Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fettuccine with fresh porcini mushrooms and crème fraîche

The best type of dinner is the one I can prepare quickly and not in the sense that I want to get it over with, even though sometimes that is the case, let’s not kid ourselves, but in the sense that there’s a certain satisfaction in cooking and eating something that’s special in less than half an hour.

I love this kind of meals during a busy workday when my energy levels are low and I can’t possibly bring myself to cook anything that requires too much of my attention or time, or on a Sunday when S and I have the whole day to ourselves and I don’t wish to spend too much time in the kitchen but rather at the dinner table with a glass of wine, some beautiful food and my partner’s company.

This is how this creamy fettuccine dish was created last Sunday; with the glorious porcini mushrooms, the kings of the mushrooms, crème fraîche and parmesan, shallots and garlic and some semi-sweet wine.

The earthy, nutty aromas that emanated from the pan while I was sautéing the porcini, tricked me into thinking I was cooking some sort of meat rather than mushrooms and led me to the realization that if I could have fresh porcini on a regular basis, I would consider becoming a vegetarian. Perhaps.

The crème fraîche added acidity to the dish, without masking the umami flavor of the mushrooms, whereas the salty parmesan took away the sharp edge from the crème fraîche, and the woody thyme added freshness. With a glass of semi-sweet white wine, it was a pretty special, and quick, Sunday meal.

PS. Last night I watched this movie and it was sweet and light and full of marvelous food, aromas and flavors. You have to watch it!

Fettuccine with fresh porcini mushrooms and crème fraîche

If you can’t find fresh porcini, use fresh chanterelles or girolles or any other wild mushrooms you can find.

Don’t wash or rinse the mushrooms because they will soak up all the water and lose their flavor; just scrub them lightly with a soft brush all over to get rid of the dirt. There are special mushroom brushes that you can use, but if you don’t have one, you can use a very soft, unused toothbrush.

You don’t want to cook the porcini to oblivion because you want them to retain that springy and delicate texture. Their meaty yet subtle flavor will shine through but you mustn’t overwhelm them with too many ingredients. You want to complement their flavor not overpower it.

Yield: enough for 2 hungry people

250-300 g dried fettuccine
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
200 g fresh porcini mushrooms, brushed and sliced thickly lengthwise
1 garlic clove, minced
100 ml semi-sweet white wine
150 g crème fraîche, full-fat
2 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, grated

Special equipment: colander, mushroom brush (optional), cheese grater

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the fettuccine. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking. Reserve about 60 ml (¼ cup) of the pasta water and drain the fettuccine in a colander (but don’t shake the pasta), discarding the rest of the water.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large, wide sauté pan (one that will fit the pasta as well) over medium heat and add the shallots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until they become translucent and very soft. Empty shallots and oil into a bowl, wipe the pan with some kitchen paper and heat the pan again over medium-high heat.
Lay the porcini in one layer in the pan and dry them out i.e. cook them until they release their juices and the juice evaporates, for a few minutes on each side, being careful not to burn them; moderate the heat so it’s not too high.

Season the porcini with salt and black pepper, add the garlic and 1 Tbsp olive oil and continue to fry on medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Return shallots and oil to the pan and mix well. Then deglaze with the wine. Oh the aroma! Scrape any bits that have stuck to the pan, that’s the good stuff!

Add the crème fraîche and some fresh thyme leaves, stir gently and leave to incorporate into the sauce over low heat. Add a little pasta water to thin the sauce out a bit if it’s too thick and add one last Tbsp of olive oil.

When the pasta is ready, add it to the pan and mix with the sauce.
Sprinkle with some more black pepper, the rest of the fresh thyme leaves, lots of grated parmesan and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chocolate cake with dark brown sugar

The weather has finally turned and it’s starting to feel like autumn. Rain, dark skies and all that is characteristic of Dutch cold weather is back, while raincoats, boots and woolen socks have finally replaced open-toed shoes, t-shirts and skirts.

It is that time of the year. When the warmth of the oven is again pleasant and I can’t wait to be tucked in my little kitchen, bake my favorite cakes and try new ones.

This one is a cake I have been making quite often for the last two-three years and it is so scrumptious it is difficult to keep around for more than a couple of days. It is a chocolate cake made with dark brown sugar, cocoa and dark chocolate and it is my favorite everyday chocolate cake ever.

It is light and fluffy yet has a rich and deep flavor of chocolate accentuated by the molasses sweetness of dark brown sugar. Its smooth crumb and lovely crust on top, its beautiful chocolate aroma and slight moistness, makes it a perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of coffee or tea, and it is certainly ideal for breakfast before heading out to face the day or for a sweet treat in the afternoon when those sweet cravings kick in.

Chocolate cake with dark brown sugar
Adapted from here

I usually serve this plain but you can dust it with icing sugar that will cover those inevitable cracks on top, or with a patterned glaze made with icing sugar and milk.

You need to use chocolate with a high percentage in cocoa solids to balance the sweetness of the rest of the ingredients. The soft dark brown sugar makes the cake wonderfully moist and adds a level of sweetness as well as an interesting flavor, but the cake needs the bitterness of the chocolate to keep the flavors balanced.

Update 06.11.2014: Some of you have asked me about the sweetened condensed milk in the recipe. Since the cake doesn't contain a lot of sugar, the small amount of sweetened condensed milk gives the required sweetness and contributes to the cake's fluffy texture. Therefore, I wouldn't suggest you substitute it with another type of milk or cream.

Yield: 1 cake / 8-10 pieces

25 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
50 ml cold water
100 ml boiling water
50 g good quality dark chocolate (70-75% cocoa solids), finely chopped
100 g unsalted butter, softened and cubed, plus extra for greasing the pan
175 g soft dark brown sugar
125 g sweetened condensed milk
2 medium-sized eggs
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
200 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, sieve, loaf pan (23 x 9 x 8 cm), baking paper

Butter the bottom and sides of your loaf pan with butter and line it with baking paper.

In a small bowl, add the cocoa powder and cold water and mix with a hand whisk until you have a smooth paste. Pour in the boiling water and whisk, then immediately add the chopped chocolate. Leave it for 2 minutes to melt and then whisk until you have a smooth mixture.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the softened butter, the soft dark brown sugar and the sweetened condensed milk and using the paddle attachment (or your hand-held mixer), beat on medium-high speed until very smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate.
Sieve together in a bowl the flour and baking powder. Add half of it to the egg mixture and beat on medium-high until well incorporated (about 20 seconds). Add the chocolate mixture and beat to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour and beat until smooth (for about 20 seconds). In the end you should have a very fluffy and luscious cake batter.

Empty it into your prepared loaf pan and straighten the top with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
Place the pan on the low rack of your oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then transfer it to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it.

Once ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack until the cake cools. Then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely on the rack.

Serve cake as is cut into pieces, or dust it with icing sugar (it needs to be completely cool otherwise the icing sugar will melt into the cake), or glazed with icing/frosting.

You can keep it at room temperature, covered, for 4-5 days.