Comfort…..

……is that old pair of jeans that has molded perfectly to every curve of your body.  The ones that used to be a bright azure denim but now, after a hundred washes and many more wears, is a murky blue-grey shade of its former self.  Comfort is slipping these on, feeling them conform to your skin obediently and diligently ignoring that thinning area over the backside that one day is bound to give up the ghost, taking your dignity with it.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (1 of 4)

Comfort is bare feet.  The liberation you feel when you open the front door, kick off the shoes, stretch the toes and feel plush carpet between them.  It is going to the cinemas in your sweatpants and no make-up.  Comfort watches movies on the couch on New Years’ Eve while the world packs picnics, braves the crowds and catches trains home after midnight, blinking under fluorescent lights.

Comfort is a hug with one who you have hugged for so long that both your shapes have long ago imprinted into one another.

And yet comfort may be something else, like talking on a friend’s couch for hours about nothing and everything all at once.

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Comfort is edible.  It is dhal, hot and salty, gingery and lemony, popping with cumin.  It is a roast potato with plenty of butter, solid to slippery liquid as it hits the steaming flesh.  It is hot chocolate, cold beer or a well-earned glass of wine.

Comfort is cheese and pasta.  Mac ‘n’ cheese.  Waistline defying mouthfuls of perfectly yielding pasta in a melty yellow matrix.  Throwing nutrition and caution to the wind to embrace it, comfort on a plate.

This one is from a cookbook which is the latest offering in the delicious. series by Valli Little, titled Love to Eat (ABC Books, Harper Collins).  The book navigates the home cook through a global journey, with each section holding recipes that are Valli Little’s take on flavours of that part of the world.  Comfort from each of the world’s corners.  For lovers of this series, this latest addition doesn’t disappoint, with practical and mouth-watering recipes that any home cook can tackle.

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I have my eye on the Kashmiri Prawns from the Indian section and the Chilli Chocolate Puddings of Latin America.  But for now we have this Mac ‘n’ Cheese slice.  I used emmental instead of gruyere, rosemary instead of thyme based on what I could get my hands on at the time.  I unceremoniously dumped in a whole 500g boxful of pasta rather than the recommended 400g and found the recipe still worked well.  I also stopped short of pan frying the slices dusted with flour, mainly due to sheer laziness, but I’m sure this would add an extra layer of decadence.  The pasta I used was one from the Barilla gluten-free range, a shape that is cutely named ‘elbows’.  I wrapped the slices individually, refrigerating some to eat within three or four days, and freezing some.  They thawed very well and made a perfectly convenient lunch to look forward to.

What is your Comfort?

Disclosures: My copy of Love to Eat was sent to me by Harper Collins Australia, and pasta was provided by Barilla, but all opinions are my own.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (3 of 4)

Mac ‘n’ Cheese Slice

From delicious. Love to Eat, Valli Little

Makes 7-9 serves

Get:

400-500 g macaroni or similar shaped pasta
Olive oil, to drizzle
2 cups milk
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
80g unsalted butter
1/4 cup plain flour
1 1/4 cups strong cheddar, grated
1 1/4 cups gruyere or emmental cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flour, to dust (optional)

Make:

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to combine and set aside.

Combine milk, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat adn bring to a simmer.  Set aside for 30 min to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and line a large baking dish with greaseproof paper.

Melt 40g butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 mins.  Strain the milk into the pan, discarding the solids. Whisk the mixture until smooth and thickened.  Add the cheeses and stir to melt and combine.  Add the egg and stir to combine.  Season with freshly ground pepper and salt if needed.

Take the pan off the heat and add the pasta, toss to coat.  Transfer the mixture to the lined oven dish and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 mins or until the top is golden. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Optional:

Cut mac ‘n’ cheese into 7 to 9 slices and dust with flour.  Melt the remaining 40g butter in a frypan and cook each slice as needed for 2-3 mins on each side until golden and crisp.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (2 of 4)

Cooking with Enrico

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He would stride confidently into the dining room, his kingdom, all six foot something of him.  He was the pulse of Antica Tenuta Le Casacce…….big hair, big smile, big personality.  His welcomes were always warm, his attire always quirky, and his enthusiasm always infectious.

Every evening with pride, he would make a booming announcement at dinner before each course.  All the diners were served the same thing.  There were no menus, buffet or orders.  Instead, we all trusted that Enrico would look after us, fill our stomachs beyond belief and leave our palates wanting more.  When he appeared in the archway, we would stop shovelling forkfuls of his food into our mouths, put down our wine glasses and cease the chitter chatter to just listen.  Animatedly, the Roman chef would describe the course before us, proudly declaring the ingredients were of this land, the Tuscan land he loved.  With a flourish of his hand, he would finish with the most important of those ingredients…….

“My olive oil, and my love!”

It was only after I heard of his passing, not long after I had left Italy, that I realised what an instrumental part Enrico Casini had been in the happiness these two weeks away had brought me.  From his warm smile to his willingness to tailor my meals to exclude beef, a real feat when it came to Tuscan cuisine, he had made a real impact on our group.  Our group was one of the last few to be welcomed to Le Casacce by Enrico.  One of the last to share his kitchen with him for a pasta-making class.  Probably the very last to tease him about his kooky, colourful spectacles.

It is some reassurance to know that he died in his sleep, a smile on his face.  Perhaps it was the same smile he wore when he taught us how to make his favourite sauces, or the cheekier one he sported when he made it a point to assure me there was no beef in the Tiramisu.

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After two previous gnocchi disasters, Enrico’s gnocchi recipe gave me my first success.  It is cloud-like and delicious cooked in the traditional way, in salted boiling water for a few minutes.  I choose instead to pan fry it, not with Enrico’s olive oil but using Spiral Foods’ Rosemary and Garlic oil.  The range of ‘Dip ‘n Toss’ oils is a range of delicately infused organic extra virgin olive oils that also includes Sundried Tomato & Basil as well as Garlic & Parmesan.  The oil brought a wonderful crispy skin to the pillowy ricotta gnocchi, as well as imparting a herbaceous, subtle flavour.  The enoki mushrooms do a great job of soaking up the rosemary and garlic flavours of the oil, but you could use thinly sliced button mushrooms if those are all you have on hand.  This is a ricotta gnocchi, and the cheese needs to be drained for at least a few hours, requiring some forward planning.

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Pan-Fried Rosemary and Garlic Gnocchi with Enoki Mushrooms

Serves 2.  Gnocchi Recipe serves 4 and can be frozen for later use

Get:

500g fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
Plain flour (about 1 cup + more for rolling)
Salt
Sprinkle of freshly grated pepper
4 tbsp + extra Spiral Foods Organic Rosemary & Garlic Dip ‘n Toss Oil
Generous handful enoki mushrooms, fibrous part of stems cut off
Small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Make:

To make the gnocchi, the ricotta needs to first be drained.  Tie the ricotta up in a clean cheese cloth or thin cotton tea towel and place in a colander.  Sit the colander in the top of a deep bowl.  Place a weight (I used a tub of rice) on top of the cloth covered ricotta and leave to drain for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Once the ricotta is drained, place it in a large bowl with the egg, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of flour.  Before you start kneading, have a large tray or two small ones ready, as well as a hand held sieve/strainer.  With clean hands, knead the mixture, combining well and adding more flour until a soft and slightly sticky dough is achieved.  I ended up using about 3/4 cup of flour.  Transfer the dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead for another minute or so.  Have a small pile of flour on one corner of the bench.  Pinch off golf ball sized parts of the dough and roll into logs about 1 to 1.5 cm thick.  Cut into 1cm wide pieces and add these to the pile of flour.  When you have made all the gnocchi, toss them well in the flour.  I found this easier to do in small batches.  Sieve the gnocchi to get rid of any excess flour.  Place on trays in a single layer to dry for an hour or so, then place any gnocchi that you are not intending to use immediately in an airtight container and in the freezer.

You will need about 2 cups of the gnocchi to serve 2 people.

In a large non-stick fry pan, heat 4 tbsp Spiral Foods Rosemary and Garlic Oil.  Add 2 cups of the gnocchi and fry on medium heat, turning the gnocchi over every couple of minutes so that it is evenly browned.  Toss in the mushrooms and a generous sprinkle of salt and cover.  Cook on low heat for a further 1-2 mins until the mushrooms are tender.  Toss through before serving.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped fresh parsley, as well as a generous drizzle of the oil.

**Disclosure: The Dip ‘n’ Toss oils were product samples provided by Spiral Foods, however this is not a sponsored post.  Opinions are my own.

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Orecchiette with Zucchini

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A holiday on the other side of the world is all well and good, but then there’s the jetlag to contend with.  Currently, sleeping through the night is somewhat of a challenge and staying awake at work is only achieved with multiple cups of coffee and not allowing myself to sit down for too long, anywhere.  These are the times that I am thankful that I do not have a desk job.

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Gradually, my brain is convincing my baffled body that night is day and day is night.  Is it just my imagination that this transition gets more challenging the older I get?

The plus side to being wide awake against my will at some unearthly time is that it gives me a few unaccounted for hours with which to do things.  My hunger pangs led me to trawl through the pantry before the sun was even up and in the midst of cramming everything that was remotely edible into my mouth, I came across some lovely pasta from the good people of Barilla.  One pasta bible, a quick scramble for herbs around the still-dark garden, and half an hour later, there was a tasty, nutritious lunch to look forward to on my first bleary-eyed day back at work.

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You use the zucchini raw but the thin slices get partially cooked by the acidic lemon juice.  Cool, right?  I am quite partial to Orecchiette but you can, of course, use any short pasta that takes your fancy. For more pasta-related shenanigans, try out one of the classes at Casa Barilla in Sydney.Orchiette2

Orecchiette with Zucchini

Serves 3-4

Slightly modified from Pasta by Carla Bardi (page 134)

Get:
2 medium zucchini (courgette)
1 or 2 small red chillies, finely chopped
Small handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

250g good quality dried Orecchiette Pasta (I used Barilla)

Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese to serve

Make:

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini lengthwise into strips.  In a large bowl, toss the zucchini strips with the chillies, mint, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.  Leave for 20-30 min.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to packet instructions until al dente.  Drain and toss the pasta with the zucchini.  Taste and add more salt or pepper as neccessary.

Serve with a generous amount of parmesan or pecorino grated over the top.

This is NOT a sponsored post, however the pasta was kindly supplied by Barilla.

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