Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni

image
Living in Rome, you might think we stroll to the market in the morning, lovingly selecting the perfect vegetables for dinner. Well, that is often true on the weekend, but weekdays I swing by the Egyptian fruttivendolo on my way home, and buy something from the cheaper section outside. One euro a kilo, slightly battered: last time I bought aubergines, to make Nigel Slater’s Grilled Eggplant with Creamed Feta. Delicious! We oven-roasted the aubergines, grilled would have been even better. Great with the feta and yoghurt. But we had lots of roasted aubergines left the next day, so what to do with it? Roll it with ricotta, bake it with cheese, hmmmm? There were also some wrinky cherry tomatoes lurking in the fridge, and I fancied pasta, so I tossed in some almonds and hoped for the best.

This is my humble Fiesta Friday 35 offering this week: a humble weeknight pasta dish, but quick to make, and tasty enough to serve friends. Thanks as always to our hosts: this week, Angie, Prudy and Naina. I already have my eye on those tasty apples pies, mmmmmm…..

Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni
One red onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
250 grammes cherry tomatoes
400 grammes leftover sliced roast aubergines
50 grammed unblanched almonds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
400 grammes rigatoni, or pasta of your choice
Optional: grated parmesan, and basil to garnish

image
Put your water for pasta on the boil, and cook pasta while you prep the sauce. In another pot or pan, gently fry the chopped onion in the olive oil until it softens. Halve the cherry tomatoes, then tip them in with the onion and let them cook for a few minutes.

In the meanwhile, using a food processor (or excellent knife skills), roughly chop the almonds. Add the slices of roast aubergine to the food processor with the almonds, and chop roughly. Now, tip in the tomatoes and onion, and process until it is smoother but not enturely homogenous. You should still feel the slightly gritty almond buts. Add salt and pepper to taste. It may not look pretty, but see how you like the flavours..

image

Drain pasta, ladle sauce over, and enjoy! Add parmesan if you like (we do) and basil leaf for garnish if you have some.

image

Notes: I had seen a recipe for aubergine walnut pasta, with hard boiled egg yolks and tomato sauce, but was too hungry to boil eggs as well. I would have added sage, but the sage on our balcony died in the August heat and has not yet been replaced. With in-laws arriving in two weeks, reviving the balcony boxes is a project for this weekend. That, making sure we have enough tea bags to make endless cups of builder’s tea, and scrubbing the kitchen. “They will not mind!” says my husband, but I do. You could make this with less tomatoes and add olive oil, but we wanted to keep this light. More fresh basil could be nice too. A great weekend to all!
Fiesta Friday

Lingonberry sourdough loaf

Tyttebærbrød
My sourdough starter lives! It was fed after a month of neglect ( thrilling photo series to follow) and happily obliged me by raising this loaf. I had some fresh tyttebær (lingonberries) picked in Norway last month. They keep for ages, so I added a handful of berries to this loaf, the first proper loaf of the fall. So nice to be baking sourdough again. It is still T-shirt weather here, maybe a spot of rain today, and I am meeting Norwegian friends tonight in Trastevere for a drink, which will be fun. First I need to investigate the new government requirement for a libretto d’impianto per la climatizzazione, a maintenance booklet for air conditioning units (we have one unit). Dire fines if you do not have it by mid October, so I will brace myself and sort that out after work, once I look up some Italian words involving bureaucracy, energy efficiency and libretti……

Lingonberry sourdough loaf
100 grammes sourdough starter (rye-based, 100% hydration)
350 grammes water
300 grammes plain wheat flour (I used 00)
75 grammes barley flour
135 grammes wholewheat flour
8 grammes salt
Later: 40 grammes fresh lingonberries (or fresh cranberries)

Stir the sourdough starter with the water. Add the flours and mix well. Normally I would use 500 grammes flour + 375 grammes water, but as I was adding fresh berries to the dough later, I reduced the hydration. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes. After this initial rest, add the salt. Mix well. Add more flour or water if you think the dough needs it.

Cover the bowl and let rise for about a couple hours at room temperature. Fold the dough a few times (just in the bowl, using a spoon or spatula). You will feel the dough becoming more elastic and responsive, and it will increase nicely in size. Fold in the fresh lingonberries during the last fold, carefully so they remain whole.

For baking same day: move the dough to a floured banneton and cover it with plastic (a hotel shower cap works well), and let it rise 5-6 hours at room temperature. (I cheated and lined the banneton with baking paper, easier to lift over to the pot.) OR: If you are in Rome, it is September and your kitchen is still 28C, leaving the dough to rise overnigh hours in the fridge might work better.

image

When ready to bake: heat your oven to 250C, with a cast iron pot. When it is properly hot (or after at least 20 minutes), take the pot out carefully. Invert the dough onto a piece of baking paper, slash the dough, and put the bread in the pot. Bake at 250C for thirty minutes with the lid on, then 10-15 minutes more with the lid off, until the bread looks done and the base of the bread sounds hollow if you tap it. About 45 minutes in all, depending on your oven. Cool before slicing.

image

Notes: This time the loaf was slightly burned on top, which I think was due to the lingonberry juices. The berries held their shape very well, and were little tart pockets in the bread, and the loaf was crusty outside and with an OK structure inside, hood flavour. Once I start baking regularly again with my starter, the structure will improve.

Making vanilla macarons

Macarons

I had a big French exam this summer, and with increasing revision fatigue, decided that making macarons in French must be a good exam prep strategy. I had never made them, but do enjoy eating them, so pourquoi pas? I was baking from a French recipe, which was great. Less easy: the impact of the heat and humidity (la chaleur et l’humidité) of a Roman summer kitchen on the final macarons. But I did have fun making these, improved my French baking vocabulary, and even managed to talk about macarons at the oral exam.

image

Recipe source: Macarons faciles (Ducasse, Serveau 2014). Lovely little ebook, free Kindle version, with 11 recipes and very detailed photographs and descriptions. If you dream about pastry school in Paris, you will enjoy it. Fouettez le beurre! Whisk the butter! When can I work THAT into a conversation?

Vanilla macarons

Coques vanille (the shells):
110 gr de poudre d’amandes (powdered almonds)
225 gr de sucre glace (icing sugar)
120 gr de blancs d’oefs (le blanc de 3-4 oeufs moyen) (eggwhites)
50 gr de sucre semoule (plain white granulated sugar)
1/2 gousse de vanille (half a vanilla pod)

Crème au beurre vanille (vanilla buttercream):
125 gr de crème au beurre nature (plain buttercream, see recipe below)
1/2 cuillerée à café de vanille (half tsp vanilla extract)

image

Pour préparer une crème au beurre (makes twice what you need: keep extra buttercream in fridge)
125 de beurre mou (soft butter)
1 oefs entier + 2 jaunes (1 whole egg and two yolks)
88 gr de sucre semoule (granulated sugar)
25 gr d’eau (water)

Neige ferme
Eggwhites beaten to neige ferme: firm snow. This is for the shells. Mix ground almonds and icing sugar, and mix them them for two minutes in a food processor, to achieve a more powdery consistency. Sieve this. Separate eggs, and whisk 120 grammes of eggwhites stiff, adding granulated sugar little by little. Then add sieved almond/ icing sugar mix, and fold this in with la maryse, a spatula. (I confess, I tipped in the coarse almond bits as well.) Scrape vanilla seeds from pod, and stir well until you have a shiny, supple and liquid mix. Spoon this into la pouche a douille (a pastry bag).

image
I piped these out by hand, and then left them to develop le croutage (slightly dry top, so they do not stick when you touch them) before baking. About an hour, room temperature. You can slam the trays on the table to get the air bubbles out.

In the interim, make buttercream. Whip the soft butter, yes: Fouettez le beurre!   Whisk the egg and two egg yolks. In a casserole, heat the sugar and water to 121C (I had a thermometer to check), then remove from heat. When it is at 110C, whisk the hot sugar and water into the egg yolks, and beat until mixture is tepid, five minutes or so. Now, add butter and fouettez this until smooth. Add vanilla extract. Cool in fridge, if your kitchen is hot.

Then bake the shells 12 minutes at 150C, turning the tray around halfway through the baking time.
CroutageAfter baking: leave to cool, then remove carefully (lift from below with spatula or such) and move to rack, upside down. Spoon buttercream into pastry bag when ready to garnish the shells. Pipe buttercream on the flat inside, and sandwich with another half shell. Cool carefully in fridge. Not perfect, but not as difficult as I thought. Voila! My first macarons! And I passed the French exam!

These are thus my contribution to Fiesta Friday 34: sweet little vanilla macarons to share. I am off to browse dishes and mingle. Many thanks to the hosts Angie, Selma and Elaine!

Fiesta Friday

Notes: this was meant to make 70 coques, so 35 macarons. Mine were piped out free-form so sizes varied, maybe 30 final macarons? Surprisingly easy though! They still had air bubbles in them, I should have slammed the trays more to banish those.  Excellent texture though.

I was rather traumatised by the very runny buttercream; even after two hours in the fridge, it was a little too runny. Next time, I will make it earlier. However, we popped the leftover macarons in the fridge and tasted them again for dessert, and they were GREAT by then. Crisp exterior, light interior, and cold buttercream for a sweet firm centre. Maybe they needed a little time to meld (de fusionner). Very sweet, of course, so I might try a tart jam filling next time. But for a first attempt, I was very happy.

Vanilla macarons