Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Your Mind

A good mate of mine, who can cook stuff that matches anything I pump out, stayed with us at Lantanaland last week. It lead to an interesting conversation about something that I cooked for dinner. When pressed on the ingredients and the make up of the dish I gave a vague list and amounts. Kate thought this was a bit strange, she declared that she didn't have the confidence to play with the ingredients.

The thing is, every since I started cooking it hasn't been confidence that has taught me flexibility, it been bloody forgetfulness. Time and time again I forget something that I need and then I have to improvise.

It does free your mind a little and lets you experiment and reach beyond your recipes in your fancy cookbooks. It will have its downside, sometimes things will go horribly wrong and it's not a good habit to get into if you want to bake, where precision is god.

So here is what I had for tonight’s dinner, when I forgot the pine nuts on the way home. It would've probably been nicer with pine nuts, but there you go.

Pasta with pesto

Step 1. Go out the back and measure up your backyard. If you can fit a chook tractor in, go and buy chooks. If not, go down to the farmers market with the highest tree hugger population and befriend someone with chooks. Ducks are even better. Fresh homegrown eggs are the best for this as the flavour of the egg determines the flavour of the pasta. Even free range eggs from the store will be grain fed, whereas your own will feast on scraps as well.

Step 2. Buy a pasta machine. Don't be scared, fresh pasta is the easiest thing to make in the world and even if you buy 50c pasta at the shops this will be cheaper.

Step 3. If you can, hit your local baker up for superfine flour. This will save you lots of money.


In a bowl crack a few eggs and add a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Start adding flour in and mixing until it forms a dough. Keep adding a bit more flour and knead until it stops sticking to your hands and feels like elastic. Wrap in clingfilm and wack it in the fridge.

In a food processor add a big handful or two of basil, some parsley and chives, toasted pine nuts ( or cashews or macadamias if you forget to buy pine nuts on the way home), zest and juice of one lemon and a small handful of pitted olives. Pulse. Add a big handful of grated parmesan or pecorino. Pulse. Slowly add and pulse olive oil till it looks like pesto.

Put a pot of water on to boil. On your bench put a small pile of flour. Get you pasta ball and cut in half. Flatten and dust with flour. Put through the machine on the biggest setting. Fold in half and put it through again. Fold and put through a third time, then dust the outsides and work your way down the thickness settings. Don't worry that your pasta isn't a nice rectangle. When you get to the second last setting lay your pasta out and dust the top very well with flour. Fold in half and repeat until it's a rough rectangle slightly longer than wide.

Look at the cutter blades and put them in the back of the cupboard, in case you one day feel the need to make spaghetti. Cut the pasta into strips with a sharp knife, not caring about perfect straight pasta, then pick up and shake loosely, they should fall apart. Drop into boiling pot.

Place pesto in bowl and once pasta has cooked for one minute, lift into bowl with tongs. Don't drain it first, you want a little of the pasta water to loosen your pesto.

Toss and eat.

Now this post took longer to write than that did to make. If my mate can get his camera here this week I'll try for some video as well.

Mother Foccacia from the iPhone


  1. yum! can also add a few strips of lamb on top or chicken... love it :)

  2. Good man, Mr Beeso. The willingness to experiment and improvise is vital. Mind you, it doesn't always work out. I wondered what would happen if I tried making a custard with cream cheese -- not mascarpone, which works amazingly well, but the non-pouring kind of cream cheese -- and I have to say the texture was... unfortunate in the end. Great flavour, though.

    Baking is a bit special, you're right. But the reality of the situation is that for most dishes, one recipe is not simply one recipe. It's a template that can be varied in a hundred or a thousand different ways. If this wasn't the case, there'd be no way to have the kind of restaurant culture that exists today.

    So -- long live the faulty memory!

  3. I had some crispy home smoked bacon and mushrooms on top.

  4. I've always said cooking is an experimental science - almost an evolutionary science I guess, without variance nothing new ever evolves. I wonder though if the willingness to make recipes up on the fly is more a bloke trait (in general) than one which crosses the gender barrier. Most females of my acquaintance tend to seem less comfortable cooking without a net - ie a recipe book - unless it's a very tried and true recipe.

    Fresh pasta is gorgeous stuff. I inherited a fresh pasta maker (passed on from the Italian rels), never used it and gave it to the Salvos. My bad.