Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Pastry Stealer

Dear Nigel,

I am thinking how well-organised I am and giving myself a little pat on the back for having made extra pastry and 'holding it over' in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge (ready to make a quick pastry case for a quiche or a savoury tart tonight) when all my efforts are yet again scuppered. Sophie tells me she needs to make a planet to take in to school for tomorrow - as you do. Most of the others have been making paper mache balloons for days apparently, and I am thinking that we simply don't have the time or the patience.

I have seen the 'homework' done by other parents before, with my older children in the past.
'Move over, little Johnny and let Daddy/Mummy help you' with this model/ folder/ binder cover etc. I refuse to be a part of that, so I hand over my precious pastry and Sophie sets to creating craters and dimples in the surface of her planet with the round handle of a meat skewer. A lot of white paint and gold glitter seem to be involved as well. Perhaps we will have the Pappardelle instead tonight after all.

I have scoured the shops seeking out Pappardelle and the version I come away with seems more tagliatelle than Pappadelle to me. Apparently Pappardelle, Fettuccine and Tagliatelle are very similar pastas. Pappardelle should be 3/4 - 1" wide (which the authentic Italian one I bought certainly is not), Fettuccine is 1/4" and Tagliatelle is a bit wider at 3/8". Pappardelle and Fettuccine originate from Tuscany and Tagliatelle is from the Emilia-Romagna region. Perhaps someone's mama just had a bad day and was a little heavy on the rolling pin. Sometimes these things just all get a little too precious, I think.

So the supper we are now having tonight is 'Pappardelle with Leeks' (page 381). I pick up some fine large leeks in the wholesalers, and while I am there I notice the piles of assorted squashes and pumpkins in the corner. There is an enormous lopsided pumpkin sitting on its own on a pallet. It is the shape of a farmer's bottom. There are also piles of the dusky blue/grey pumpkins that I favour.

One of my favourite things to do at this time of year is to carve out a pumpkin and place a candle in it. When time is rushed, the kids and I make a toothy faced jack-o-lantern; but when I have a little time to while away I like to sit there with my wood-carving tools and make something more artistic and satisfying.Of course, I fully realise that it is a completely pointless, transitory thing - but aren't most hobbies, really? - and that as soon as it is lit it starts to dry out and deflate, but so what? It is therapeutic.

The Blue pumpkin is a variety which is extremely popular in Australia, with varieties like 'blue doll' and 'blue moon'. It has deep-set ridges which run from the top to bottom and is prized for its extremely sweet and thick orange flesh in cooking. I have never found much in an ordinary pumpkin to cook with,anyway - just a big hole. Taste-wise, I found them disappointing. I prefer the savoury recipes to the sweet pumpkin pies anyway, which seem a bit over-sweet and lacking in flavour to me (- if that isn't sacrilege on someone else's national dish).

Now that I come to read your recipe I notice that you comment at the bottom that 'any ribbon-shaped pasta will work here - especially the slimmer tagliatelle'. Mind you, I notice that London shops have again provided the authentic 1" thick variety in your photograph. Perhaps if I had bought fresh pasta?...but then again it might not soak up the butter as well in this recipe; and anyway, I'd heard that Italians prefer to use a good dried pasta themselves, rather than fresh.

I am considering making the most of the mild Autumn weather to get out running again before the Winter sets in. More gentle jogging than running really, it does get me out and away from the biscuit tin. As a lifelong asthmatic I am constantly struggling with stretching my lungs without bringing on another bad attack of wheezing.

 At school we used to have something called the asthmatics' cross-country run, which was mildly shorter than the ordinary cross-country run. I spent every single week in the sick bay following that run. I'm a bit kinder on myself these days without giving in to the kind of lethargy that actually makes you weaker and more susceptible to attacks. So, having just got over a bout of wheezing, I'm feeling powered up.

Also, I ran into the mum at school today who beat me in the mothers' race at sports day. Not that I'm remotely competitive, you understand. And she does still have legs that go up to my armpits, it seems. And she used to be on a programme called 'The Gladiators' on the tele. So maybe second place is just OK.

Running for me is just an easy way of weight management. I don't think I over-eat (at least not too often, though once in a while....I'm only human) but I do eat well. Sometimes it's easy to load the dishes with vegetables, but your body really does seem to crave carbohydrates to fend off the cold and dark evenings at this time of year. I think balance in all things is best. For me, a little running, a lot of yoga and a weekly swim keep me in reasonable nick, I like to think.

The worst thing you can do is to deprive yourself of any food or dish. Moderation in all things. If you want it, eat it. If you care about yourself and your health and welfare - and you allow yourself something - you will probably find that you don't really want it that often after all. Says she, chomping on a bar of Montezuma's dark side milk chocolate and butterscotch...but then it's been a while since I had a bar.

So, into the kitchen to make this dish. 100g of butter does indeed look a lot once it is melted in the pan. But, by the time I have sweated the leeks in it and added the drained pasta it has miraculously disappeared and the final dish isn't remotely slimy or greasy. In fact, it is quite a dry pasta dish, this, which makes a pleasant change. And yet it doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth or make you thirsty.

The buttery taste is lovely. I erred on the mean side in cooking the pasta, so that it was a little more al dente than al dente. But, by the time I added it to the leeks it was hoovering up the butter nicely and the finished result, which you can see above, was a very fine dish indeed. Simple, quick and cheap. And that's what we all need at the moment with Christmas just around the corner. Half the trouble with Christmas, it seems to me, is the expectations of others; and no one wanting anything at all to be different.


1 comment:

  1. I work in a school - you should see the home works we get in! Competitive parents indeed - the last batch of Roman shields were outstanding - not even kidding when I tell you that I have two nine year olds in my class who shaped and curved a 5ft tall 3ft wide piece of plywood, added a leather strap at the back and an authentic metal centrepiece !
    I get tweets off Nigel, he really is the most polite down to earth cook off the telly. My absolute favourite. X