Friday, 11 June 2010

On the importance of shopping

It's almost a cliche now that the best chefs do their marketing in person. You have to get in on the ground to find the best and freshest, to get a nose for what's in season. You see this on TV shows from Iron Chef via Jamie Oliver to Rick Stein - and our own local Jan Gundlach actually has his premises right there at the Fyshwick market. Of course in reality, a lot of top chefs will outsource this task to trusted providores, but it's nevertheless true that to get a great meal, somebody has to have done a great job of the shopping.

It's even more true when you're not making stuff from scratch. I've made this same pasta dish twice now. And while it was from the identical recipe, the results were spectacularly different. One was sublime, the other just rated "meh, not too bad, it will do for a week night".

The recipe is from a little cookbook produced as a work social club fundraiser. I bought it on the day I started the new job. We have several keen cooks where I work, though why they insist on doing their Red Cross fundraiser bake sales on a Friday I don't know. I can easily bake stuff on a Sunday arvo, but Thursday night is beyond me. Just this Sunday past I made roast chicken in the Stephanie Alexander style (lemon and rosemary and olive oil) with accompanying baked veg; a beef potroast braised in Guinness with parsnips and prunes; a leek and potato soup; I got some tandoori chicken wings on to marinade; and I roasted tomatoes for a dhal. But Thursday? On Thursday, it's eat leftovers or eat out. Or I could make this pasta.

Here is the fantastic/meh pasta recipe.

Recipe: Tortellini with bacon and pesto cream sauce
1 packet bought tortellini (or ravioli)
1/2 cup pesto
3/4 cup cream
4 short cut bacon rashers
150g baby spinach leaves
A handful of pine nuts

* Cook pasta according to packet directions, in lots of boiling water.
* Meanwhile, lightly toast the pine nuts and chop the bacon.
* Drain the pasta and set aside.
* Spray pan with a little olive oil and fry the bacon for a couple of minutes.
* Add pinenuts, pesto, and cream, and mix well.
* Stir in the baby spinach and let just barely wilt.
* Stir through the pasta.

Serve with a sprinkle of good parmesan and a salad or steamed broccoli. It's quite rich from the cream.

The "Fantastic" options:

I used Wee Jasper Pasta spinach, ricotta and pinenut ravioli. These people sell their handmade pasta at the EPIC markets on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month. And the pesto was made by chef Tom Moore of Gundaroo Grazing restaurant, with basil from their garden. I doubt he'll be making more until next summer.

The "Meh" options:
I used Latina fresh spinach & ricotta ravioli, and a pesto that I found in the supermarket. It's called "inspire", and it's really rather good for its genre. It does at least contain some pine nuts, which most supermarket brands don't.

to toast pine nuts, toss them in a dry frying pan on the rangetop, or a pie plate in the oven which you shake regularly. Watch closely, they will burn very quickly once they start to change colour. You want golden, not dark brown!

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