Pasta with ricotta and asparagus

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Consider The Sauce is relatively familiar with reading and eating pasta recipes involving fresh ricotta.

But in them, the ricotta has always been used in a tomato-based sauce.

I have never seen an Italian recipe using ricotta like this.

But I would in no way be surprised to find there are Italian recipes that are the same or similar – it just seems so very Italian!

This has become a weekly staple for Bennie and I.

We sometimes use green beans, in which case we throw them in with the boiling pasta a few minutes before it is done.

But we prefer asparagus – and with asparagus, timing is everything.

The aim is quickly flash fry the asparagus so it gets a nice charred flavour before it wilts.

It’s a fine line and takes just a few minutes – so best to complete cooking the pasta before throwing the asparagus in the pan.

Depending on what’s at hand, we also sometimes throw in a few chilli slices or parsley.

But in this dish, the seasoning are simple so need to be freely used – very freshly cracked pepper, salt and extra virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS

Short pasta

Fresh ricotta

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Finely grated lemon rind or lemon juice to taste.

METHOD

1. Cook pasta, drain.

2. Heat a good dollop of EVOO to high heat, flash fry aspargus so it retians its structure but has started to colour.

3. Turn heat to very low and throw in the pasta, separating any pieces that have stuck together.

4. Add salt and heaps of black pepper.

5. Roughly chop the ricotta and add to pan, mashing to fine crumbs with wooden spoon.

6. Add lemon rind or juice and another splash of EVOO, mix.

7. Serve.

 

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The icing on the biscuits

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Julia’s work – how they’re meant to look.

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My beginner class efforts.

 

Consider The Sauce loves rabbit holes and those who gleefully scamper down them – people who are devoted with joy and passion to their “thing”.

Julia – Miss Biscuit – certainly qualifies.

Since CTS first write about her biscuit decorating pursuits more than three years ago, her dedication has paid dividends.

She’s found the desire for knowledge about her “thing” is so wide and deep that she’s been able to make it her main gig, moving her operations from her Yarraville home to a two-storey headquarters in Seddon.

 

 

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As well, she has become an employer, has embarked on a teaching tour of the Middle East, is bringing specialists from overseas to teach here and has taught many thousands of students and fans herself.

Decorating cookies is never going to something I’ll pursue, but I’m nevertheless extremely grateful for the opportunity to sit in on one of Julia’s beginner classes.

 

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She’s a fine teacher – in this regard, she draws on her background as a speech pathologist. Our class is a mix of information and hands-on practice in the form of decorating nine cookies ourselves.

The information comes in the form of making the base cookies; we are provided three different recipes – Miss Biscuit Vanilla Sugar Biscuits, Gingerbread (Adapted from Bake at 350) and Decadent Chocolate Roll Out Cookies.

The important thing here is that the recipes result in cookies that don’t lose their shape once they’re cut and baked.

 

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Then there is the royal icing itself.

We are led through the basic recipe, then the various consistencies and colours and their uses, as well as the use of piping bags and squeeze bottles.

 

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Finally, there is the matter of piping-bag tips, with some brands being much more favoured than others, and some (the narrow ones) being used for outlining and the wider ones being utilised for flooding, the all-over icing technique that covers whole – or whole parts – of cookies, creating a sort of blank canvas for more ornate artwork and detail.

 

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After demonstrations by Julia of the techniques involved, it’s time to give it a crack ourselves, firstly by trying outling on patterns on paper.

They key to outlining, we’ve been told, is to have tip about inch from the cookie.

 

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I’m surprised at how easy to work the royal icing is.

Mind you, as a rank beginner I do struggle – I try to concentrate on a certain fluidity, a steady hand, some momentum.

Flooding is something quite different – apparently a little easier to do, but I soon find out I have been too sparing in my icing applications.

As we finish the early stages of each cookie, they are set aside so the icing can dry and we move on to the next.

 

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During the lunch break, various of my classmates avail themselves of the cookie cutters and much more available in the shop downstairs.

After lunch, we get back to work by adding details to our cookies.

 

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It’s at this point my outlining technique gets well and truly found out – the lattice-work on my ice-cream cone and cupcake is squiggly where it should be straight!

Still, in the end I am delighted and surprised that all my cookie artwork actually looks recognisably as it is meant to.

 

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The concentration levels have been nothing unusual for me, but the subject of that concentration has been very different – so I am pretty tired by the end of the five-hour class.

But I’ve had a ball.

Check out the Miss Biscuit website here for details of classes, products and more.

 

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Real good ‘baked’ beans

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Foxtel, no doubt facing somewhat stiffer competition and in a bid to lessen customer leakage, has loosened things up a bit.

So what for many years has been, for us, a basic + sport package is now a basic + sport + just-about-everything-else-except-movies.

Truth to tell we’re not that impressed – if anything, the increase of futile channel surfing may actually push us closer to pulling the plug.

And the food line-up seems particularly awful at the moment.

But I did see one interesting bit at the weekend.

It was a show purportedly about British pub food but I wasn’t paying too much attention – book in hand, mute on, music playing.

And it stayed that way even when the dude started making baked beans.

I could see what he was up to, though, and thought: “Hey, I can do that!”

I’ve attempted baked beans in the past with no great success – the outcomes have been quite edible but have been more like a bean stew than your actual baked beans.

This one worked!

I made some changes – I used worcestershire sauce instead of red wine vinegar and I threw in a finely grated carrot.

When Bennie saw these in the pot, he said: “That looks weird!”

When he was eating them, he said: “Mmmm … these are good!”

A few days later, he was specifically requesting the frozen leftovers for dinner.

So from here on, in our home they’ll be referred to as “Bennie’s Beans”!

 

INGREDIENTS

2 cups dried cannellini beans (tinned beans are a shabby substitute).

3 rashers bacon

1 medium onion

2 cloves garlic

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 finely grated carrot

1 tablespoon worecestershire sauce

salt

pepper

 

METHOD

1. Soak beans overnight and cook next day in plenty of water until done; drain and set aside.

2. Finely chop bacon and fry off in plenty of oil.

3. Lower heat and throw in finely copped onion and finely chopped or grated garlic; cook until tender.

4. Add tomatoes, 1 can of water, tomato paste, worecestershire sauce, finely grated carrot, salt, pepper.

5. Stir until all the elements are blended in; cook on low heat for about half an hour.

6. Add beans and cook on low heat for another hour.

7. Serve on toasted good-quality sourdough.

8. Eat.

A sharing thing

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Cooking Connections at Yarraville Community Centre, part of the Care To Share Project

CTS missed the first, Vietnamese outing of the Care To Share Project’s Cooking Connections program, but was very happy to make the weekend pairing as host.

Thanks to the Care To Share crew for granting me the opportunity (see link below for more information).

Thanks, too, to the punters – many from the west but more than a few from all over Melbourne.

But most of all, warm thanks to the families and individuals who shared their cooking and food with us.

There will be photos and comments about the food in this post, but really they’re only part of the story …

First up on the Saturday were Jamshid from Afghanistan, Sara from Iran and the family of Ebi, Roya and Maryam, also from Iran.

All these folks are on bridging visas.

 

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Maryam did a fine job of splitting the dates and inserting walnuts in them for the Persian sweet rangenak.

 

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But in the digital age, some things are universal with young folks.

 

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The guests lost no time in leaving their chosen seats to talk to the asylum-seeking cooks.

Jamshid was busy making korme koftas, chicken biryani and Afghan pulao.

 

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Along with a stack of finely chopped greens – spinach, coriander, dill – dried limes went into the ghormeh sabzi prepared by Roya and Ebi.

 

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Jamshid’s lamb meatballs and Afghan pulao were fab …

 

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The ghormeh sabzi – with its greens, potato, lamb and red beans – was piquantly amazing.

 

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Everyone thought so!

 

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The walnut-stuffed dates were drizzled with pan-roasted flour mixed with oil and, finally, coconut for a suave “grown-up” post-meal sweet treat.

 

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On the Sunday, it was time for Rosa, her mum Nigest and niece Betty to present their Ethiopian cuisine.

The guests were split about 50/50 between those who had tried Ethiopian food and injera and those who had not.

The dishes cooked were lamb dishes key wat and tibs, and the cabbage, potato and carrot of key wat.

 

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Having long admired and respected the fresh zing with which our African cooks imbue their salads-on-the-side, I was tickled to discover how one family at least does it – marinating sliced green chillies in lemon juice and using it as a dressing.

 

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Once again, the guests lost no time in getting up close and personal with the cooks and the dishes they were cooking.

 

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For more information on the Care To Share Project, check out their website here and “like” their Facebook page here.

 

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Lentils, rice, yum …

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Indian rice ‘n’ lentil khichdi

There are variations on this dish scattered through our various Indian cookbooks.

But I’ve never felt inspired to give any of them a go, mostly because they all seem quite complex.

Then I found this recipe at the wonderful blog Peri’s Spice Ladle, which I would describe as contemporary Indian with some American touches.

This khichdi is much more to our taste, more like the simple dals we prefer, very easy and enjoyable to make, and super healthy.

According to Peri, the consistency of this dish varies across India, but I already knew how we were going to like it … sloppy.

Like a very wet risotto.

Or a very thick congee.

Or like grits minus the monumental boredom factor.

And I reckon this would work wonders with young children normally suspicious of anything Indian, let alone anything even a little weird.

The range of vegetables you can add is pretty much unlimited, but add things such as potato or carrot real early on and things such as our peas very late.

We halved the recipe for just us two – double up on everything for the full deal.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/2 cup moong dal

canola oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves

1 inch piece ginger

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup frozen peas

METHOD

1. Rinse and soak lentils and rice together in 3 1/2 cups of water.

2. Finely chop garlic, grate ginger and pound or whizz them together into a wet paste.

4. Heat oil then fry paste, cumin seeds and turmeric for about a minute. Watch they don’t stick!

5. Add lentils, rice and water.

6. Mix together and bring to boil.

7. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes.

8. Stir briskly a couple of times near the end of cooking time.

9. Add peas, salt and butter fives minutes before end of cooking time.

10. Eat.

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Chick pea ‘n’ bean salad with smoked paprika

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This was inspired by a dip I bought for an at-desk work lunch.

I quite liked the oily tomato-based dip with harissa and smashed beans and chick peas.

But it had a nasty edge – as so many store-bought dips do.

So my immediate thought was: “OK, I can do better than this at home.”

So I did.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup of cannellini beans and 1/2 cup of chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked until tender.

ripe tomatoes – quantity equal to the combined pulses. If you don’t have very ripe tomatoes, make something else, as the tom juice is crucial.

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped.

salt.

pepper.

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika. Don’t spoil the salad by overdoing it.

heaps of extra virgin olive oil.

juice of one lemon.

METHOD

1. Combine all ingredients in the order listed. It should be really gloopy – almost like a really thick soup. And if some of the pulses get smashed in the process, so much the better.

2. Let sit for  couple of hours.

3. Gently re-mix and add even more olive oil

4. Eat.

We had this by itself as a light dinner with lavash bread.

But I reckon it’d be good with snags or grilled meat or fish.

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Very Spicy, Delicious Chickpeas

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Efforts in recent years to create a great chick pea curry in our kitchen have been uniformly desultory.

The results have been watery, pallid and unappetising.

And none of my current crop of Indian cookbooks have been much use.

Then I recalled that I had cooked a winning chick pea curry regularly in another time and another place.

I even recalled the author’s name and the book involved.

So I went looking and found it first time.

The Madhur Jaffrey book from which the recipe comes is still available and is now on my wish list!

So what makes this a success when other recent attempts have failed?

Well, it’s heavily seasoned for starters – so much so that the ground spices, including both roasted and unroasted cumin, actually help make the sticky gravy.

The tanginess comes from roasted cumin, lemon juice and amchoor (powder made from sour, unripe mangoes).

It really does have the lusty depth of flavour that goes with the chick peas I eat when out and about on Indian adventures.

It will keep real well for a few days, too, and maybe even improve with age.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked until tnder

oil or ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp coriander seeds, finely ground

2 tsp cumin seeds, finely ground

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 can chopped tomatoes

2 tsp roasted cumin seeds, finely ground

1 tbsp amchoor powder

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp salt

juice of 1 lemon

1 green chilli, chopped

2 tsp finely grated ginger

METHOD

1. Fry onions and garlic over medium heat until browned.

2. Turn heat to medium-low and add coriander, unroasted cumin, chilli powder and turmeric.

3. Add tomatoes and stir into spices and onion/garlic mix. Cook for a few minutes until well combined and sticky.

4. Add drained chick peas and 1 cup of water

5. Add roasted cumin, amchoor, paprika, garam masala, salt, lemon juice. Stir to combine and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

6. Add grated ginger and chopped chill and cook for another minute.

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