August 1, 2011 in Uncategorized
I have been cloistered in my kitchen today contemplating the many little issues that are rattling around my head today. After nearly two years of therapy, some eight years ago, I try very hard not to make a habit of hanging on to my troubles. Of course, this is easier said than done, and although these are neither earth shattering, nor life changing dilemmas, I prefer to exorcise my demons on the hoof! So I light a candle, burn some rose geranium and lemongrass essential oils, stoke up the incense, put on my favourite lipstick, pour a glass of my very best wine and cook and within minutes I have a big smile on my face. Oh, and played Back to Black one more time!
Tonight is Poker Night for the boyz of ‘la famiglia’ and one by one they arrive, laden with their tipple of choice and a very polite packet of something to nibble! I just love them all and enjoy the big bear hugs and smooches they proffer as they walk through the front door. They linger just long enough to shoot the breeze before running downstairs to the ‘man cave’ which is set up expressly to see to their every need. Flat screen TV to enjoy the soccer or Grand Prix – Bar which is used mostly by Zio Mario, who really loves a glass of vino especially his wife is not there to limit his intake – Espresso Machine, of course, that goes without saying! – a gazillion packs of cards and Poker Chips.
Tonight I have Pasta al Forno on the menu. This is the quick and easy version of the rather laborious Lasagne. It still takes the best part of the day to make but mostly because I doubled, if not trebled up on the ingredients and made two trays of the Pasta al Forno and have a container of the Mushroom & Brinjal pasta sauce in my freezer for another day. This is the ideal dish to prepare for large functions – because you can prepare them way in advance and freeze them. All Tripepi birthdays, christenings, First Holy Communions etc. are accompanied by trays this hot and bubbly tray of cheesy pasta. I will harvest at least three meals from my labour! My girlfriend Carol, aka Maria von Trapp, because she lives up the mountains, is arriving with her hubby and grand(baby)daughter tomorrow for the night – so dinner is already prepared!
Written on Sunday morning …. Early!
Pasta al Forno
There are three parts to this dish
The Sauce or Sugo
The White Sauce or Béchamel Sauce
Cooking the pasta & assembling the dish.
You can pretty much use any sauce for a Pasta al Forno.
This is a Fresh Tomato, Mushroom & Brinjal Sauce but a Bolognaise works very nicely too!
This recipe makes enough sauce for two trays of Pasta al Forno which will feed 20 people
Plus enough extra pasta sauce to make pasta for 6 people.
2kg’s of fresh tomatoes – blanched, skinned and liquidised – or 3 large tins of peeled tomatoes
2 small tins of cherry tomatoes
3 onions chopped
3 trays of mushrooms
2Tbs of finely chopped garlic
6 anchovy fillets
1 small packet of Calamata Black Olives – de-stoned
2 chillies (optional)
4 stock cubes – mixed with 400ml boiling water
A bouquet garni of rosemary & thyme
2 cups of dry white wine – or red if you prefer
I had a nice bag of ripe and soft jam tomatoes so I used them – wash them, cut a cross
right accross the tomatoes – place in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
Cover with some cling wrap and set aside for 20 minutes after which the skins will easily
rub off. Quarter the tomatoes and liquidise in your blender. They are now ready to use in the sauce.
To prepare your Brinjals
Bake the brinjals in your oven at 200d for 25 minutes. When they have cooled
cut the stalk off and peel off the skins.
Chop the flesh into chunks which you be adding to your sauce.
In a large pot bring enough olive oil to cover the base of the pot to a high heat
Add the garlic and fry until it’s just starting to colour
Add the onion, bouquet garni and chillies
Add the wine and reduce until all of the alcohol has evapourated
Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes
Add the mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes
Add the tomatoes, the brinjal flesh and the olives
Bring the sauce to the boil and then simmer for 30 minute on a medium heat until the sauce is thick.
You can use a very runny sauce in this dish it needs to be a little thicker. Set it aside.
The Béchamel Sauce
There is a secret to making a good béchamel and that is to cook the roux or butter and flour mixture until it is a caramel colour. This ensures a deep rich flavour.
3 bay leaves
7 heaped dessert spoons of flour
2L of full cream milk
400g of grated mature cheddar cheese
1 cup of chicken stock
Plenty of black pepper
A good grating – about 1/2tsp of nutmeg
A little extra salt
In a heavy bottomed pot melt the butter
Add the bay leaves and the flour
It’s best to use a whisk to make a béchamel this ensures no lumps
Whisk the butter and the flour – it will go quite thick initially –
then as the heat melts the butter it will losen. Whisk like a mad woman – don’t stop!
First add the chicken stock and whisk it in
Cook the roux until it turns a caramel colour.
Slowly add the milk whisking ALL OF THE TIME!
Once all of the milk is incorporated add the pepper and nutmeg and whisk until the sauce thickens.
This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t stop whisking!
Now add the cheese and keep whisking – you get a bit of a workout when you make this dish …..
Remove the bay leaves and the sauce is ready.
Taste test for seasoning and adjust to please your taste buds.
In a large pot of salted boiling water cook two packets of Penne.
When the pasta is tender remove and drain in a colander.
Long pasta such as spaghetti or linguine etc. is not suitable for this dish really.
Grate one block of smoked mozzarella and one block of pecorino cheese.
You can substitute a strong cheddar for the pecorino and plain mozzarella for the smoked
mozzarella if you can’t find the above.
Use two oven proof dishes – your roasting pan will do fine.
Mix a few serving spoons of the sauce into the cooked penne
Now add a few spoons of the béchamel sauce to this
Layer one – a layer of the pasta
Layer two – on top of the pasta spread three serving spoons of the sauce
Layer Three – some béchamel sauce
Layer four – some of the grated smoked mozzarella and pecorino
Layer Five – another layer of the pasta
Layer Six – a good topping of the béchamel
Sprinkle the top with the balance of the mozzarella and pecorino and a little black pepper.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180d for 30 minutes.
Serve with some nice crusty rolls and glass of vino and watch the smiles spread across their faces.
How are these Poker Faces!