Thursday, 10 January 2013

How to 8 : Cook Perfect Pasta

Who doesn't love a nice bowl of steaming hot pasta? -Well, maybe not if it's soggy and overcooked or stuck together and crunchy in the middle... actually, pasta is pretty easy to cook okay, but to do it really well, so that it would taste good even on its own, needs a little practice. This month's "how-to" shares a few pasta-cooking tips to make sure it comes out perfect every time.
There are so many different shapes of pasta, each designed for a slightly different function, eg: ridged pasta shells (conchiglie), twists (fusilli) or bows (farfalle) can hold a chunkier sauce, whereas the simpler shapes such as spaghetti, macaroni or tagliatelle go best with blended or creamy sauces. We most often cook pasta as bakes or salads, so macaroni or twists/ bows reign supreme in our cupboard, though I do like to have spaghetti on hand for those pesto moments. Today I used wholemeal bows. We prefer wholemeal pasta; it's an acquired taste, but once you acquire it white pasta just won't do. Actually, this is our first pasta tip: it's a lot more difficult to overcook wholemeal pasta as its coarser and retains a "bite" for longer.

1: Raw dry wholemeal pasta bows.

2: Make sure your water is fast-boiling before you add the pasta. Putting the lid on while you do this makes it happen quicker.

3: Add a little seasalt and a very little olive oil to the water. Salt adds a bit of flavour and the oil will prevent the pasta sticking together- but too much and the pasta will be slippery when cooked and the sauce won't stick to it.

4: Give the pasta a stir when it first goes into the pot to make sure it doesn't  all stick together. Keep the water boiling steadily, but leave the lid off to avoid it boiling over.

5: How to tell if it's cooked al dente? (soft, but with a little resistance in the middle) check regularly; most types of pasta will cook in 8-12 minutes. Take out a piece and cut it in half. You should see a paler strip through the middle where it's not quite as soft; that's when it's al dente. Drain in a colander, and NEVER leave cooked pasta in its water, unless you enjoy eating slimy goo! Only rinse pasta if you are putting it into a salad.

6: For serving, this kind of spoon is great as it keeps hold of slippery bits and has a drainage hole for any last drops of water.

If this has inspired you, here are some links to our pasta recipes:

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Crispy-coated Tofu in Sweet and Sour Sauce-vegan

The  tofu should be smooth and succulent inside and crispy on the outside...

...We ate ours with rice and roasted vegetables; you could stir-fry your veggies if you like
Sorry this isn't a recipe (I forgot to weigh and measure) but it was so nice that we will be having it again sometime soon so I'll get the quantities down then and post them. This was very much a "whatever I had in the cupboard" meal. The tofu was made earlier in the day, but you could buy firm tofu. I made the crispy coating with wholewheat flour and cornmeal with spices such as ginger and Chinese 5-spice mixed in. I marinaded the tofu cubes in soy sauce/ miso/ lemon/ ginger/ maple syrup before coating. Then the coated tofu cubes were baked on an oiled tray at 200C until brown and crispy. The sauce is based on passata and fresh pineapple with black pepper and maple syrup.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Seitan, Roast Pepper and Walnut Wellington- vegan

A slice of the Wellington with tomato gravy
Either because it was first cooked (with beef) for the Duke of Wellington, or because it was invented for a dinner in Wellington, New Zealand, the term "Wellington" is now used to describe any meat or vegetarian dish wrapped in puff or flaky pastry. Inspired by the Wellington episode of "The Great British Bake Off" last year, I had been meaning to make this since November, in good time to post it for anyone who wanted the recipe for Christmas dinner...then in time for New Year...then finally on January 2nd I got to cook it! It is quite time-consuming, so I made the seitan and the pastry in advance. The pastry was an experiment which came out not quite as flaky as I had expected, but really crispy and delicious all the same. It is hard to handle, and best rolled out between sheets of clingfilm. It's well worth it though- "A good bake" as Paul and Mary would say, and no trace of a soggy bottom! The Wellington comfortably fed 5 people with a bit left over for one lucky person to have seconds.

For the Flaky Pastry:
400g plain wholemel flour
150g coconut oil
100g extra-virgin cold pressed sunflower oil
1/2 tsp seasalt
cold water to mix
  • Mix flour and salt.
  • Rub the oil into the mixture.
  • Cut in the coconut oil (should be still solid, but slightly soft, if you can get it to the right tewperature for this.)
  • Mix to a dough with the water, using the minimum amount necessary.
  • Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest at room temperature.
  • Between sheets of clingfilm, roll it out into a rectangle- be sure to make it wide enough to wrap round the filling.
For the Filling:
300g (1 quantity) seitan, made using these instructions 
150g finely grated celeriac
100g ground walnuts
2-3 red-yellow peppers (capsicums)
olive oil for roasting
1/2 tab brown rice miso
2 tabs passata
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp seasalt
1 tab paprika
1 tab sweet smoked paprika
  • Cut the peppers into thin strips, brush with olive oil and roast in the oven until starting to char at the edges. Set aside.
  • Blitz the seitan in a food processor until it's the consistency of mince
  • Mix the seitan and other ingredients together- not the peppers.
To Assemble:
  • Roll out the pastry, as detailed above.
  • Pat the filling into a "sausage" shape and lay down the centre of the pastry rectangle.
  • Lay the peppers on top.
  • Using the clingfilm to help, gently bring the sides up over the filling and seal with water. Carefully turn it over onto an oiled baking sheet.
  • Make diagonal slits in the top at regular intervals.
  • Bake for 20 mions at 200C, until the pastry is nice and crisp.
Meanwhile, make the Tomato Gravy:
2 level tabs plain flour
2 tabs cold pressed sunflower/ olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tabs soy sauce/ liquid aminos
250ml passata
250ml water
  • Make a roux with the oil and flour, and gradually beat in the rest of the ingredients using a balloon whisk.
  • Heat gently (don't boil) until thickened and warmed through, whisking to prevent lumps forming.