We've got a lot of cooking to do.
We've been living with Marcella Hazan's cookbook "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" for about a week.
We take it to the market.
We take it to the market.
We rest on it.
We try to read it.
We're going to cook Marcella and Marcella-inspired recipes all weekend. Not for guests. Not for my husband, since he is out of town. We're just cooking for the three of us. No pressure.
On Saturday morning we choose our first recipes:
- Cannelloni with Meat Stuffing (p. 222) for me.
- Italian Chocolate Mousse (p. 599) for Bella.
- Chocolate Sauce and Yeah More Chocolate Sauce for Dash.
When I tell my mom that I'm going to make Marcella's cannelloni she says, "So you're going to make homemade pasta. That's what Marcella does."
"No, she doesn't."
"Yes, she does."
"Just borrow our pasta maker," she offers.
The art of making pasta entered my house briefly in the Eighties (the "way olden days" according to my daughter). For a few years (or was it only a few weeks or days?) I have memories of fresh pasta hanging all over our kitchen. It was on the backs of chairs and dangling from horizontal broomsticks balanced across stools. My parents lovingly made the pasta dough and then rolled it out with their spanking new stainless steel pasta maker.
And this is the very machine my mom is offering me. But here's the thing. It's 9 am and already in the 90s. And humid. In Berkeley. Weird. It's too damn hot to climb my parents' gazillion stairs with 2 kids to get the hella heavy pasta maker. Luckily Marcella lists another option: hand-rolled method.
Homemade hand-rolled pasta. Could it really be that complicated?
FIRST LESSON: YES, HOMEMADE HAND-ROLLED PASTA REALLY IS THAT COMPLICATED.
Here's what you will need:
- A rolling pin that's 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 32 inches in length (turns out it's hard to find outside of Emilia-Romagna and if you choose to make your own pin there are 5 paragraphs just on how to cure and store it).
- A Chinese cleaver.
- A wood table with edges that are "smooth and rounded" and if not "sand it to make it so." A depth of 3 feet is okay but 4 1/2 feet is best.
I'm unwilling to sand my table. I'm too hot to go to Home Depot to buy a dowel to make a rolling pin.
So I go with these.
So I go with these.
Isabel gets busy with the shells and her pens.
And even busier, breaking a few along the way.
But somehow we end up with just the right amount of shells to fit into the dish.
And we start to cook.
Saturday morning prep: bechamel, meat filling, meat sauce, and parboiled pasta.
Marcella is not wishy-washy about how she wants things. There is a right way and a wrong way. This makes it very easy to follow her recipes.
We cook half the ground chuck for the filling. We can't stop snacking. Ham. Parmigiano-reggiano. Ricotta. The other half of the chuck is for the sauce. It's finished with canned tomatoes and simmered for 45 minutes.
I take my eyes off my son for way too long. I place the wrong tub of pens in front of him. The one with the permanent markers.
Luckily I have a kick-ass assistant who takes over while I scrub Dash's face. She slowly adds the milk to the butter and flour mixture.
SECOND LESSON: BECHAMEL CAN BE REMOVED FROM THE HEAT AND PUT ON HOLD. NUMEROUS TIMES. JUST LIKE CARAMEL.My son really wants to help. He is busting out of his chair and shrieking.
We bring him just a little bit closer so that he feels like a part of things.
"Dashi, what's in bechamel?" asks Bella.
"Becha and maker." he says proudly.
Everything goes into the fridge. We're staying out of the kitchen until the afternoon.
Saturday 5 pm. My son has not napped. But it's time to assemble the cannelloni. The sauce, filling, bechamel and parboiled pasta all go in the center of the table. I'm unsure of how much I should let my children do. I'm a bit of a control freak. I've never made cannelloni and I want it to be perfect.
FOURTH LESSON: LET GO. LET GO. LET GO AND LET YOUR KIDS DO THE COOKING.
After a few instructions I step aside and here's what they do.
Place a spoonful of bechamel on a dinner plate. Cut the parboiled cannelloni shell open.
Slide one side of the cooked shell around in the bechamel.
Take a bite.
Take a break.
Line the filled shells up in a buttered dish. Don't overlap. Fill them up a bit more with filling if your kids were skimpy.
Sprinkle on the sauce.
FIFTH LESSON: LET YOUR KIDS FOLLOW THEIR INTUITION IN THE KITCHEN.
Isabel decides to squeeze some of the fat out of the sauce. I stop her and I shouldn't have. The cannelloni ends up a bit greasy and I wish I had let her squeeze out more.
SIXTH LESSON: DON'T LET YOUR DOG NEAR THE CANNELLONI.
Notice the left-hand corner of grated cheese has been LICKED OFF BY OUR DOG. Bella fixes it.
Golden and almost ready.
While the cannelloni cooks I give Bella some bad news. I'm so damn tired. I can't even imagine doing the chocolate mousse. You should see the look she gives me. Oh my god. She starts to cry.
So I let Dash and Bella make the chocolate mousse (almost) all by themselves.SEVENTH LESSON: KIDS ARE REALLY GOOD AT WHISKING, FOLDING, TEACHING, AND LICKING.
We eat the cannelloni that night. Dash has three servings. I'm so psyched I start eating it right out of the dish. Bella is indifferent. She is a chocolate girl.My kids are so tired. It's way past bedtime. I don't want them jacked up on chocolate mousse. So I tell them we will eat it the next night. They actually go with this plan.
From the moment my kids wake up on Sunday they begin asking for the chocolate mousse. I promise that if they eat a good dinner they can split one.
"It's a good idea to split one since last time I ate a whole chocolate mousse I threw up," says Bella. It's true. Christmas Eve 2007. We made Alice Medrich's Warm Bittersweet Mousse (p. 168 in "Bittersweet"). She had the stomach flu. But for a few more years I'll let her think it was caused by the chocolate mousse.
EIGHTH LESSON: ALTERNATE BETWEEN COOKING DISHES THAT REQUIRE OUTRAGEOUS CONCENTRATION AND THOSE THAT REQUIRE VERY LITTLE THOUGHT.
Sunday dinner. Trenne pasta with uncooked tomato sauce. Of course inspired by Marcella Hazan, but no recipes to follow. We're doing our own thing tonight. Only basil to pick. Water to boil. Tomatoes, basil, and garlic to chop. And cheese to grate. Eyes closed cooking.
In Marcella's Introduction her definition of Italian cooking is the "cooking that spans remembered history, that has evolved during the whole course of transmitted skills and intuitions in homes throughout the Italian peninsula and the islands, in its hamlets, on its farms, in its great cities. It is cooking from the home kitchen."
We have begun in our small way to build our remembered history. My kids and I play with these foreign skills and intuitions that we will fuse with our history and someday make our own.
Here comes the chocolate mousse.
Thank you, Marcella. Buona notte.
P.S.: Check out Monday night dinner. Still inspired by our Marcella weekend. Melon, tomato, cucumber, feta, mint, parsley, olive oil, salt and lemon. Next week: Escoffier.