22 January 2009

Frozen food

We use our garage as a big icebox in the winter. It's attached to our house and the door is right off the kitchen. We regularly make soups, sauces, and rice, and there are always more big pots than will fit into our refrigerator. Some years ago I made a stand to hold coats, hats, and boots, but it's never served its original purpose; instead, it serves as an extended refrigerator shelf.
Our garage is semi-insulated, and even when the temperatures are cold, the garage usually stays quite a few degrees warmer than outside. Well, this winter has proved to be no exception -- the garage is still warmer than outside -- but many of the things we've put out there have frozen. It doesn't help that we've had a very cold winter, with temperatures regularly below 0°F, and a few days below -20°F.
Today we made country ribs with sauerkraut in the slow cooker, and my wife was a little disappointed with the result. I think the sauerkraut froze. I put the pot of sauerkraut out there last week; we had eaten from the batch a few times already, and there was still enough left for a good meal. But, the briny tang that usually accompanies our home-cured sauerkraut was absent from tonight's dish. Long, slow cooking always softens the flavors and texture of the cabbage, but this time the taste was even more neutral, though it carried some of the flavors of the fatty pork, onions, and apples with which it simmered all day long.
With it I drank a 2006 Fish label Selbach Riesling Kabinett, a lively wine with a petroleum-like nose, followed by a burst of crisp green apple and nice acidity. This is a second label wine for Selbach-Oster, and is reasonably priced at around $12.00.
I like the room that our garage gives us in the winter, but I have to be careful when the weather is cold enough to hurt sauerkraut.

13 January 2009

Wide pasta and pancetta

On Sunday afternoon, my youngest daughter and I made a batch of pasta. I love how her hands already know how to hold the sheets as they're rolled out. She has a light touch and steady hand. We have a good rhythm for putting the dough through the machine and a four-egg batch took only an hour to complete.
When the dough was as thin as we wanted it, we cut it by hand so we could have the width my wife was in the mood for: she likes broad noodles so we cut them an inch or so wide. We let the noodles dry and they curled like wisps of smoke.
Yesterday was just a quick dinner; I sautéed some pancetta, added a bit of butter and a few peas. A good grating of cheese and that was it. The bite of fresh pasta can't be beat, and its silkiness is heightened next to the salty chew of good pancetta.

02 January 2009

Home-cured pancetta

Last month we were in an Asian grocery store in St. Paul and when we passed the butcher counter a few guys were cutting up pork bellies. I asked if I could get a five pound slab and one guy walked into the cooler and brought out a whole pork belly. He cut off a big piece and I was on my way to making pancetta for the first time. Pancetta is similar to bacon but it isn't smoked; the seasonings are more aromatic and I think it's a lot more versatile than bacon.
Pancetta begins with a salt cure, a dry rub that includes kosher salt, pink salt (sodium nitrate), garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, brown sugar, pepper, and a few other herbs and spices. The meat cures in the refrigerator for a week or so, after which the cure is washed off. The meat (not the fat) side is then coated with cracked pepper, and the whole thing is rolled tightly and tied with string. It ages in a cool, dark place for two weeks and it's ready to eat.
We've been slicing it thin, frying it briefly, and pouring a beaten egg over it for breakfast. It's great with pasta and leafy green vegetables, too. After making confit for two decades, I'm really excited to begin curing meats. There are so many traditional sausages and other forms of charcuterie, and I'll be trying my hand at them in the coming year. Happy New Year!

01 January 2009


Like so many things, making pasta isn't difficult, but familiarity helps. Pasta dough is a stiff dough, hard to work at first, but with firm kneading becomes soft and pliable. If you bake bread you can make pasta. I bake a fair amount, and before I had kids I would happily spend an afternoon rolling pasta dough by hand. I used a thick dowel and could roll it out pretty thin. But, since having kids a decade ago, I've made pasta only twice. I don't know why it took so long, but I received a pasta machine for Christmas, and what a joy it is! I've already used it three times, and my son and seven-year old daughter are almost able to make the pasta themselves.
I make the dough and they can nearly do the rest. Made only with flour and eggs, the dough requires at least ten minutes of vigorous kneading by hand (and that's where my kids need me.) After that, I let it rest before we crank it through the machine. In our very dry winter air I put the dough in a plastic bag so it retains moisture and the flexibility it's gained through kneading.
Then we cut a piece off the dough and start cranking it through the machine, narrowing the space between the steel rollers after every two or three passes. When it's done we lay it on a towel and let it dry a little before putting it through the cutters. When it still has flexibility but has a leather-like feel, we pass it through the cutters and spread it out to dry.
My daughter helped yesterday and by the time we were halfway through she was holding her hands just so, able to guide the dough through the rollers and cutters without bunching or stretching it; she has a light touch! We're looking forward to many, many meals with homemade pasta.