Archive for October, 2007

Pure pleasure in making pasta

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I believe that pasta should be made by hand, as you will get a better understanding of what happens to the dough.

The pleasure derived from making it yourself at home is indescribable, and it’s especially good to get the kids involved.

Last week we looked at making basic pasta. Once you can make this dough consistently well, you will be able to adapt it to any type of pasta dish. For lasagne, for example, the pasta is sprinkled with flour and laid flat on a table, before it is cut into 20cm by 8cmpieces.

Ravioli is another easy but pleasing dish that can be made with fresh pasta. Here, the pasta is rolled and cut with a round cutter (approx 10cm) on a table sprinkled with flour.

The cut pasta should be placed on a floured tray and covered with clingfilm. Uncovered pasta will dry out and become difficult to use. The ravioli can be made in various sizes, depending on whether it is for a garnish, starter or main meal.

Basic ravioli filling
1 diced shallot
1/2 clove garlic
10g finely chopped chives
10g finely diced celeriac
50g diced guinea fowl
5ml olive oil
Pinch of sea salt, fresh milled black pepper

1. Heat the pan. Saute the shallot, celeriac, garlic and guinea fowl. Season and cook slowly for a few minutes. Add the chives, bind the ingredients together.

2. Remove from the pan and cool. When cool, bind into balls about 10g each.

3. To fill the ravioli, place the filling into the centre of the pasta sheet. Brush the pasta with the egg wash, cover with the other sheet. Press the sheets together, keeping the shape of the ball. Press down with your fingers, so they go around and close all the edges. With a 8cm cutter upside down, press it firmly on the ravioli to give it a shape like a flying saucer.

4. Cook in boiling chicken or guinea fowl stock (see stocks/SBP/October 14) with a drop of olive oil for four minutes. Strain season.

A variation on pasta is gnocchi, which is more filling as it is made with potato as a substitute for flour.

Gnocchi (serves four persons)
400g Maris Piper potato
3 egg yolks
50g semolina flour
10g unsalted butter
5g sea salt
1g grated nutmeg
3g fresh milled pepper

1. Wash and peel the potatoes then boil them. When cooked, strain the potatoes, add the butter, egg yolks and seasoning. Mix well until it forms a lump-free paste.

2. Add the semolina and mix well. Roll out into long thin strips, and cut into 3cm pieces and shape with the tips of a fork.

3. Cook in boiling salted water for five minutes, then strain.

4. Toss the gnocchi in olive oil or butter, and sprinkle with cheese.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. See

Whipping up a passion for pasta

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Pasta has been the pride and glory of Italy throughout much of the Mediterranean country’s history.

Luckily, wherever Italians emigrated they brought their pasta with them, so it found its way into all our lives, a universal comfort food. Economical, readily available and versatile, pasta is a staple of any modern kitchen.

But the original pasta was not Italian. The Chinese were eating their version of the food – noodles – as early as 3,000BC.The first record of noodles being cooked in boiling water is in the Jerusalem Talmud, written in Arabic in the 5th century.

The word used for noodles was itriyah. In Arabic this word stands for dried noodles purchased from a vendor, rather than home-made noodles, which would have been fresh.

Marco Polo brought this dried food back from China in 1295 and, by the end of the 13th century pasta was being produced by artisans in Sicilian towns such as Palermo.

The first recorded pasta recipe appears in the 15th century cookbook, De arte Coquinaria per vermicelli e maccaroni siciliani (The Art of Cooking Sicilian Macaroni and Vermicelli). The popularity of pasta grew steadily, and by the 17th century it had become part of Italy’s daily diet.

It is one of my dreams to be invited to a traditional Italian family home to see pasta being made. Although I am still waiting, I learnt how to make my own pasta from an Italian chef many years ago, and later, when I was in Singapore, I had the pleasure to see noodles been made by a master.

This is my basic pasta recipe which we make in the restaurant daily. You can also make this recipe with 100 per cent durum wheat, but it needs to be a bit more moist as it is a little more difficult to work with.

Basic pasta recipe
200g durum wheat
300g strong white flour
7g sea salt
12 good quality, medium-sized egg yolks
1 good quality, medium whole egg
1g olive oil
50g strong white flour or durum wheat for rolling the pasta
1 egg yolk for egg wash

To dress the pasta you will need your best olive oil, sea salt, freshly milled black pepper, fresh basil leaves and some shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

1. On a marble slab mix the flour, durum wheat and sea salt. This can also be done in a stainless steel bowl.

2. Make a well and pour in the egg yolks and whole egg. Add the flour and mix well. It is important to bind all the dough and knead it for approx 10 minutes.

3. When the dough is made, cover it with a bowl and rest for 15 minutes.

4. Knead the pasta one more time – the more you knead it the better it is.

5. Cut the pasta in four and sprinkle with a little flour and roll thinly with a rolling pin. Pasta has to be thin to enable it to go through the pasta machine without breaking it.

6. Set up the pasta machine. Dust the dough lightly and roll it through the machine using the numbers on the machine, starting off at 6 and finishing at 1. By the time you get to no 2 the pasta will have doubled in length, and it will double again on the last roll. Sprinkle with flour.

7. If you are using the pasta for linguini, spaghetti or any other thin cuts, it is important to semi-dry it before cutting. This can be done in two different ways: one is to hang it on a broom hanger for a few minutes, the other is to dust it with flour and semi dry it on the table, turning it every two minutes so that it doesn’t stick to the table.

8. Add the cutting attachment to the machine and insert the pasta which will come out in strands. Alternatively roll it up and cut it with a sharp knife into thin strips.

1. Heat a pot of water, add a pinch of sea salt and a drop of olive oil. When the water starts to boil add the pasta and cook for four minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and strain off the water. Return the pasta to the pot, season with salt, fresh milled black pepper and a few drops of olive oil. Mix well and serve with torn basil and fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Keeping your kitchen in stock

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

The stock-making process may seem like a laborious affair, but its importance lies in that the finished product infuses so many aspects of cooking.

In addition, you can make a large amount and freeze it in small tubs, to be defrosted and used as needed. My chicken stock takes over six hours to create, but the time spent is reflected in the taste.

In addition to the white stock described last week, stocks are broken down into further categories:

The word translates as ‘rewetting’, which is a good way to remember how remouillage is made. Bones used to prepare a primary stock are reserved after the first stock is strained away. The bones are then covered with water and a secondary stock is prepared. This is used in place of water when preparing primary stocks.

Broths share many similarities with stocks and are prepared in the same fashion. Meaty bones, or in some cases the entire cut of meat, bird or fish, are simmered in water or remouillage or along with vegetables and other aromatic ingredients.

Fumet or essence
An essence is a highly-flavoured infusion made from a good stock and wild mushrooms, truffle, vegetables, spices and so forth.

Court bouillon
A quick stock often used for cooking of lobster and crawfish, the ingredients of which are aromatic vegetables, herbs, lemons and water.

Brown stock
Brown stocks are the foundation for all brown sauces and one of the most commonly used stocks in the kitchen. They are prepared by first cooking meat bones and meat trimmings along with the miripoix until they are deep brown in colour.

Chicken stock
This is best using boiling fowl.

3 boiling fowl about 1kg each
500g of miripoix (carrot, leek, celery sticks, onion, garlic)
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of tarragon
1 small bunch of parsley
5 litres of water or remouillage
50g of whole white pepper corns
1 bouquet garni

1. Wash the chickens in running water, place in a pot, cover with water and bring to the boil. Refresh with cold water to remove any impurities.

2. Place the chicken in a fresh pot, add the miripoix with the herbs, pepper corns and bouquet garni.

3. Add the water or remouillage, bring to the boil and turn down the heat and simmer for approximately five-and-a-half hours, skimming the surface frequently to remove impurities.

4. Rest the stock for 20 minutes and strain through a muslin cloth and strainer.

Cool the stock in a bath of cold water, cover and refrigerate. I also do a triple stock – doing the exact same thing three times, each time using the same stock and fresh chickens. It is really superb.

Vegetable stock or nage
I use this stock for vegetarian dishes and for risotto.

200g new season onions
200g leeks
6 celery hearts
4 whole carrots
2 whole fennel bulbs
10 baby fennel
7 radish
20 whole white pepper corns
10 star anise
3 cloves
5g fennel seed
1 small bunch of basil
1 small bunch of tarragon
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 small bunch of dill
1/2 litre of dry martini
1/2 litre of dry white wine
4 litres of still water

1. Wash and peel all the vegetables.

2. Place in a pot with the rest of the dry ingredients and add the wine, martini and water.

3. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat and simmer slowly for two hours.

4. Cool down, then place the vegetables and stock in a preserving jar and refrigerate.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.