Tortelli alla Maremmana

A Healthy Plate of Pasta

Having become fascinated with the parallels between Tuscan and Southern cooking, I decided to make a dish that has entire food festivals dedicated to it–tortelli, or tordelli. They are made in a bewildering number of fashions, and with many local fillings, so I ad libbed and made my own version, with some honking big tortelli, with a sauce approximating a Tuscan meat sauce. The result is incredibly rich and tasty.

Meat Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes

This is a typical meat sauce, and the quantities are determined by how many tortelli you need to sauce. I only had four, so I used fewer tomatoes, and piled on the meat. Saute some onion and pepper in olive oil, and then add the fresh tomatoes (I milled mine in a food mill, so they were peeled and seeded at the same time). The Tuscans would use chopped meat in a sauce like this, but I had homemade Italian Sausage, and some hamburger I ground myself, so I browned those in a skillet, and added those to the sauce. My customizing was to add some oregano, and two actual Italian ingredients, both of which come in tubes like toothpaste tubes, which are tomato paste and garlic paste. Naturally, there is also salt and pepper in it.

Fall Greens

The filling for the tortlli is as simple as you want to make it, but I used the traditional greens and ricotta combo. The Tuscans use everything from spinach to thistle, but we had fresh kale at the Festhalle farmer’s market, so I went with that. I wilted it in olive oil, shredded it, and added it to some homemade ricotta.

Lots of Filling

The judgement call comes when you decide how big to make the tortelli, and in what shape. I went by the Tuscan saying that tortelli should have a “wide footprint,” so I made mine big enough that just two would cover a plate. I also used a technique that I had never seen before, that was on an Italian website. I started with homemade sheet pasta.

DIY Tortelli

I cut fairly wide strips of this pasta, about twice as long as wide. The next trick is to put a spoon full of filling on one side, and then fold the pasta over itself. This eliminates the fiddly business of cutting the pasta into squares, making the tortelli, and then trimming them yet again with ravioli cutter. I just put water around the bottom edge, and used the back of a fork to form a waterproof seal. Tortelli should be boiled in water as salty as the sea for ten to twelve minutes, strained, plated and topped with sauce. Add some grated parmesan, and have your own festival. We did.

Boiling Ants

Old Meets New

Anyone who has spent much time in the South has come in contact with our insect scourge, the imported Fire Ant. After sneaking in on a banana boat, literally, in Mobile, they have spread from here to California. Their bite is bad enough that it can literally leave a scar. I have plenty.

Worst of all, their preferred habitats are lawns and veg gardens. People spend millions of dollars on chemicals to kill them. My solution is the Occam’s Razor of pest control. I just pour boiling water on them. It is both environmentally friendly, and emotionally satisfying.

You could run across your lawn with a kettle of boiling water, or you could do what I do, which is to take the fire to the ants (pun warning). My favorite setup is above, all Swedish, an Optimus stove and a Trangia kettle. Maybe I should get a dragon tattoo.

Killing fire ants, and playing with matches. How appropriate.

Hoya! Fresh Bacon Turns Grey when Cooked

No Curing Salt Here

My all time favorite congress critter has to be Mo Udall of Arizona, who would give speeches with titles like, “Who Needs Enemies When We Have Friends Like the Marlboro Man?” And that was to the American Cancer Society.

I’ve told this one before, but Mo’s favorite stump speech was about the time he allegedly had a group of native Americans yell Hoya! at him, every time he made a promise. (He did deliver a groundbreaking speech in 1965 on “The American Indians and Civil Rights.”) Hoya is the stuff you don’t want to step in when you’re in the horse stable, as he later learned from the Chief of the tribe.

I’m on my second pound of local pasture raised bacon from Hardwood Hills farm in Cullman county, and is it good! No, it’s fabulous. Despite the hoya that comes from various experts, it does not turn grey when cooked. Or as Othello would say, “Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof.” That’s it at the top. It’s only marinated in a Saumure Anglais, without the curing salt, and it doesn’t turn grey. I guess people should buy better pork. And quote both Mo and Shakespeare, at the same time.

Making Mayo

The Good Stuff

After putting it off for years, I finally learned how to make mayo. It turned out to be very simple, IF you have fresh eggs, and a stand mixer. I am being slowly covered by an avalanche of eggs, coming from our chicks, and I have a 30+ year old Kitchenaid, so it was time for this confluence to happen. This recipe also let me get rid of three eggs. Read some of Julia Child’s thoughts and experiences making mayo, for pointers.

Ingredients (all should be at room temperature)

3 Eggs (not just yolks)

Salt to Taste

Juice of half a Lemon

1 and 1/2 cups of Vegetable Oil (I used Peanut)

Most recipes call for a mild olive oil, but I live in peanut, not olive, country, so I went local. It worked well–the best supermarket brand of mayo uses soybean oil!

Grab the wire whisk attachment for the stand mixer, and beat the hell out of the eggs, at highest speed, for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt, and then SLOWLY add the oil, a drop at a time at first. The more oil you add, the thicker the mayo will get, until you add too much, which apparently causes the mayo to break. If it does, throw in another egg, and slog on.

This process takes some time, but the result is this-3/4 of a quart of mayo.

Now I have another processed food to take off my grocery list. The chickens get an extra treat today.

The End of Tomato Season

Gather Ye Rosebuds, etc

Make hay while the sun shines, the old saying has it. Our Festhalle Farmer’s Market is down to one seller of fresh tomatoes, and it is time for the frugal to put away food for our admittedly mild winter (This farmer starts his tomato plants every year in January). Our current count is eleven quarts of tomatoes, and four pints as well. Our intention is to add more every weekend until the first freeze.

My specialty is jams and preserves–the serious canning is done by Melanie Jane. Her mother, Agnes Olga, was such a planner that she had index cards with the exact quantities of every vegetable to preserve written on them, to prepare the family for the winter. We just preserve whatever we can.

That giant twenty two quart pressure cooker/canner was actually a gift from a colleague at a college I taught at years ago. He literally was the foreign language department there, as he taught both French and German. Most of my vocabulary of German obscenities came from him as well. There is nothing like a well rounded scholar.

Linguine alla Carbonara

The great Calvin Trillin once joked that the national Thanksgiving dish should be Spaghetti Carbonara, instead of turkey. I decided to make some, because of that, and I hated it. We still have turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then last week, Melanie Jane said we had to use some of the increasing pile of eggs that our chicks produce, and she found a recipe from Lidia Bastianich for Linguine alla Carbonara. I made it, and it was literally one of the best things I have ever eaten.

The difference? Instead of supermarket bacon and eggs, I had local fresh bacon which I had marinated myself, and eggs from our chicks. The dish is very simple to make.

Ingredients

Pasta Water (Water as salty as sea water)

Linguine (dry or fresh)

Two slices of thick Bacon

1/2 of a small Onion, chopped

Chicken Stock

Two Egg Yolks

Grated Parmesan Cheese

This sextet of ingredients will taste like a symphony if cooked properly. Start with the pasta water, and fry the bacon in a brasier/pasta pan (not pot). Here’s ours, but a skillet will work fine as well.

That’s French for Crucible

The ladies who own our local Le Creuset store in Birmingham picked this one out for me, so my addled brain was not taxed. When I told them it was a present for my sweetie, they went through an entire stack of boxes, to find the best one. I left as a happy consumer.

Fry the bacon while the pasta is cooking. Remove the bacon when it is crisp, but keep the fat, and cook the onions in that. Add a little chicken stock, and I mean a little, and add the chopped bacon, and the pasta (strained) once it becomes al dente. Is Al Dente related to Al Fresco?

Stir those together, and then here comes the only tricky part. Turn off the stove and add the raw yolks. Yes, I said raw yolks. If the heat is just right, the hot sauce and pasta will cook the yolks. If too hot, you have scrambled egg pasta. Too cool, and it’s yuck city.

Grate some good Parmesan over the whole thing, and there you have it. I splurged on some real Reggiano. That didn’t hurt any either.

As long as our chicks keep clucking, this is on the permanent menu. I had five eggs from six birds yesterday, and it appears home made mayo is the next project. Or anything else that uses eggs.

Optimus 11 Explorer–One of the Last of the Great Swedish made Multi-Fuel Stoves

Fire, Walk with Me

Sweden has also been overtaken by globalization, like everyone else, and the once mighty camp stove manufacturing centers have been reduced to one, the great Trangia company. Perhaps the saddest of all is the Optimus company, which manufactured some of the most sought after stoves on the internet. Even the most iconic Swedish stove, the SVEA 123, has had production outsourced.

Maybe I did over prime my Optimus 11 Explorer for dramatic effect, but that stove can take it. I’ve cooked literally hundreds of meals on this stove, and it is a hoss. Possibly even a boss hoss.

Old and New both get Happy

This is the stove before the conflagration. It has the classic Sherman tank of a Cobra silent burner, combined with a miraculously clever modern fuel storage system. No plastic pumps here–This one is almost all metal.

On means Ready to Cook

Strangely enough, the other side of the pump says “Off.” To turn off the stove, simply flip the bottle over. That system also allows all the gas in the fuel supply line to burn out, which means no spilling when the stove is disconnected from the fuel bottle, and packed for travel (The stand folds flat). And this stove is designed to cook, from simmer to blow torch.

The Classic Blue Flame

The stove burns kerosene as well as it burns white gas, and apparently is more than adequate at burning alcohol. It certainly puts out the heat, and is the hottest burning outdoor stove I have, other than my 30,000 BTU propane cooker, which will deep fry a twenty pound turkey–the difference being that the latter requires a giant tank of propane to do that. The 11 only needs that one small fuel bottle.

These stoves are somewhat scarce as they had a short production run, preceding the equally trailblazing Optimus Nova. One half-witted reviewer found the stove to have too many parts. If a writer can’t handle two main parts, a stand, a windscreen, and a regulating key, they shouldn’t be left alone with even a tent stake.

The review that sold me on buying this stove as soon as it was introduced, marveled at its bomb proof construction. It is also very simple to maintain and rebuild, after it has been scorched by a few hundred meals. The review concluded that this stove would be “a friend for life.” Those are always a good thing to have.

Mildewed Eggs and Other Hoya about Chickens

Eggs not molding

I have been amazed by the number of stories about mildewed eggs on the interwebs, about eggs that have mildewed both on the inside and outside of the shell. While I am certain that could happen if you left the eggs out for six months or a year or so, I have this to say about that–Hoya!

As a teen, I gathered upwards of a thousand eggs, literally ever day, as we had ten thousand chickens who laid hatching eggs. We were forbidden from washing the eggs by our corporate masters, as that would have affected the hatching rate. We never had a single egg with mildew, and I am guessing that I personally gathered tens of thousands of eggs.

Now that I have downsized to a flock of six happy chicks, I read a quote from a chicken prof who said that eggs taken out of a fridge and then stored in the kitchen, would mildew. Hoya! Anything will mildew if you leave it out long enough.

Just eat the eggs, the fresher the better.

Traditional Farmer’s Omelette with All Local Ingredients

Bauernomlett

To celebrate a drought busting two inches of rain, and to challenge myself, I decided to make a Farmer’s Omelette the traditional German way, using only local ingredients. In fact, they were so local that all but one ingredient came from within a hundred feet of our front door.

The brilliance of this recipe is that it only calls for three main ingredients–bacon, potatoes, and eggs. Everything else is optional, and subject to improvisation. This is a jazz recipe, and I always follow my use what you have rule. Here is today’s version.

Ingredients

One slice Bacon

One skillet full of Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed

Four Eggs

Two small Tomatoes, chopped

One sweet Banana Pepper, chopped

Garlic Chives, chopped

Salt and Pepper

The only ingredient we didn’t grow ourselves was the bacon, which came from just across the Mulberry River, from my home county of Cullman. The county happens to be named after its founder Colonel Johannes Gottfried Kullman, though he was actually a Colonel in one of the failed German state revolutions of 1848. Hence his removal to the United States.

This is also no ordinary bacon

Marinated Fresh Bacon

The bacon is so large that eight slices made a pound, and I had to cut one slice into three pieces just to make it fit my omelette skillet. These slices of fresh bacon were marinated for six days in a Saumure Anglaise.

The German method of cooking this is to fry the bacon while simmering the potatoes in water for eight to ten minutes. The bacon is then removed from the skillet, and the potatoes are browned in the bacon fat. I added the peppers as well. Chop up the bacon, and mix the eggs. I put my tomatoes and garlic chives in with the eggs, and then the bacon. When the potatoes begin to brown, add the egg mixture, and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients.

I did depart from the norm, and finished the omelette in the oven at 400 degrees F. While I cooked, Melanie Jane turned on Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto. We ate while listening to one of my favorite recordings, the Bavarian State Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, conducted by the incomparable Carlos Kleiber. We also had a Bavarian flag hanging off the balcony above our dining room table, in honor of Oktoberfest. One of our semi-domesticated wolves, aka a dog, ate the leftovers.

As the salt was not mined, nor the peppercorns picked, anywhere locally, I will admit that this was only ninety nine percent local. But that is still ninety nine percent better than food that has been trucked across a continent.