Monday, 24 March 2014

La Dolce Vita

Today could have been subtitled 'The One Where They Cover Italy'. By the end of the day, I wouldn't have been surprised to see classmates gesticulating wildly to express how the day had gone, before knocking back an espresso and driving off in a Fiat 500.

We started the day by making pasta dough and pizza/focaccia dough. We made the pasta dough as we had waaay back in week two, divided it into three and set it aside while we made dough for pizza and focaccia. This was much like the bread dough for the white rolls we had made back in week one, with perhaps a slightly lower yeast to flour ratio, and making a slightly wetter dough. I will need to ask chef about this because the resulting dough was very puffy, just like you would want it to be!

We made two pasta fillings for the various shapes we would be making today - confit duck, and spinach and ricotta. The confit duck legs we had prepared last week were in the oven at 50°C just to melt the fat they were submerged in so that we wouldn't have to dig them out. We peeled away the skin and reserved this to make duck scratchings later. The meat was tender enough to fall away from the bone, and as we removed the meat we carefully ensured the bloodline was also discarded along with the bones as it can be stringy. The meat was finely chopped and softened shallots and a little aged balsamic vinegar. To make the spinach and ricotta filling, we wilted the clean spinach in a hot dry pan before gently squeezing excess water from it in a colander and drying it on kitchen paper. The spinach was then finely chopped and mixed with ricotta, a little parmesan and grated nutmeg. The parmesan should be added carefully so that you don't end up with a filling that tastes overwhelmingly of parmesan, like ours. This will affect the seasoning as the cheese is salty, so it is possible that only pepper will be needed.

Next we were onto the fun bit. We rolled pasta sheets as before, keeping them stick-free with semolina. We made tortelli and tortelloni with the spinach and ricotta filling by cutting the pasta sheet into squares and one by one, spooning a little filling onto the centre of a square of pasta, brushing the top half edges of the square with water, folding the bottom half up to meet the top half, using thumbs and little fingers to seal the filling as neatly and closely to the pasta as possible (no air bubbles!) before using the blunt end of a small cutter to 'seal' the filling in place. Next we cut the pasta into semicircles with about 1cm of 'clear' pasta around the filling using a larger cutter, flipped it over and brought the corners together to make the recognisable 'belly button' shape. (You can see a few pictures to demonstrate the technique more clearly at this site).

With the duck filling, we made ravioli. Ravioli is different in that it is made with two squares of pasta rather than one. We placed a nicely compacted nugget of the meat in the centre of a square of pasta, brushed all edges with water and enclosed the filling with another square of pasta instead of a fold. The square was then cut to neaten, and I crimped the edges with the tines of a fork. Both sets of pasta were set to one side while we got on with our dough. The third ball of pasta was cut into tagliatelle strips ready for later, dusted with semolina to stop it sticking and kept to one side.

By this point our pizza / focaccia dough was nicely proven. We knocked it back and cut away one third to make our pizzas with. Whilst somehow, I managed to make a pretty good circle by rolling my dough and turning it repeatedly, before stretching it a little with my hands and allowing its own weight to weigh it down, it was a fairly small circle, which became an issue later. Chef had made a lovely tomato sauce by bubbling away several kilos of different tomatoes with onion, garlic and herbs for a few hours, and we used this as our pizza sauce, before topping with prosciutto, breseola, salami and mozzarella. This went into the oven at 250°C for about 12 minutes, until the base was nice and dry. And here came the issue. My pizza base was quite small, and hence puffed up, meaning it was thick and took quite a long time more than others to cook, by which time the toppings were in danger of overcooking. Deep pan pizza and then some! The dough was perhaps slightly undercooked but I loved it as one of my own all the same.

Next up was the focaccia. I rolled this out as one large focaccia, which I then covered with indentations with my fingers. What was supposed to be a liberal coating of olive oil became a bit too literal when the top of the olive oil bottle popped off as I was squeezing. Can't have too much olive oil, I suppose? I pushed black olives into some of the indentations, along with mini sprigs of rosemary, and sprinkled a liberal dose of flaky salt on top before leaving it to puff up with a second prove under oiled clingfilm. Once they were nicely proved, they went into the oven for about 20 minutes at 200°C, with water poured in the bottom of the oven to create steam. We took this home for dinner. It will keep for about 3 days but if it's not being eaten straight away it will need a little sprinkle of water and some time in a warm oven to bring it closer to its former glory to eat.

While all of this was going on, we were also preparing our duck ravioli to have with our pizzas for lunch. We melted butter in a hot pan until it had stopped sizzling and foaming, at which point we added chopped hazelnuts and sage leaves, allowing them to become crisp in the hot oil. In a separate pan, we heated a little oil in a fairly hot pan and fried salted strips of the duck skin we had kept to one side earlier until they were crispy before draining on kitchen paper. When the butter had darkened a little, becoming a beurre noisette, we squeezed in a little lemon juice. By now, of course, we had also cooked our ravioli in a large pan of salted water until it was nicely al dente, and the pasta could just about be split by a thumbnail - very important not to make any holes in the pasta shapes before or during cooking as the filling will leak out and /or become soggy when cooking. The ravioli were removed to drain, plated and the sage and hazelnut butter was spooned on top, before topping with the duck scratchings.

After lunch, we rolled back into the kitchen to make some dishes for feedback. First up was tagliatelle carbonara. We cut and fried some bacon lardons to brown gently before adding a pureed garlic clove (I can now puree garlic with a knife. Skillz.) Meanwhile the pasta is cooked in a large pan of salted water, and time to be ready once the garlic has cooked. The pasta was drained, retaining the water so it can go back into the pan for the next pasta batch. The pasta was added to the bacon / garlic pan, followed swiftly by parmesan, chopped parsley which were stirred together. We then took the pan off the heat and stirred a mixture of egg yolk and double cream through. The egg acts to thicken the sauce and enrich it, and the cream stops the egg from cooking. We seasoned to taste and presented to chef.  He seemed fairly happy with mine, commenting that the sauce could have been a little thinner, and that some of my pasta had clumped together, meaning it wasn't thoroughly cooked. I think it was a little on the wet side as a dough, which meant it stuck together when I cut it into tagliatelle, and pulling the strands apart 'stressed' them, making them crinkly! He did, however, comment that the sauce had 'great flavour', and after having it for dinner I incline to agree!

Alongside this, we made a gorgonzola sauce for our spinach and ricotta tortelloni. We sweated a very finely chopped shallot in a little butter, adding salt to stop it colouring, until it was soft, before adding a little wine and reducing this until it was just a glaze, at which point we added chicken stock and reduced it by two thirds. This took aaaages, and I should have transferred it to a larger pan sooner to speed up the process. If the wine hadn't reduced, the sauce would taste sour and be unfixable. The stock reducing is also key to the flavour and consistency of the finished sauce. Once it had reduced, we stirred through cream, and added a walnut-sized piece of gorgonzola once the pan was off the heat, much in the same way as butter is used to thicken a sauce and add gloss. When I tasted my sauce I worried I had added too much cheese but chef commented that I could have had more. On the flipside, the over-parmesan-ed filling I was worrying about earlier went down well.

Chef was not happy with our performance for the presentation dishes. Not to say that we hadn't presented them well, or that they tasted as they should, but rather that what should have been a 30 minute set of tasks took us over an hour. This would not be acceptable in a professional kitchen and we have to work on our time management, especially now we are over half way and have assessment approaching. I was really disappointed but he was absolutely right. I feel confident that I lined up my tasks - what to chop when, what to start cooking when - well, and I never had anything sitting waiting for an ingredient or overcooking, which I am pleased with. I could have cooked my shallot faster, and in turn, got my chicken stock reduced quicker, as this really held me up. It was a sobering moment for all of us, and gave us something to think about this evening.

Chef made a tiramisu for us to take home (today's doggy bags were bin liners!) by layering up sponge fingers liberally splashed with Tia Maria and drizzled with strong coffee, a vanilla custard whisked with mascarpone and double cream, cocoa and grated 72% Valrhona chocolate, and chilling the whole thing for a few hours. It was designed to be a special treat for a long day. I'm saving mine for tomorrow, which I am determined will all go to plan! Well, maybe I could have just a little taste now...

1 comment:

  1. Well, if you can remember all that and it's still not assessed? So 'wetter is better' but not for pasta, but OK for pizza/focaccia which is thinner rather than thicker ...