Friday, June 8, 2012

Goodbye to School Year: Kids Make Fettucine Alfredo

Lots of cream and butter make sloppy good eats
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
How do you tempt kids off the playground on the last day of school?

Tell 'em you've got fettucine Alfredo waiting for them in the multi-purpose room.

Legend has it that this dish was named after a Roman restaurateur--Alfredo Di Lelio--who used it to keep American tourists coming back. It may be the most decadent pasta dishes ever invented, swimming in sinful amounts of butter, cream and Parmesan cheese.

How could kids not love it, especially when they get to crank out their own noodles on the pasta machine.

Fresh pasta is much softer and cooks much quicker than the dried commercial variety. To my taste, it definitely has a place in a well-equipped kitchen. The simple machine I own will make fettucine or thinner linguine noodles. All you have to do is make a dough, starting with flour and eggs.

Commerical pasta typically is made with semolina, a harder variety of flour. Semolina is not so easily found, and it's definitely more difficult to work with at home. Feel free to use all-purpose flour, or a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat (or try white whole wheat).

Place two cups flour on a clean work surface in a volcano shape, then use your measuring cup to create a deep well in the center. Into the well crack two eggs and pour in 1/8 cup water. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Stir the eggs and water vigorously with a fork to blend, then gradually work in flour from the edges of the well. Continue this process--stirring and working in flour--until you have a thick mass and can draw in more flour with your hands to form a ball. Don't worry if you can't incorporate all of the flour. The pasta seems to know how much flour it actually needs.

Knead the dough a few times with your hands until it holds together. You can finish the kneading process by rolling the dough through your pasta machine. First, divide your dough ball into four pieces. Pass each about a dozen repeat rolls through the machine at the lowest setting, folding the dough in half after each pass and dusting occasionally with flour if it's sticky. The end result should be a smooth, elastic dough. (You can finish kneading by hand if you like. In fact, you don't need a pasta machine at all to make these noodles. Just roll out pieces of dough with a rolling pin, then roll the finished sheets into cigar shapes, dusting them first with flour, and cut into fettucine-sized widths with a sharp knife.)
Even kids can make perfect fettucine noodles
If you are using the machine, simply pass your sheets of dough through the fettucine setting. We cut ours both ways--by hand and with the machine. The machine obviously is faster. But we're not looking for speed in our cooking classes. We're trying to keep the kids busy and teach them how to cook without fancy gadgets. This way they learn pasta noodles with or without a machine.

Toss the finished noodles with a little corn meal and spread them out on your work table to dry a little while you bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and prepare your sauce.

For the Alfredo sauce, melt four tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet, then add 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped, and saute over moderate heat until the garlic is soft. Then add 1 cup heavy cream and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue cooking the cream at a light boil until it thickens. Don't worry if it gets foamy and rises up in your pan. Just stir frequently with a whisk and take it off the heat momentarily if necessary. When it reaches the desired thickness, stir in 1 cup or more of finely grated Parmesan cheese and a generous pinch of nutmeg. Remove it from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook your noodles. They shouldn't take long--maybe five minutes. When they are al dente (to the tooth), drain them well in a colander, then pour them into your skillet with the Alfredo sauce. Toss the noodles well to coat, then add a good fistful of chopped parsley.
Special treat for last day of school
The kids eagerly slurped their fettucine Alfredo out of hot drink cups. But you can serve yours in a bowl. Sloppy eating doesn't get any better than this.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kids Make Mussels Venetian Style

Sloppy eating at its best
By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Welcome to Italy!

Our food appreciation classes landed in Venice this week and there are so many culinary adventures to be had in Italy I think we may be here for a while.

Venice is famous for its art, its canals and its gondolas. But it also happens to be situated on the Adriatic. Consequently, Venetians love their seafood.

Mussels are one of my favorite foods. They are a great source of protein that's relatively cheap compared to other aquatic species. And mussels are abundant, both in the wild and in the farmed seafood economy, which is more environmentally friendly than many other fisheries. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program rates farmed mussels a "best choice" because "they are farmed in an environmentally responsible way." Here in the Mid-Atlantic, farmed mussels are readily available from Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Like oysters, mussels are a bivalve, meaning the creature lives inside a shell and filters food from the surrounding water. In the wild, mussels attach themselves with filaments to rocks or wooden piers. These "beards" needs to be pulled off before you eat them. Mussels spoil quickly so they must be alive and odorless when you purchase them. The shells should be tightly closed. If not, you can test them by pinching the shells closed. If the shells stay closed, the mussel is still alive. If not, throw it away. Keep them refrigerated until you plan to use them, preferably within a few hours of purchase.

Many cultures have recipes for mussels. The Belgians love theirs steamed with a side of french fries. In Venice, the preparation is extremely simple and the mussels can be eaten as a starter or as a main course. They are delicious hot off the stove, or at room temperature as an antipasto, or even chilled served in the shell or in a salad.

To start, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot. Over moderate heat, saute until soft (about 5 minutes) one fairly large shallot, diced small and seasoned with a generous pinch of salt. Add 2 pounds cleaned mussels and douse with about 1/3 cup white wine (we used non-alcoholic wine in our classes: it works just as well). Place the lid on the pot and allow the mussels to steam until fully cooked. As the mussels cook, the shells open. The meat should be plump and firm when done. Discard any shells that do not open.
Simple goodness: steamed mussels
Stir a fistful of chopped parsley into the pot and distribute the mussels into warm bowls along with some of the broth. Younger kids may be skeptical about the wisdom of eating mussels, but the older ones love pulling the meat out with their fingers, making this a great sloppy fun meal. Be sure to have a good bread on hand for sopping up the broth.