When we get a break from work over the summer, apart from getting to the beach,
I relish pottering around the house and relaxing. For me, that usually means getting into the kitchen. It's the perfect time to dust off the cookbooks and try those recipes you've always been meaning to but never had time and to tackle a task you might have thought was beyond your culinary reach. Bread, jam, pasta, and icecream might seem difficult but are quite simple with a bit of patience. Dust off the pasta machine that has been collecting dust in your back cupboard since a few Christmases ago, get out the electric beaters and make the most of the abundance of beautiful summer berries - and hopefully a post-Christmas reduced price.
How to make pasta
Pasta takes a bit of effort but is worthwhile. The taste of homemade pasta over the store-bought dried version doesn't compare. It's satisfying watching eggs and flour turn into a glorious meal you've made from scratch.
Grab a tray of fresh free-range eggs, some Italian "00" flour (milled and finely ground
for pasta making and available from Farro Fresh), and a bit of salt. Three simple ingredients, a bit of kneading, and then the fun bit: winding it through a pasta machine. Hang it on an indoor clothes rack and then boil it. Simple.
Italian "00" flour and high-grade flour are low in protein, starch, and gluten, making them soft so are therefore best used for pasta, pizza, and cakes.
The general rule is 100g of flour to one large egg.
- Serves 4
400g '00' flour
4 large, free-range eggs
1. Place flour on your bench or on a board in a pile. Make a small well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat them gently with a fork then, using your fingertips, gradually work the flour into the eggs to make a soft dough.
2. Once the dough has formed into a ball, continue kneading for a few minutes until it is a smooth ball. Wrap in kitchen wrap and refrigerate for about half an hour, or until you're ready to roll.
3. To roll: clamp your pasta machine firmly to a solid surface (your bench, for example) and set to the widest setting. Dust some flour over the bench surface and break off a piece of dough about the size of a tennis ball. Roll it out a bit with your hands, then flatten into a piece about 1cm-thick.
4. Lightly dust with a little flour and roll through the machine. Carefully catch it with your hand. Reduce the machine down a setting, then roll through again. Fold the dough in half, and roll through again.
5. Continue reducing the setting on the machine and rolling the dough through. Continue dusting with flour if you need. Once you've rolled it through each setting, you should have a sheet of silky smooth pasta.
6. For fettucine (pictured) roll through the machine setting which will cut it into strips. Roll them through and catch them carefully.
7. To cook the pasta immediately, bring a large pot of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes until al dente and serve immediately.
8. To dry the pasta to use later, lay it in strips over a clothes rack and air until dry and brittle. Store in an airtight container for a few weeks.
How to make bread
Photo / Michael Craig
I have always been reluctant to make bread. It seems like such a big thing and so much effort.
But it really isn't. This is a simple recipe which goes wonderfully with butter and jam when it's fresh from the oven. I recommend having a good look through some expert baking books and getting into it. I was giving the beautiful Bourke Street Bakery cookbook a few years ago, from the gorgeous Sydney bakery and cafe. It's a bread-making bible and a great start if you want to experiment. Some great recipes can also be found online. In the meantime, here's a simple recipe to get you started.
- Serves 6-8
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp instant yeast
¾ cup-1 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp oil
1. Combine flour and salt and yeast in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add ¾ cup water and oil.
2. Mix to form a soft dough, adding more water if required. Place on to a floured bench and knead lightly for 2 minutes.
3. Place in an oiled bowl and leave to (roughly) double in size (up to an hour).
4. Roll the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 2 minutes.
5. Roll out on to an oiled baking tray, rub over a small drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle over your favourite dried herb, or a little sea salt.
6. Bake at 200C for 25-30 minutes.
How to make jam
Photo / Michael Craig
I don't make jam often, but at this time of year when berries and, later in summer, plums, are in abundance, it's hard to resist cooking them into a sweet, sticky spread. It reminds me of that Sound of Music song about a few of your favourite things - tea with bread and jam. If you've made the jam, it's even more satisfying.
To make jam, you boil fruit and sugar until it thickens. It helps to have jam-making sugar, which is high in pectin, although it's not essential. There are some great recipes out there for healthier jams made with chia seeds, but I've kept things simple and seasonal and gone with one of my favourites - strawberry. I've added the seeds from a vanilla pod. Heilala Vanilla, a great New Zealand company, produces some of the plumpest and fragrant vanilla pods available. Jam makes a great gift - simply tie some sort of twine or
string or ribbon around a jar, or add some paper to the top and attach it with a rubber band.
Sterilising the jars to store the jam in is the only slightly fiddly part. Wash the jars well in hot soapy water then dry them in a low-heat oven to sterilise them.
Strawberry and Vanilla Jam
- Makes 1-1.2kg jam
1kg strawberries, green tops removed
500g high pectin (jam-setting) sugar (or just use white sugar)
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1. Clean the strawberries with a damp paper towel. Add to a medium-sized pot with the vanilla seeds and the sugar.
2. Bring to a medium heat. Squash the strawberries slightly with a wooden spoon and bring up to a simmer.
3. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, before reducing the heat to very low. Let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Turn heat off and allow it to sit for another 5 minutes.
4. Spoon into your sterilised jars and leave to cool completely.
5. Seal with a lid and keep in the fridge. It should keep for about a week.
How to make icecream
Photo / Michael Craig
I was always put off making icecream because I've never owned an icecream machine, but a few years ago my fabulous foodie Aunt Robyn gave me her limoncello icecream recipe, and I quickly realised how easy it is. In this recipe I've used Chambord, that slightly 80s black raspberry liqueur, which many people have lurking in the back of their cabinets. This creates a soft, luscious, very slightly pink icecream, which goes perfectly with fresh raspberries. You can, of course, use other ingredients such as fruit to create different flavours.
- Makes between 1.5 and 2l
4 large egg yolks
250g caster sugar
600ml cream cup
1/3 cup chambord
1. Beat egg yolks with half the sugar until thick and pale.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the cream with the remaining half of the sugar until thick, but be careful not to over-beat.
3. Fold the egg yolk mixture into the cream mixture, and add the Chambord. Gently fold together with a spoon. Transfer to a plastic container and freeze overnight. Serve with fresh raspberries.