pasta

Cooking for a fussy crowd – dinner made easy

Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It’s enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!

Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?

1. Ask some questions – if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don’t know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don’t be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don’t eat seafood but aren’t necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.

2. Do some research – with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance’s there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.

3. Have fun making variations – what if you didn’t need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy’s and who won’t eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here’s the clincher of this blog – how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don’t like cream pasta. Read on and learn.

Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert – kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity – they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don’t like? You diversify – I like pasta and so does he – so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.

Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.

Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn’t anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy 🙂

So what other variations can you make:

1. No seafood –  divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.

2. Crumbles/tarts/pies – make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss

3. Vegetarian/vegan – have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole

4. Sugar free or low sugar – check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc

It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!

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A penne for your thoughts

Pinterest Pasta

 

 

I’ll admit it, I’m a food nerd. I love learning the background of food names, history and the whys of food preparation. The names of pasta and their meanings has always amused me with their logical translation. More often than not the words are just simple meanings such as snail or butterfly but something about the romance of Italian language transforms cute “little ears” into “Orrechiette”, rolling off the tongue, sounding both exotic and inviting.

What fascinates me about food is how it transcends language to be an invitation to an experience. From simple to sublime food can be the means to express your love for someone, the joy of a party and celebration, the upholding of traditions or just an honouring of your body through feeding it delicious items.

Food history is full of anecdotes and stories of the origin of dishes, their names and their place at the dining table. Out of interest I recently looked up the translation for Strozzapreti, a twisty short pasta that is a favourite of mine. Here is what I found care of Wikipedia:

Origin of name (original source Wikipedia)

“There are several legends to explain the name.

One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savoury pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the “azdora” (“housewife” in the Romagna’s dialect), who “chokes” the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: “… in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!” Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives’ food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany.”

 

strozz pasta

I love the passion, the drama and the imagery this simple name evokes. You can almost imagine an angry Italian housewife up to her elbows in flour and rolling out the pasta cursing the priest that was to dine on it soon. The fun of pasta names doesn’t stop there, below is a list sampled from http://garrubbo.com/pasta/ :

Farfalle: Butterfly-from the wing shape of the pasta

farfalle

 

Orrechiette: Little ears – from the shell shape of the pasta akin to the curve of an ear

orrichiette

 

Cappellini: Thin hair – from the thin strands resembles long strands of hair

capellidangelolr6

 

Penne: Pen (quilled pen nub)from the angled shape of the tube ends

penne

Conchiglie:  Shell – from their sea shell appearance

conchieggle

 

Lumaconi: Snails – from the bent tube shape pinched at one end like a snail shelllumaconi

 

There are plenty more pasta types and translations clearly highlighting the Italians love affair with it!

Do you have any funny names for things? Has your family created a dish and christened it with its own name? My boyfriends family make a dish called green tuna.. I have yet to dine on this but it is an early family favourite despite the interesting name. Do you have any favourite words for food or interesting recipe history to share? Let me know, I’d love to hear them all 🙂

Buon Appetito

Teaching the art of the ravioli

I recently had the pleasure of teaching my pasta and in turn home made ravioli. We kept it simple with a spinach and ricotta filling but had a great time making it. Amy was so excited to be my first client of the In My Own Kitchen cooking lessons and her only instructions were to teach her something fun and healthy.

The recipe I used for the pasta is a pretty standard ratio and seems to work every time for me which is always a bonus. Depending on the type of flour you use and the size of your eggs on hand (I usually have large eggs) you may need to add one more egg if they are on the small size or a little bit of water in the mixing process if it’s just that bit too dry. Purest would use 00 flour or tipo 00 which is a high protein flour. The higher protein also means higher gluten, the ingredient that creates the chemical reaction in the dough allowing it to stretch and become silky smooth. This of course is a very simplified explanation of how gluten works in cooking and doughs, I’m sure a quick internet search could enlighten you more! 🙂 In any case, normal plain flour will do that trick but it may require extra rolling through the machine to ensure it is silky smooth. Be prepared, pasta making is simple but requires some love and patience to ensure you don’t have lumpy and tough dough.

Some little secrets for lovely pasta – rest it and relax it. Who doesn’t love a nice relaxing lounge around after a good workout?! Same goes with pasta and any dough for that matter. The kneading process is like a good workout, you are creating a frame work of ingredients that are forming together to make your tough. Think if them as muscles that are continually flexing and stretching. Now imagine trying to push those muscles into a shape after all that exercise. Not fun hey? Same goes with doughs. Allow at least 20 mins of resting, covered in cling film so it doesn’t dry out. This gives the dough time to relax the frame work and do it’s thing. In savoury and sweet pastry making this ensures the dough doesn’t shrink in your pan or mould due to the pressure the framework is under. The result? Silky smooth not shrunk dough. How does it get any better than that? You make ravioli of course!

Pasta can be flavoured with other ingredients such as spinach, lemon zest or lemon oil (just replace the olive oil in the recipe), herbs and colourings such as beetroot powder or squid ink. For ingredients such as spinach, it contains a high level of moisture so ensure you drain it thoroughly once cooked to ensure your dough doesn’t get sloppy. Hard herbs such as rosemary and thyme need to be chopped finely to ensure they don’t tear the dough when rolling as they aren’t as flexible. Otherwise open the pantry and experiment. One may even say, show me the dough!

Image

Right, to the ravioli – the recipe:

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Ingredients:

4 cups of plain flour

4 eggs

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1-2 tbsp water

500g spinach chopped

250g ricotta

3 cloves garlic – crushed

1 small onion diced

Salt and pepper

Method:

Pasta – place flour on bench and create small well in middle of flour mound

In a cup crack out eggs and whisk in olive oil and water

Slowly fold flour into eggs until mix comes together as rough dough

Start to knead the dough for about 5 – 8 min until the dough is soft and smooth – you can use a mixmaster, kenwood or kitchenaid with the hook attachment as well although i find you need to bring your dough together first and then place in the machine for smaller quantities.

Cover with cling film and place to side to rest for 10-15 minutes

Filling:

Saute onion in a pan until starting to soften, add garlic and continue cooking until golden and soft

Add spinach and allow it to wilt down, remove from heat and allow it cool to room temperature

When cooled, add ricotta, salt and pepper and set in fridge whilst making pasta

To assemble:

Break dough into smaller portions and roll pasta through machine starting at dial one and progressing to dial 5, creating long sheets NB: I used the attachment for my kitchen aid although you can find cheap and cheerful pasta machines in most cookware shops – a little more elbow greases is required but still creates great pasta!

Place sheets down on floured bench and spoon mix out even rows approx 2-3 cm apart

Brush around the filling with water or 1 egg yolk beaten to create a seal

Lay a second sheet of pasta over the sheet with filling and press down around the filling

Cut into squares around the filling and pick up each pillow and press around to seal fully

Ravioli is ready to cook

NB: Ravioli can be frozen raw when laid flat on trays with cling film separating each layer

 If the pasta tears when making ravioli discard torn portion as any holes or rips will cause the filling to come out

Pasta sheets can also be cut into circles to make ravioli for a dinner party look

To cook:

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

Gently place ravioli into pan ensuring there is plenty of water and room for the ravioli to move around

Allow to cook for approx 5 minutes or until pasta is soft to the bite

Remove from water with slotted spoon and place in oiled dish ready for sauce

Ravioli fillings are as limited as your imagination – keep it soft though for ease of handling

Some suggestions:

– sweet potato, marscapone and caramelised onion

– chestnut, chicken and sage

– rabbit and thyme

– pumpkin and walnut

Most importantly, have fun, for that is what cooking is about 🙂