of the most basic of things.

Chef refuses to answer most questions. “Go find it yourself” is the frequent reply, along with “Yes, we do have lots of that”.

The work is terribly loud, stunningly messy and mostly inedible. Surprising things are learnt (by Chef) ... baking powder is the same as baking soda, that measurement is a whimsical option, that quality is just a matter of opinion and it is OK to leave things for someone else to clean up.

Oy Vey!

This group of students actually surprised Chef ... the cookies were mostly edible and didn’t taste too frightening. Teeth were left intact. Digestive systems did not over-rev or rumble.

Compliments were offered.

Then everyone was told to just clean up. Here are sinks, here is dish soap, so go nuts and clean up. Put everything away where you found it. You walked into a perfectly clean kitchen ... you have to leave it that way.

After a few minutes the bell rang.

“Class ending Chef!” they cried. “Not so fast, my beauties. Your parents don’t work here. You do. This mess will be left for you to clean tomorrow BEFORE class, and it will have mostly hardened into food-grade cement. So no one leaves until this place is as spotless as when you walked in. Clean up and polish it now ... when I am satisfied, I will dismiss you. No moaning. Do it!”

It gets done. Chef is happy and drained.

Here endeth the First Day.