It's been a long stressful week (too much to do, horrid headcold, backache, etc.) and I've not felt much like blogging. But today, after a girls morning out with Maia and an entire afternoon spent relaxing with a heating pad, baking and cooking I'm beginning to feel better. And I have lots of pictures to share.
Tonight for dinner, we had Braided Italian Bread with Olive Oil for dipping and Orecchiette with Ragu di Carne with fresh grated Pecorino Romano. My grandmother always had fresh grated Romano cheese and everytime I eat it I think of her. =)
The recipe I prefer for Italian Bread starts with a biga (pre-fermented dough) made the night before that is mixed with the remainder of the ingredients the second day. Using this method yields a superior taste and I'll never go back to one day Italian Bread. I made two loaves--good practice!--and keep one for us and one for a neighbor (my next door neighbors, Tony and Suzanne in this case).
Here you see the dough divided in half with one half divided into three pieces that have been rolled into strands of not equal length. Don't worry, I made them equal right after I took this picture.
To braid bread, you (or at least I do) start in the middle and braid outwards to either end. Then, the ends are pinched together and tucked underneath.
Last week I got a couche (4, actually) along with some other long desired baking supplies and I finally got to give it a try today. A couche is just a fancy linen (or canvas) cloth that is heavy and can peak up into 'folds' to help hold dough in place as it proofs. It doesn't get washed either; only shook out and air dried if necessary. Any yeast that lingers in the cloth is beneficial for future breads.
After I set the bread to proof, I gathered up the ingredients for pasta. Pasta is incredibly easy to make and only a little time consuming. It requires only three ingredients. Flour, salt and eggs. I used Italian OO flour but all-purpose can be used as well. It was my first time using OO flour and it was very silky to the touch. Use 1 lb of flour, 4 eggs and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Mix the salt into the flour and dump it all on wooden board or on a counterop.
Make a 'bowl' in the center of the flour for the eggs.
Whisk the eggs with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs.
It will end up looking something like this. Start kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. You can add a bit more egg if it's too dry. It takes about 10 minutes and will be quite the work out. My arms feel a little heavy a few hours later!
If you didn't give up and reach for a box of the dried stuff out of your cupboard, form the dough into a ball and tuck it under a damp towel to rest for 20 minutes. This will help relax the dough and make it easier to work with.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Tuck three of them back under the damp cloth.
Roll out a big ol' snake. Just like play-doh.
Using a baker's bench knife (or some other sharp knife) cut the snake into small pieces. Press down on each pice with your thumb until it's fairly flat underneath your thumb and the excess dough curls up to form the 'lobe of the orecchio (ear).'
I used half of the dough for orecchiette. Then I decided to make another shape to use later in the week. I also started a put a pot of water on the stove to boil.
Again, I made two snakes out of the second half of dough and took my trusty wine bottle rolling pin to flatten it out.
This should give you some idea of how long the pasta dough snakes are.
Using the bench knife again, I cut the dough into small strips. Umm...not quite and inch wide. Don't stress about getting each and every one perfect. That's why we have words like 'rustic!'
Roll the strips against the counter to form the shape.
I don't know what this shape is called if anything. I call it Stick Pasta because it reminds me of cinnamon sticks.
Here's a whole pile of sticks. I spread them out to dry out a bit and then I'll freeze them. They will be for dinner later this week.
Toss the orecchiette in the boiling water. Cook until tender. The cook time will depend on how thick you made them. Just fish one out and taste it to see if it's to your liking.
Back to the bread. I baked it somewhere in between all the pasta shaping. Making pasta kept me sufficiently busy that I was able to resist tearing off a chunk of hot bread. It really is better not to cut into hot bread. Always wait at least 20 minutes.
Top the orecchiette with your favorite sauce. I used Ragu di Carne that had been simmering all afternoon and filling the house with a delicious, tempting aroma. Sprinkle with fresh grated Pecorino Romano Cheese*.
*Please ditch that green can now. I know the 'real' stuff is more expensive but it tastes so much better that you can use significantly less and that will offset the price difference