Sunday, November 23, 2014

L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 1: Mixing and Sheeting the Pasta

There was unfinished business the first time we went to Bologna. My goal on that trip was to see a Parmegiano producer, a prosciutto producer, a balsamico producer, a mortadella producer, and a pasta producer. Though our tour covered a lot of ground, we never did visit a pasta or mortadella factory. The trays of fresh tagliatelle and tortellini in the display cases of all the gourmet shops around town captured my imagination, and over the years my desire to see where the pasta comes from only grew stronger. So I was drawn back to Bologna to finish the food tour I had started.

Once I had my husband on board for another trip to Italy and our plane tickets booked, I arranged a visit to L’Arte della Sfoglia. Of all the pasta producers I contacted, only Claudio seemed to get it when I said I wanted to watch the masters at work. He didn’t try to redirect me into a regular cooking class. And he promised lunch.

On the appointed day, I jumped out of bed as if there were no such thing as jetlag and, with my husband in tow, into a taxi for a quick five-minute drive west of the Bologna city center.


Claudio gave us a warm welcome. We hardly had a moment to look around the storefront.


Or check out the menu.


He whisked us into the pasta laboratory and introduced us to Ida the sfoglina. And then they spent the day teaching us everything they could about pasta. They made us feel right at home and like no questions were off limits.

The pasta begins with eggs with yolks as golden as the sun.


The egg farmer, who happened to stop by while we were in the kitchen, explained that the color of the yolks comes from the corn diet he feeds his hens. The other ingredient is finely milled 00 flour. It looks similar to cake flour but is closer to all-purpose flour in its gluten content. They use 10 eggs for every 1 kilogram of 00 flour, or 1 egg for every 100 grams flour (my recipe is about the same). A bit of water can be added “for humidity” during the hot months. Claudio employs the help of a machine for mixing and stops it frequently to test the dough for the right texture: smooth, silky, and elastic.


I gave the dough a poke at this point, and it felt barely sticky. Claudio mentioned that it’s important to avoid mixing air into the dough. The next step is to portion the large mass of dough into workable pieces.


The portions rest under plastic as he works.


Each one gets rounded.


And then they get wrapped and refrigerated overnight. Just look at the color of that dough!

After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, the portions are ready to be sheeted.


By hand.


This is where Ida steps in to do her magic. Working on a bench made of what I understood to be Canadian pioppo, or poplar, and using a pin that’s nearly as long as she is tall, she rolls the dough out in one direction.


Then rolls it up on the pin.


Picks the whole thing up.


Gives it a quarter turn and unrolls it on the bench again.


All in one fluid motion.


Then she proceeds to roll out the dough in the other direction.


And she repeats this process until the sfoglia’s so thin you can almost see through it. She makes it look absolutely effortless. Pasta machines? Those are for chumps.

That’s what some fifteen years of owning a pasta shop in Bologna will do for you. Ida and Claudio ran a small pasta shop in the center of Bologna for eleven years before moving to their current location in 2011. They made the change because they were looking for a larger kitchen and because it was increasingly difficult for customers to reach them in the Zona a Traffico Limitado. They said that business was better than ever in the new location.

Ida’s assistant does a lot of the sheeting as well, but somehow it doesn’t look as graceful and effortless when he does it.


It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what the difference is, but brute force seems to be more at play.


Ida sent him back to the rolling board when his sfoglia was uneven and too thick in some places, too thin in others.


Once the dough is sheeted, it can be used immediately to make pasta shapes such as tortelloni and tortellini or wrapped up and cut into noodles later.


Claudio stressed that the sfoglia will last for several days in the refrigerator if it is dried on a towel-lined board for a short time and then wrapped in the double thickness of paper from the bag the flour came in and plastic.

Next up: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 2: Tortelloni.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Passion Fruit Tart

My husband and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary last week. Each year I try to outdo myself baking a sweet surprise for Hubby. For lucky number thirteen, I decided to make something using passion fruit since it’s his favorite. This Passion Fruit Tart is what I came up with.


Hubby loved it so much that I thought I would share the recipe with you. Also included is my tried-and-true Lemon Tart recipe as it was my starting point for creating the passion fruit version.

Passion Fruit Tart
Printable Recipe

4 large eggs
3 ¾ ounces sugar
6 ounces passion fruit puree
6 ounces heavy cream
1 partially baked 9-inch Pâte Sucrée Tart Crust
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Whisk together the eggs and 3 ½ ounces of the sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the passion fruit puree and then whisk in 2 ounces of the cream. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and skim off any foam from the surface. Slowly pour into the tart crust. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until just set. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

Combine the remaining 4 ounces of cream, remaining ¼ ounce of sugar, and vanilla and whip to firm peaks. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe onto the tart in a decorative manner. Cut the tart into portions and serve immediately.

Makes 1 9-inch tart, serving 8. You will need about 12 fresh passion fruits for this recipe. When buying passion fruits, look for fruit that's shrinkled—that's my word for shrunken and wrinkled—and trust me when I say there's no better way to describe a ripe passion fruit. To make passion fruit puree, halve the passion fruits, scoop out the flesh using a spoon, and strain it through a fine mesh sieve. You can also use frozen passion fruit puree. If you can get your hands on it, use Tahitian vanilla, which has a uniquely floral character. Tahitian vanilla pairs beautifully with passion fruit.

Lemon Tart: Increase the sugar in the custard from 3 ½ to 4 ounces. Mix this quantity of sugar with the grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons until very fragrant before blending it with the eggs. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of passion fruit puree.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Absence

It’s been too long since my last post. Though the pull of blogging is very strong, sometimes other things have to come first. I knew I would be away for a couple of weeks for a vacation to Italy, but what I didn’t plan on was having to take additional time to grieve the loss of my best friend. We had to say goodbye to our beloved German shorthaired pointer Julia the day after we returned from our trip. She had a large tumor hidden in her chest beside her heart. She was only twelve, and we had her since she was just seven weeks old. For a while I couldn’t cook—everything was too salty, seasoned with tears.


RIP Julia.

Thankfully, things have been looking up again. I accepted a new teaching position, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. Of course adjusting to a new job was just another thing keeping me away from this space. But now I’m beginning to feel inspired and ready to get back to writing about my adventures in food again.

So stay tuned. I have posts about fooding in Italy planned and new pasta recipes to share. I also have some new baking and pastry recipes in the works that I’m certain you’ll enjoy.

Speaking of recipes, the fall issue of Cooking Club magazine is out. Check out the "Weeknight Cook" column (on page 54) for Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower, Spicy Szechuan Pork Chow Mein, Southwestern Patty Melts, Thai Shrimp and Rice Noodle Soup, and Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives recipes by yours truly.

And now for a quick cooking class update. The fall Clark College class schedule is out. Seafood Primer was an overwhelming success and Classic Deli Soups is coming up soon. Please join me in the kitchen!

Also, please tune into Flavors radio show at noon PT on Sunday, December 21 to hear hosts Greg and Marleen chat with me about Marinades.

Current event listings can always be found in the Cooking Classes, Book Signings & Appearances sidebar on the right.

I’d like to leave you with an idea for cooking with fall wild mushrooms. Hubby and I went mushroom hunting last weekend. It was a bittersweet experience—bitter because exploring the woods was one of Julia’s favorite things to do and we missed her terribly, sweet because we hit the jackpot. We found loads of chanterelles.


And lobster mushrooms.


If you are like us and have more chanterelles and lobster mushrooms than you know what to do with, try sautéing them and folding them into some fettuccini with Alfredo Sauce. It’s luxurious yet easy, and it really allows the shrooms to be the star.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finex Factory Tour

Cast iron cookware aficionados, take note. An upstart called Finex has reinvented the cast iron skillet, and it seems they’ve set their sights directly on Lodge.


I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of their pans for a while now, so I jumped at a recent opportunity to tour their Portland production facility.


I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a kid in a candy store walking into the workshop and seeing all of the skillets-to-be.


After ushering us into an office housing a sizable collection of vintage cast iron cookware, Finex founder Mike Whitehead began the tour with a talk about the origins of his company.


Like so many others, Mike’s parents threw out all of their cast iron pots and pans when Teflon came out. But an interest in what’s in our food and where it comes from fueled Mike’s desire to return to cast iron cookware, as did an appreciation for how people connect to it and value it as heirlooms. Modern cast iron pans didn’t live up to his expectations. Fortunately Mike had the background in manufacturing and design to create his ideal cast iron skillet and mount what would become an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign. He was determined that his pan be made in America and that it be a premium product. As Mike puts it, the name Finex reflects “a cross section of all things fine”. The 12-inch skillet features a smooth surface, six dripless pouring spouts, a quick cooling handle, and a thoroughly modern look. Though he has clearly updated every detail of the classic cast iron skillet, Mike still proclaims, “Griswold is our North Star.”

The first step of making a Finex skillet is sand casting. I really wanted to see how this is done, but unfortunately for me it happens in a different facility. The pans emerge from the molds with lots of extra material around the edges which must be removed.


They are heat treated to relieve stress in the metal from the casting process. The heat treatment causes them to rust.


Next, the pans are CNC machined. I don’t know what CNC machining is exactly and this is another manufacturing step done off-site, but the result is a mirror-smooth, nonstick cooking surface inside the pan.


In my opinion, this is what really sets the Finex skillet apart and why Lodge had better watch its back. The swirl pattern is removed, but I missed the explanation of how that’s done.


(Apparently, being surrounded by so many toys made me too giddy to retain all of the information.) The pans go for a ride in a rock tumbler to further smooth out any rough edges.


The “rocks” are made of ceramic and start off angular but look more and more like river stones with use.


A thin layer of flax oil is applied by hand and baked on to season the pans. I thought it was interesting that they use a couple of regular Blodgett ovens for seasoning the pans. By my count, they can season a maximum of 12 or 16 pans at a time. Putting together the handle (which looks to me to be inspired by vintage waffle irons) requires a labor-intensive, multi-step process.


The springs start out dull and are polished.


Ooh, shiny!


The brass caps are polished as well.


There’s some drilling.


There’s some assembly.


And finally, it's done.


It truly is an artisan product—so much of the work is done with passion and love by hand.

After seeing and handling the pans, I had no doubt that nothing would stick, not even a fried egg. I did, however, question if the pouring spouts were truly dripless, which got me the following demonstration.


Not one drop of water ran down the side of the pan. I’d like to see if oil and sauce pour as cleanly.

By the way, did you notice that pouring demo was done with a smaller pan? That’s a 3-D printed prototype of the 8-inch skillet that’s to be the second product in the Finex line. The Kickstarter campaign for the baby pan surpassed its goal within days of opening. A lid for the 12-inch pan is currently in development as well.


I was certainly impressed by what I saw at Finex. Even the warranty was impressive.


Like I said, Lodge better watch out! But the proof is in the cooking. Hopefully I’ll be able to give their skillet a test drive soon and judge how it actually performs in the kitchen. I will say I wish I had one of these to play with when I was writing Seared to Perfection.


Thank you to Mike, Shauna, and the rest of the Finex crew for the fantastic tour and the delicious cornbread!

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