Italian wholemeal and honey rolls

Wholemeal rolls

Regular readers will know that I swear by my sourdough and make all my own bread. Last year, on a recommendation from a baker, I bought Carol Field’s magisterial The Italian Baker. Some of the recipes use a biga (overnight starter) but most are straight yeast-based doughs. I’ve baked quite a few recipes from it now, and apart from a slightly disappointing ciabatta, they’ve all been superb. So sometimes, if I don’t have ripe starter handy, or I just want to make some bread quickly, I make my current favourite recipe from this book: pane integrale con miele. It’s a brilliant recipe: quick, easy, foolproof. In the book, the recipe makes one large loaf, but I always shape it into about a dozen small rolls instead. These freeze nicely and can be quickly defrosted. Though they are of course best while still slightly warm, spread with butter and honey. Note: although they do have honey in them, they are not over-sweet and are fine with savoury food.

You can take this as the warmest recommendation of this book — if you are a keen bread baker, you need it! Baking this lovely recipe should be enough to convince you.

This is my adapted version of the recipe. A couple of notes:
1) She has you make 200g of slightly modified biga and then discard all but 50g. Why? If I have some biga in the fridge I use that, but if not I take 50g from my jar of sourdough starter. It doesn’t need to be ripe, as it’s used for flavour rather than rising. In fact if you don’t have biga or starter, you can simply leave it out — the rolls will still be good.
2) The recipe specifies wholemeal flour (type 110 in France). I sometimes vary this; today I used 150 g of wholemeal spelt flour and made it up to 500 g with type 85 (bise) as that’s what I had on hand. I suggest making it according to the recipe the first time, then decide how you want to vary it once you know how the dough feels.
3) I make this in my stand mixer, but it’s not impossibly sticky — you can work it by hand if you want.
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Sourdough focaccia

Sourdough focaccia

When you make sourdough you are always looking for ways of using up starter. This recipe (also known as fougasse in France) was a good accompaniment for post-film drinks. It’s great for picnics too. I started it in the morning and baked it late afternoon. It’s best warm or cold rather than piping hot from the oven.

This recipe is fine with ordinary plain flour, but you can use white bread flour if you want, or a half-and-half mixture. Whatever you choose, the dough is very wet and sticky to work with, so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, I really recommend using it. If not, use the “kneading” technique of using one floured hand to stretch and fold the dough in the bowl — no need to turn it out, and you can keep your other hand clean.

Toppings: this isn’t pizza, so topping should be scanty and not too complicated — two or at most three elements. You can keep it plain by just sprinkling fleur de sel and olive oil over it. For this occasion I did some with chopped rosemary and onion, and others with sliced artichoke hearts and a few squirts of pesto. Sun-dried tomatoes and serrano ham or prosciutto are a good choice too — or use your imagination and go for something more original like crumbled blue cheese and thin slices of pear. In all cases, finish with oil and salt.
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Broad bean and bacon risotto

Broad bean and bacon risotto

Our broad bean crop was decimated by frost, but I bought some lovely small, fresh broad beans from the market. To me, broad beans and bacon or ham are one of those marriages made in heaven. I had some stock from a roast chicken so risotto seemed an obvious choice to make the most of them.

The basic method of making risotto is a doddle; I don’t know why people make so much fuss about it. The hardest work in this recipe is preparing the beans, but it’s one of the few recipes where it really is worth blanching and peeling them; pilaff with broad beans and serrano ham is another.

Rice is one of the few things I always measure by volume. An ordinary mustard glass holds just the right amount for two people, and for risotto you can count on roughly three times the volume of stock to rice. Don’t bother making risotto with any rice other than Italian; the result won’t be worth the effort. Make pilaff instead. If you like stringy cheese in your risotto, use Gruyère or Comté; otherwise Parmesan, or even aged cheddar.
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Creamy artichoke pasta

I’m sure I’m not the only one who immediately springs for some form of pasta when I haven’t been shopping or even thought of what I might cook for dinner. On Friday I was a bit bored with my usual go-to pasta recipes and fancied something a bit different. This one, based on an original from World Wide Recipes, is very reminiscent of the simple vegetable-based sauces in Italy, and it ticks all the boxes:
– Uses store-cupboard ingredients. Check.
– The sauce is ready in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. Check.
– Both cheap and delicious. Check.

Oh, and vegetarian, if that floats your boat. Although if you are a confirmed carnivore you could add some ham if you wanted.
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Emergency spaghetti

I took the opportunity of Steve being away to try this dish from Delicious Days — I knew he wouldn’t appreciate being served up a dinner consisting of a plate of tagliatelle with no sauce to speak of. Actually it’s a lot better than it sounds, and it can’t be faulted on the effort-versus-results front, as well as being very economical.

You simply boil your pasta and dress it with the zest and juice of a lime, some chilli flakes (I used my standby chilli sherry instead), plenty of black pepper and olive oil, and a splash of the cooking water to loosen it all up. Salad dressing, basically. Swill it around so all the strands are glossy with oil and sprinkled with specks of lime zest and pepper, add plenty of Parmesan, eat. Excellent stuff!

Pasta with courgettes and chilli

One of those days when it was late, I was tired, I had’t done any shopping. The weather didn’t seem summery enough to do my usual pasta and courgette dish, so I did a quick foodblogsearch and hit upon a blog I had not encountered before.

It looked promising, so I tried it and was pleased with the results — it’s one of those simple sauces that can be prepared in the time it takes the pasta to cook. So StuffyerBake is now in my feedreader and my blog roll.

I often cook courgettes like this as a side vegetable (though I hadn’t thought of adding chilli before, or indeed stirring them into pasta) — they are very nice with roast chicken or duck, or even a grilled steak. Usually I salt them after grating and leave in a colander with a weighted plate on top for half an hour before squeezing out the excess moisture, but this probably isn’t necessary unless the courgettes are really large. I didn’t salt them this time, but did raise the heat to boil off the water.
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Coffee panna cotta

Bet you thought I’d forgotten about my cookbook challenge, didn’t you? Things have been going on in the background though — not all of them entirely successful.

Due to “technical difficulties” there is no photo of this particular recipe from Delicious Days, but it was really lovely. In a glass, a layer of panna cotta is allowed to set for a few hours, and is then topped with a thin layer of coffee jelly. I let the coffee cool for 10 minutes as instructed, and spooned it carefully onto the panna cottas. They looked lovely, a symphony in black and white. But when I took them out of the fridge a couple of hours later, the still-liquid coffee had managed to insinuate itself down the sides of the glasses in dark streaks, so it really didn’t look very attractive! It tasted gorgeous though, the strong coffee complementing the mild creaminess of the panna cotta perfectly. Next time — and there definitely will be a next time — I will let the coffee almost set before adding it.

I twiddled the recipe a bit; the coffee was actually supposed to be Kahlua, but I’m not a liqueur drinker, and I wasn’t about to buy a whole bottle just for this. I first discovered Delicious Days via Nicky’s recipe for coffee jelly, so it seemed entirely reasonable to use this: I just made a cup of very strong espresso and sweetened it before adding the gelatine. Taking a leaf out of Pascale‘s book, I also substituted a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche for part of the cream; I’ve done this before and it really enhances the flavour of the panna cotta, especially when you can only get nasty UHT cream. It still amazes me how something as simple as “boiled cream” can be so very good.

I’ll take this opportunity to mumble quietly about a couple of other less successful attempts from the book: the smoked trout, red onion, fennel and orange salad was a nice idea, and looked attractive, but there was far too much onion, and we felt the flavours didn’t really work together that well. No photo, we were entertaining and I didn’t have time to take one.

The caramelized almonds suffered from my following the instructions too closely; “after 5-8 minutes the liquid will have evaporated and the sugar covers the almonds with a dry crust”. This didn’t happen, and I was just musing that the cinnamon in the syrup made it hard to see just how caramelized it was when — sniff, sniff — aargh! I snatched the pan of the heat and quickly tipped the almonds onto the prepared baking tray. They were only just the right side of burnt. I didn’t photograph them because they would have looked like cockroaches, but if they had been just a fraction less done they would have been really nice. As it was, they were still OK as a nibble with drinks.

Gorgonzola risotto

Gorgonzola risotto

One more recipe for the cookbook challenge. I had just one question about this: would it be as good as Rossella’s fabulous pear and gorgonzola risotto? Answer: not quite. It’s a plain risotto with gorgonzola and parmesan melted into it and a garnish of fried onions and apples. We felt there wasn’t really enough gorgonzola, but I liked the slight crunch of the apples in contrast to the creamy rice. Nicky managed to take a presentable photo of hers; I tried, but I can’t say the same. Well, I’ve already established that risotto is not photogenic!

Mushroom crostini

mushroom crostini

… aka mushrooms on toast.

Don’t let it be said that I’m a procrastinator! Here’s my first dish from Delicious Days, my cookbook challenge for this year. Supplies were low and dinner improvised, but I found some mushrooms in the fridge, so while the “real” dinner was cooking I opened a bottle of wine and made Nicky’s mushroom crostini: a 10-minute job.

We didn’t have any chives, which would have made them look prettier even with my poor photographic skills. We didn’t have any Marsala either, but we don’t do things by halves in this household, and Christmas comes but once a year — in went a glug of Warre’s excellent vintage port, bought at the airport last week. Well, it was only a couple of tablespoons. The completed sauce was poured over a few slices of my home-made 5-minute bread, and we enjoyed them with a glass of wine by a cosy log fire.

The mushrooms and sauce were delicious. Nicky says the bread should be fried, which I did, in olive oil, and then drained on kitchen paper, but some of it was a bit greasy. Next time I’ll toast or bake it.

Pasta with courgettes, lemon, and pine nuts

Summery pasta and vegetables

Serendipity rules! I’ve long liked Patricia Scarpin’s Technicolor Kitchen, but an incompatibility with my feed reader meant I didn’t follow it regularly (if a site isn’t in my reader, it doesn’t get read!). Then today I discovered the magic switch to make it work, and her last 25 posts whizzed into view. I spent a happy half hour browsing them while simultaneously wondering what I was going to cook tonight, because it’s the end of the week and I haven’t been shopping.

What luck! I had all the ingredients for this recipe to hand, and it took barely longer to make than the time needed to boil the pasta. It’s very adaptable, and I loved the fresh flavour imparted by the lemon zest and juice. A new default dinner to rival tagliatelle carbonara! Picture taken hastily just before we dived in.

Note:the original recipe is credited to the late Sher, who sadly died unexpectedly a month ago, and whose blog I didn’t know about till today.
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