Friday, December 31, 2010

Pork loin with apples and plums

I didn't plan on making this last night. To be honest, I was thinking about perhaps trying Marcella's braised pork with vinegar, or perhaps some Indian food (yes I'm chancing my hand with some spice occasionally).

But then Giulano posted a link to him cooking a pork loin with apples and apricots which looked damn good and so I had to give it a crack.

This recipe is in his "How to Cook Italian". It actually calls initially for plums rather than apricots, so that's what I bought. Good time of year to cook them, summer, with all the stone fruit out.

I bought my loin of pork. I was concerned about all the fat on it. It just seemed way too much. I peered at Guilano's video and his didn't seem to have nearly as much fat on it. But Marcella says to leave it on in some of her pork recipes. I tried to ask the teacher himself without being too forceful, and kindly and generously, he clarified.

Uploaded to
Giuliano prepares a great festive pan-roasted pork loin with apples and plums on Daytime.
8 hours ago via YouTube · ·
  • 3 people like this.

    • David Downie Giuliano, this will be my new years eve dish. I'll be sure to report back on my blog documenting how it goes.
      8 hours ago ·
    • David Downie Looking at your pork loin it looks as though the fat is trimmed off it.
      4 hours ago ·
    • Giuliano Hazan Not completely, David, though in American markets I suspect more fat may be trimmed off. Hope you enjoy it while bringing the new year in! Best wishes.
      3 hours ago ·
    • David Downie Giuliano, thanks very much for commenting. I was googling pork loin and fat trimming. I will take a little off only then! I am making your superb scallop and breadcrumb pasta for our first course. Happy New Year to you and your family. david
      3 hours ago ·

So I took to the fat with my knife. As it turns out, there was actually more fat than meat in the loin I managed to buy. It didn't look too bad after I found the meat. To think, if this were roasted all that fat would have gone down the throat. It made me sick thinking about it.

I gave Basil the kitten a chance to play with it for a few minutes before binning it.

The next steps were to brown the meat, soften the onion, and cut the fruit.

The really fun bit was pouring in some red wine and boiling off the alcohol. In the name of all that is holy, this was the most amazing smell. More so for me because I am off the grog for 12 months and am over 6 months in.

So I couldn't get my head out of the pot as it wafted into my nostrils.

The meat joined the fruit and onion and, still on a high from the alcohol, I declared that everything that was good and right in the world was in that pot.

The spoon was sampled and there were some sour notes. From the fruit perhaps? I hoped it wasn't from the wine, as I wasn't able to taste it before it went in.

Within 40 minutes any sour notes had disappeared, and the official taster declared that the sauce activated all the pleasure sensors at the back of her mouth.

When the meat was cooked it was finely sliced and put back into the sauce. It was greeted with many oos and aaars at the table, and pronounced genius by all.

This recipe is a keeper. The pork wasn't dry and tasted of itself, and the sauce was sweet and delicious. I will be making this one again!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas meals

I thought I would mention a couple of meals cooked after Christmas. My plan for boxing day was to cook basil and tomato pasta and a green bean and lamb stew. I sought Marcella's counsel on increasing the amount of lamb as follows:

  • Dear Marcella and Friends I was wondering if any of you had ever doubled the lamb and bean with vinegar recipe from Essentials. I am cooking for a crowd on Boxing Day and was hoping to do so. Does it scale nicely, especially the oil? Sometimes recipes do not scale and you need to tweak things rather than doubling each quantity directly. I intend to have a tomato and basil pasta for the first course. Merry Christmas to all. David
    December 23 at 7:15am · · · See Friendship
      • Marcella Hazan
        Dear David, your new mustache and beard make you look fierce? Are you? I am glad that lamb shoulder with the bone in no longer causes a trauma. By NO means double the vinegar, half again is plenty and the same goes for the oil. The lamb depends on the proportion of bone and meat. If there is mostly bone, add a little bit of meat. Victor, who has a few Australian gems in his cellar, just opened a McLaren Vale 1998 reserve Shiraz from Fox Creek. Beautiful, and it would be perfect on your lamb, whereas you might choose a non-reserve Chianti for the pasta. Buon Natale to you and Victoria. Ours is our 56th.
        December 23 at 9:53am ·
      • Adriana Downie Fierce is definately not in David's repetoire. I am looking forward to the boxing day lunch...leave the McLaren Vale Shiraz up to me! Can I suggest we do a batch of asparagus with ham from Essentials for a starter. I love it and have made it to great success!
        December 23 at 10:07am ·
      • Marcella Hazan Not fierce, then, but brooding? An Alsatian late harvest Gewurztraminer would be delicious with the ham, and skip the pasta.
        December 23 at 10:45am ·
      • David Downie Thanks very much Marcella. Is the onion doubled? One good thing about being the cook, of course, is that you can decide the menu. I have told my mother I will be harvesting her basil on the 26th. I can brood, it is true, and perhaps I would be better off being a little fiercer. David
        December 23 at 12:33pm ·
      • Marcella Hazan You never have to worry about using too much onion, if you cook it long enough
        December 23 at 2:25pm ·
      • David Downie Thanks Marcella. Speaking of which, Victoria just cooked a form of your onion pasta, and she is very proud. It was delicious.
        December 23 at 8:32pm ·
      • David Downie Marcella, I could not find any lamb shoulder on boxing day! Fortunately I was able to spot some racks of lamb and make Giuliano's rack of lamb with rosemary and breadcrumbs, along with the basil and fresh tomato and garlic pasta. Your orange cake also got a look in. A pleasant boxing day lunch was had by all.
        Sunday at 8:10pm ·

Well you can see the outcome there. The lamb rack was excellent. The pasta was perhaps not as tasty as it has been before, and on reflection was underseasoned. Don't be shy with the salt!

Today I cooked the pasta again (with more salt) and it was excellent, along with lamb stew again. It helps when cooking to repeat the same dishes over and over. They get easier, and better.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Orange cake

I'm with Giulano when he says people are either cooks or bakers. He says he is a cook. I like to cook but not bake. It's pretty clear Marcella thinks in much the same way.

None the less, I'm fond of her orange cake from Marcella Cucina. I love the writing in this book. Marcella, to me, seems to be at the top of her game here, completely confident in her assertions, and expressing herself (perhaps with some assistance from Victor) so beautifully. This is especially the case in the introductions, where she implores us to make music.

Last time we tried to make music with this recipe, we blew out the blender (it was a double batch). So I bought a new blender, very expensive mind you, that and swore never to put a double batch through it again.

Today, Christmas Day, I'm just doing a single batch, for my family. Everything was going well until smoke started coming out the blender. My expensive, really expensive, heavy duty, blender.

Marcella 0, Blenders 2.

That made me a little annoyed, although I tried not to be on Christmas Day. I swapped to a food processor, which is in fact what we are instructed to use. Part of the lid fell off as part of this and caused a plate to be smashed on the kitchen floor.

All the time the new kitten meowed.

Ah well, I am pretty good with just getting on with it. So I did that, and put my timer on for 45 minutes as instructed. 45 minutes later the cake came out, and was burned.

That's the problem with automatic cooking in the oven. You can't check things to see if they are cooking ok. At least not easily.

It was only partially burned. I put sweetened orange juice all over. I had to use a screwdriver to poke holes in it as I was fresh out of chopsticks.

How will it taste? I will have to wait and see. Hopefully, I have made some form of music, although, not being a baker, I'm a little worried it will be more heavy metal than classical.

In the meantime, looks like I need to stump up for a new blender.

UPDATE: People enjoyed it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spaghettini with Olive Oil and Garlic

The famous Spaghettini all'Aglio e Olio. The dish that sends shivers down your spine. Simple does not mean easy, Marcella says. And surely this is the case for a pasta dish that only contains garlic, olive oil and parsley.

Truth be told I attempted this dish some time before I decided to try and cook my way through Essentials. I only cooked Asian food then - mainly thai. This dish confirmed every suspicion I had about 'western food' as I saw it. It turned out an oily, garlicky, inedible mess. I simply could not cook food from Europe I decided.

I confessed this to Marcella once, hoping for reassurance given the progress I had made on my blog. Perhaps with her encouragement, I would attempt it again. Her generous and personal response in July of this year did not fill me with confidence:

Oh, poor David, you started out with one of the most difficult pasta dishes there is, aglio e olio. I know few cooks in Italy who do it really well, and all of them are in Rome. Bear in mind that you need excellent olive oil, as it accounts for 75% of the flavor, and first rate artisan-made spaghetti or spaghettini, as they make up the other 25%, garlic excluded. The garlic can be quite brown, but not burnt, and certainly not pressed. One of the toughest parts is the salt because it does not dissolve in oil. Lots of salt in lots of water,and I sprinkle a teeny bit on the pasta after draining it. Don't go back to the stove with it just yet. Maybe take a trip to Rome first.

That did it. I had fantasies of finishing my quest, having cooked every recipe in the book except this one, and then having a glorious trip to Rome to observe this dish and cook it upon my return to the adulation of all, including Marcella.

Unfortunately there were two problems with this fantasy. First, I do not think I will ever cook all of Marcella's dishes. There are over 1000 of them published. Even if I cooked one new one a week, which I don't, then it would take me 20 years. 20 years! I had never thought of it in those numbers exactly until now. It is both depressing and awesome. Depressing for me and awesome when you think of how much work Marcella has produced in her lifetime. To that level of quality? How did she do it?

The second reason why I didn't wait 20 years and for a trip to Rome is that I was hungry and didn't want to cook the chicken I bought for dinner or even the salmon and tomatoes I bought to eat before the chicken. I wanted something light and for some reason this dish, this holy grail of simplicity but not ease, came to mind.

I used the recipe from Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta. It is my favourite pasta book. I don't think Marcella would mind. I did notice he directed quite a bit of salt to go into the pasta water, and for more salt to go into the sauce itself. He didn't ask for the final sprinkle into the dish however.

I didn't measure the oil tablespoon by tablespoon. That seems silly. I was worried about burning the garlic, and did not cook it much at all, as per directions. It is interesting that Giuliano says for the garlic not to brown, and Marcella says for the garlic not to burn (although it can be quite brown). It may be that Marcella has more faith in the cook, and Giuliano knows that if garlic sizzles for 20 seconds as directed it will in fact be brown, and hopefully not burnt.

Either way, it came together very quickly, and I plated it up and got into it. No doubt my efforts were not a patch on Rome, but I enjoyed every bit and it satisfied my hunger without stuffing me with a multi-course feast. The garlic was not burnt.

I consider it a success, at least for Brisbane, Australia. Perhaps one day I will be able to compare it to the efforts of the few in Rome, and the world, who do the proper version.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Basil the cat

Spaghetti Carbonara and Pork with Beans

I am 36 today (whooo....), and after an appalling birthday evening the night before last attending a cooking class that taught me nothing and made me spew (literally) thought I would cook myself a birthday dinner last night.

I have never made the Hazan carbonara directly. I have cooked it indirectly from Neil Perry's The Food I Love. He credits Essentials generally as a book at the end so I am only guessing he has drawn from Marcella's writing on this one. He doesn't use parsley and he throws in prawns optionally. That's right, prawns.

Last time I cooked that it was fabulous.

This time I cooked from Giuliano Hazan's 30 minute pasta. It was pretty much the same technique: cooking the pancetta in butter, boiling off some white wine, and mixing it with 2 cheeses in specified proportions along with some eggs. Giuliano uses 2 egg yokes and 2 eggs.

It was fabulous again. Very creamy and luscious. But of course without the cream. Carbonara does not have cream. That creamy stodge you eat when you are out is not carbonara. At least, not this kind.

It was extremely filling, no doubt due to the eggs. We also probably ate more than a nonna would have recommended. Because of this there was little appetite for the second course, which was pork sausage with beans from Every Night Italian.

It didn't work out so good. Epic fail, was the comment to me. I denied this, and it was reduced to a fail. I won't be making this one again.

But the carbonara is on my go list.