Handmade Noodles With Beet Pesto

I cooked up all of my beets and served them cold, chopped up with a bit of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. But there was all kinds of beet juice left behind, so I thought I’d freeze it for use later. If it’ll stain anything, it should make a good colouring, right?

So I bought some 00 flour for my next pasta attempt, and I added my four eggs, and then a couple of cubes worth of beet juice. The problem was, that added more liquid, which meant I then had to add a bunch more flour in order to make the noodles the proper consistency. In the end, the colour didn’t change all that much. I was hoping for a vibrant beet red, but what I got was a kind of light peachy orange. I think that either I need to omit the eggs and use just beet juice (which will probably affect the flavour of the pasta), or boil the beet juice down an awful lot so that it’s very concentrated and doesn’t add much liquid with the colour.

To keep the pasta from sticking to itself, I made an improvised drying rack by putting wooden spoons or long cooking chopsticks under dishes in the cupboards with the long end sticking out. As silly as it looks, it worked! The noodles didn’t stick to each other at all. I think, though, if I’m going to do this a lot in the future, I’ll have to invest in a proper drying rack.

The pasta ended up being a fantastic shade of pinky red, though, because I used the jar of beet pesto. I also ran the pasta through the absolute thinnest setting this time and the consistency was just right! I’ve already learned so much after just two times working with pasta. I’m really looking forward to learning more!

Beet Pesto

One of the things I love about beets is that pretty much the entire plant is edible; both the roots and the leaves not only taste good, but they’re great in other dishes. Case in point: beet pesto. As I’ve pointed out before, pesto is a really simple, no-cook pasta sauce to make, and it can be made with beet greens! Well, the ones I grew this year had red leaves instead of the more common, green, but they taste more or less the same no matter the colour.

The neat thing about making pesto with red beet leaves is that the pesto itself turns red, which makes for a much more colourful dish. As a warning, if you’re making or cooking with this kind of pesto, protect your clothing! Red beet juice stains very quickly, and this will also happen when it’s in pesto.

In this pesto I also used basil (from my mother’s and my mother’s friend’s garden), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan (from the deli, not the shelf-stable stuff that’s much harder and more powdery), and pine nuts.

This big batch made up sixteen 250mL jars that went straight into the freezer, plus one that I set aside in the fridge for use in the next few days. Each one of these tiny jars is easily enough to make dinner for our family of four. If stirred into prepared dried pasta, this means I’ll have sixteen easy meals (or at least side-dishes) over the coming winter. I like that kind of math!

Handmade Pasta: First Attempt

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fantastic deal at my local thrift shop the other day: a hand-cranked pasta machine still in its box, for only $7.99! Given that the absolute cheapest pasta machine reatails at WalMart is $43 or so, this was one heck of a deal. Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll have heard me go on and on about how hard it is to find good ramen noodles around here, and how I really need to give it a go on my own. Here is my opportunity! Well, eventually. First, I need to master this machine — or at least become reasonably competent, anyway.

From the packaging and the printing inside the instruction manual, I’d estimate that it is from the 1970’s.

Honestly, it looks as if it’s never been used — or at least was very well taken care of. Maybe it was originally an ill-chosen wedding gift?

I followed the most basic of pasta recipes: 400g flour, four eggs, and a bit of salt. I kneaded it all together by hand, but my first go wasn’t terribly dough-like.

However, running it through the sheet setting of the pasta machine a few times helped even out the consistency.

Then Thing 2 helped me roll all the dough out into sheets — she really enjoyed herself, I think because it’s a lot like a Play-Doh machine. I know that the sheets aren’t perfect like the pictures in the cookbooks, but I thought they weren’t bad for a first attempt.

Then I ran each sheet, once again with Thing 2’s help, through the larger of the cutting wheels.

It all made enough noodles for a family dinner — although in retrospect, I think I should have rolled the sheets quite a bit thinner before slicing.

I served the homemade noodles with the last jar of basil pesto that I froze last summer, alongside a few tiny lamb chops with rosemary. Sadly, I let my attention be taken up almost entirely by making the pasta, and I overcooked the lamb quite a bit. It was still very tasty, but a bit chewy.

So lessons learned for next time: give myself more time/attention to make the pasta, and roll it out as think as possible without it falling apart. But otherwise, I think I made a passable first attempt! There weren’t any leftovers, what with the family all going back for seconds.

Scallop and Bacon Pesto Pasta

Thing 1 told me last week that she’d just realized that she’d never tried scallops before, and that she really wanted to know what they tasted like. Well, this week the little frozen scallops went on sale at the grocery store, and I saw a great chance to let Thing 1 try them without spending a fortune.

I whipped up a quick pasta dish where the scallops took center stage. The green noodles were Catelli SuperGreens Spaghetti, and I tossed them in the last of the basil pesto that I froze last summer. At the same time, I fried the scallops up in a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder. To serve, I laid down the pasta first, then a sprinkle of bacon bits, then the scallops, and then a few sliced grape tomatoes.

And the verdict is: Thing 1 absolutely loved the scallops! Next step, I think, is to invest in some of the larger, pricier scallops and serve them wrapped in bacon. Grilled, maybe? Or in a chowder? There are so many possibilities!

Nasturtium Pesto on Cod

We’ve been getting a lot of rain over the past few days, after getting practically none all summer. This means lots of hot, humid days, with really no chance to cook outside. I mean, I’m all for barbecuing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunderstorms.

So I dug through my freezer (which I am trying desperately to free up so I can defrost it) and found a lovely package of cod that I’d been meaning to use. I baked it in the oven with a coating of nasturtium pesto that I’d made last summer. (I learned last year or the year before that nasturtium leaves are totally edible, and they make a lovely, slightly-peppery pesto.) I paired it with mashed potatoes — the last of the bag that had frustrated me so over the weekend — and steamed carrots. It was a deliciously light meal to eat while watching the sky open up outside.

Bacon Goes With Everything

Last night I ransacked my freezer and pantry in order to continue the trend of preparing meals that don’t require long cooking times indoors, which would heat the house up unduly. I came up with a box of spaghettini noodles, a small container of last year’s basil pesto, a package of sole fillets, and almost a pound of reduced-salt bacon.

What that turned into was essentially a meal where there was bacon on everything. I boiled up the spaghettini, drained it, and coated it in pesto. Then I dredged the sole in flour mixed with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and then I pan fried it. (Whenever I cook my fish like this, I can’t help but think of lightly fried fish fillets, though.) I cooked up all of the bacon in the microwave, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it on darned near everything.

My family couldn’t have been happier.

Preparing for the Storm

We’ve been getting dire warnings from the Weather Network over the past week that yesterday and today will be all about thunderbolts and lightning, and then the storm will pull in a massive heat wave behind it. I’ve been trying to plan my cooking to keep that in mind, but nothing seems to be going quite right.

On the hottest days, I try very hard not to cook indoors or, if that can’t be arranged, at least I try not to use the oven. So I figured that on Wednesday night I’d make the last “comfort food” for a while and throw on some pork loin, mushroom gravy, Dad’s biscuits, and steamed carrots. This is a meal that I’ve made a million times, so you’d think it would be easy, no?

Well, everything going well until I tried to get the biscuits on. That’s when I realized that I’d left my bag of all-purpose flour at my in-laws’ cottage; I’d intended to bake bread on the day that was predicted to be really rainy, but the weather never got bad enough to totally pin us inside. All I had left at home were the dregs left in one storage jar. I ended up combining those dregs with some multigrain bread flour that had been languishing in my cupboard for quite some time. (I’d bought it to make a specific kind of bread, and the package contained way more than I’d needed.) The multigrain flour actually worked out okay in that the biscuits rose and baked properly, but it did mean that they had a whole different texture than I was used to. Usually these biscuits are soft and fluffy, but the multigrain flour has crunchy bits and doesn’t rise as well.

Then last night it was supposed to be hot and humid, so I wanted to cook the majority of the meal outside. (It actually didn’t end up being that bad, with the storm pushing the cold air in front of it so that it actually cooled down around dinnertime, but I didn’t know that was going to happen.) Actually, “cook” is probably stretching it a bit, more “prepare”. I had bought a rotisserie chicken at Costco earlier in the day, which I’d just planned on reheating on the wood pellet grill. So I turned on the machine, preheated it, put on the chicken, and waited… And waited… And waited… But it didn’t seem to be heating up. It turned out that wood dust had clogged the auger that feeds the fuel pellets, so no fuel was burning. My husband took the grill halfway apart to figure that out, and he was still cleaning it out when it started to rain. He threw the cover over the grill and promised to finish cleaning it at a later date.

But that still left us without dinner. And a pre-cooked chicken is supposed to be easy, right? Not so far, not this time. We also have a propane grill, which I then tried to start, but nothing happened at first. Turns out the hose had somehow become loose and the fuel wasn’t getting to the grill. (This seems to be a theme.) A quick tightening did the job on that one, and I’m happy about that because I first assumed that the tank was empty — which would have delayed the meal even further.

Finally, I was able to reheat my chicken (and crisp up the skin — throwing a rotisserie chicken on the grill or in the oven is good for that). While it warmed up, I cooked up some penne and coated the noodles with basil pesto that I’d made and frozen last summer. At least that part was easy. By the time supper was finally complete, we were easily an hour and a half past our normal dinner time, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture with my good camera before the food was devoured — I had to use my phone, which I almost always have on hand.

Hopefully my cooking over the next few days will go a bit more smoothly.