That's it. I am not going to attempt to make pasta again. Well, not for some considerable time.
On a pleasant Friday evening, home early from work, I took Leith's Fish Bible into the garden with a glass of iced water, and started browsing for salmon dishes. The logic was simple: The Other Half hasn't eaten fish all week and, therefore, he needs a portion of oily fish tomorrow, which is market day.
However, I was painfully aware that I tend to cook salmon very simply – no, you're right: there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I sense a need for occasional variety.
So I was reading out recipes to The Other Half, when his expression suggested particular interest. I had hit upon a dish of salmon and plaice ravioli with a basil sauce. Given the response, I decided to give it a whirl.
The first question, however, was the amount. The recipe was clearly only for a starter – it only called for 55g each of salmon and plaice. So the next morning, when shopping, I increased the amount. This was to be for a main course.
Later in the day, I started my preparation. First, I mixed the pasta doug: easy stuff – especially as my mini food processor was just big enough to do an initial blitz on the flour, eggs and oil. Kneed for a bit and then ball up and leave in clingfilm, on the work surface, for at least half an hour.
Next up – the filling. Skinning the fish went well and all the pinboning, then that got blitzed too. Now came the slightly more delicate task of whipping in some egg white and then some cream – to be done, by the book, in a bowl that was standing in a tray of ice. I then added cream and seasoning of salt, pepper, mace and a squeeze of lemon juice, and whacked it in the fridge. All seemed to be fine and dandy.
After a break, I started rolling out the pasta. It's no wonder that people invest in pasta machines – or that (according to pictures in Jamie's Italy, older Italian women look stroppy and very dangerous with their huge rolling pins. I had sweat pouring down me as I tried to get the dough as thin as possible with my standard wooden pin. Eventually, believing that I'd gone as far as I could, I started cutting out circles of pasta, popping a dollop of filling in the middle and then sealing it with another circle on top. Hard work – but all seemed fine.
The sauce was not difficult: sliced garlic, very gently cooked in some olive oil, before tomatoes (skinned, de-seeded and chopped) and torn basil leaves, seasoning and a squeeze of lemon juice are added. Then leave on a gentle heat while you cook the pasta.
Well, everything seemed to cook okay. And served up, it looked alright, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But then came the tasting.
The Other Half was exceptionally well behaved. He made not a murmur and kept eating away. It was left to me to point out, with a certain gloom to the tone, that it was a bit of a disaster. The pasta was way to thick, even after my sweaty efforts, while the filling, which should have been light – a mousseline – was solid and not particularly flavoursome. The sauce was the one compensation.
Oh well, we learn by our mistakes. And perhaps my readiness to admit such a scale of error is progress. I didn't feel defensive about it for once.
And Sunday's fodder was the other side of the same coin. Meatballs in a sherry sauce: 200g each of beef and pork mince, mixed in a bowl with a couple of slices of bread that has been crumbed, plus crushed garlic (the recipe says two cloves – I used considerably more, but perhaps that was a subliminal response to having been reading a vampire story) and paprika.
Using damp hands, shape them into walnut-sized balls. Heat some olive oil and butter and fry the meatballs until browned. Remove to a plate. Fry and chopped onion. Then add a tablespoon of plain flour, stir in and cook. Add a teaspoon more paprika, then around a cup of sherry, plus some beef stock. Mix it till smooth. Pop the meatballs back in, plus around 10 small new potatoes (par-boiled), bring to the boil, pop a lid on, turn the heat right down and simmer for around 20 minutes.
Serve with freshly chopped flat leaf parsley on. I also served some fine beans.
It's at the point that I can remember that recipe without having to check it up. So if the pasta was a disaster – at least the meatballs show that my culinary confidence is generally a lot higher than it used to be and with some reason.
And a big thank you to George for the meatballs recipe.