These posts have been taking me awhile to write recently. I have been having some health problems (especially with migraines) and it has been difficult for me to get through my days at work, let alone sit down and write a post. It makes me a bit sad because this blog brings me so much joy. I am working on getting better, but rest assured, I will always come back to post, even if it takes me some time.
A week ago from Sunday, Chris and I took our classic BFF day to a whole new level. Not that I won’t always cherish that epic BFF day where we wandered around buzzed in Georgetown for hours after brunch. I just don’t know if my 27 year old body can keep up with what my 23 year old body could do.
I guess now we do more adult things on BFF day like furniture shopping and cooking. Our latest BFF day comprised of making handmade pappardelle, a classic bolognese, and homemade cinnamon ice cream along with a fun baked apple treat. It was a big undertaking for a Sunday afternoon, but we braved the challenge.
For the bolognese, we used Marcella Hazan’s bolognese sauce. This is a recipe from The Essentials of Italian Cooking, but you can find it online on NYT Cooking. Making the bolognese was Chris’ idea, and he chose the recipe. Given that he did study abroad in Bologna, I definitely trust his judgement on this sauce.
I’ve never made a traditional bolognese, which is a slow-cooked ragu. I have made quick ragu before, but my experience is still fairly limited. So, I was really relying on Chris to make this a hit. As we were sitting and waiting for the sauce to develop, I was reminiscing with Chris about the amazing lamb ragu we had at Sfoglina for my birthday. He stopped me right there and said, “Whoa, girl! I think you may want to lower your expectations.” I get where he is coming from, as he is not a trained professional Italian chef. I do think it shows my faith in his cooking though that I could even make that comparison in my head.
A traditional bolognese has simple ingredients. In fact, other than salt and pepper, there is only one additional spice in this dish. Bolognese is an incredibly flavorful dish, so it really goes to show that these ingredients can stand on their own without a ton of spices. It is the treatment of these ingredients that makes a great, flavorful bolognese.
The key to a good bolognese is patience. You have to allow the sauce do its magic by letting it simmer and slowly break down the meat and vegetables. You might be tempted to crank up the heat and speed up the process, but trust me, don’t do that. It is so worth it to let this sauce set the pace. You eat when the sauce says it is time to eat.
After we got the sauce built and it was ready to simmer, we started on our ice cream base. This cinnamon ice cream recipe came from the cookbook Made in India by Meera Sodha. This is one of the many awesome cookbooks Chris has in his collection.
This was my first time making ice cream. Chris had bern bugging me to get an ice cream making for a while, and I finally broke down and bought one. Now, I love ice cream, possibly too much. Homemade ice cream just always seemed like so much effort to make.
In reality, making homemade ice cream is just very time consuming. You do need to make the base correctly, and you don’t want to over-churn your ice cream. Other than that, it is a lot of waiting. You have to make sure you freezer bowl is completely frozen, which can take up to 24 hours. After making the base, you have to cool it for several hours in the fridge. Then, after making the ice cream, you have to let it harder for a few hours in the freezer. It is a lot of waiting to finally get to your ice cream. I certainly understand why people just go to the store and buy ice cream.
We made our ice cream base, but the biggest challenge was turning my cinnamon stick into ground cinnamon. We used the mortar and pestle method, but that was a lot of work. I learned how unclassy of a cook I am, as Chris had to show how to properly use the pestle. I had it upside down and was trying to use it like a chisel. After we got past this step, the rest of it wasn’t so bad. If you are wondering why we chose to use a cinnamon stick instead of ground cinnamon, it was because the cookbook oh so subtly hinted that the ice cream might taste like sawdust if you use ground cinnamon.
We got the base for the ice cream made and chilling in the fridge. Then, we got to sit for a little bit and enjoy our wine. Sitting on the couch, talking, and drinking wine might be one of our favorite activities to do together. This used to be such a frequent thing for us, but ever since I moved to Bethesda and they bought their condo, this has been a much less frequent occurrence. For reference, we all used to live in the same building, so getting together for a casual evening was no big deal. Now, it is more of a planned thing, which I think can make it feel like it has more intention.
That chill time sure did go by quickly. Before I knew it, we had to move on to start making the handmade pappardelle, which is a wide, flat pasta. It could be comparable to a wider fettuccine. For the pasta dough, I used the same recipe I used to make ravioli for Pasta Fest.
General Pasta Dough Recipe
- one cup of flour
- two eggs
- one teaspoon salt
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- Add flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil to a medium mixing bowl.
- Take your index and middle fingers and gently start mixing the eggs and oil into the flour. Once the flour is mostly incorporated, take both hands and form a ball with the dough, picking up any excess flour with the ball. The dough should be somewhat sticky.
- Set the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and kneed for roughly 10 minutes.
- Divide the ball into 2-4 smaller balls. I found dividing it into 4 balls was best. If the dough balls were too big, I had trouble both holding the dough and feeding it through the machine, as it got too long. However, if you have help, it is a lot easier. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Repeat entire process depending on how many batches of dough you need to make. (I actually found it best to make only one batch of dough at a time. One batch made a perfect amount of ravioli to fit on one baking sheet, so I would make one batch place them in the freezer and then begin working on a new batch while the first ravioli were freezing.
- To roll out the dough work each dough ball into the floured surface and flatten so it can be sent through the pasta maker.
- Start with the pasta roller on the lowest setting (the one with the largest gap). Run the dough through the pasta roller. If still very sticky, sprinkle it with more flour. Then fold the dough in three like you would fold a letter to stick in an envelope. Take the folded dough and send it through the pasta roller again. Repeat the fold and roll step several times until the dough is very smooth. If you think it is good, go ahead and fold and roll it a couple more times before moving on. During this step, if the dough remains too sticky, keep dusting it with more flour. You don’t want it to get stuck in the machine. However, be careful not to add too much flour as an over-floured pasta dough will result in a tough texture once cooked.
- Now, you will roll your pasta sheet just once through each additional setting on the pasta roller, going from largest to smallest. Take the pasta sheet as is and roll it on number two. If you think it needs more flour, dust it. If not, roll it on number 3, etc. On each additional turn of the dial, your pasta sheet should get longer and thinner. Once you have carefully rolled the dough through each level, you are ready to cut it into whichever pasta you choose.
At this point, we had long, thin pasta sheets. We floured the surface of the pasta sheet (so it wouldn’t stick) and rolled them up in a log. Then, Chris cut them into strips and unrolled them, laying them out on a floured baking sheet. With fresh pasta, it is incredibly important that you keep them floured so they don’t stick together and forms clumps when you boil them.
Chris had brought this fine flour, particularly used for making pasta. However, in the first batch, I forgot to use his flour. We did use it for the second batch. Interestingly, the dough made with the specialty flour was a lot harder to roll through the pasta maker. We really struggled to get it going and even lost a couple dough balls because the dough kept breaking and ultimately got overworked.
The pasta made with the finer flour also didn’t seem to hold up as well as regular flour. One comment Chris made was that he wants to try it again with a mixture of the two flours. I would definitely be curious to see how that turns out.
At this point, the sauce had been bubbling for a few hours and the ice cream base had been chilling (though not as long as it should). However, we really needed to get this ice cream churned if we had any hope of eating it before bedtime.
I took the freezer bowl out of the freezer and poured in the ice cream base. I put everything in place and turned on the ice cream maker. It is by no means a quiet machine, but it has an open top and it is neat to get to watch the ice cream churn and see how it changes in thickness as it churns.
While the ice cream churned, we moved on to boiling the pasta. Fresh pasta takes just a few minutes to cook, so it was just a matter of dropping the noodles into boiling water and watching for the magic to happen.
To plate, I used a slotted spoon to pull the cooked pasta out of the water. I added the pasta to a white serving bowl and then started to spoon some of the bolognese onto the pasta. I took the spoon and very gently started to mix the pasta to incorporate the sauce without disturbing or breaking the pasta. Then, I continued to scoop sauce and mix it until I felt there was a good balance of pasta and sauce. I personally really like things saucy, because I, myself, am a bit saucy. Of course we also had to finish off with a heaping layer of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.
We went in for our first bowl of pasta along with a freshly opened bottle of Italian wine. After chowing down on our first round of pasta, the ice cream was ready to transfer to the freezer, so I took a break to do that. However, there was more pasta to be devoured, so we each got to enjoy a second bowl of pasta.
That second bowl of pasta definitely set me over the edge of comfortably full to stuffed. It was a good thing the ice cream needed to set, because I personally was not in the mood for movement for a bit. I just wanted to sit and digest. The second bowl of pasta was probably unnecessary, but it was just so good.
We ate the batch of pasta that was made with the regular, all-purpose flour. I felt it has a good texture and thickness. It has the right amount of chew. Chris had commented how the sauce did not stick to the pasta as much as he thought it would. I explained that in order to get sauce to stick to the pasta, you have to incorporate some water that you cooked the pasta in. Pasta likes to stick to its own starches, so by adding some pasta water into your sauce, you will get it to stick to the pasta better. However, given the amount of sauce we made, I would have had to dump in the whole pot of water into the sauce to give that effect, and at that point, we would have destroyed the sauce, as there is not supposed to be any liquid left in it.
Now, let’s talk about the sauce. Oh this sauce is soul-warming. It is the kind of dish that fills your whole body with warmth and you can feel it for hours later. The flavors west mesmerizing and absolutely screamed fall. This was a perfect dish for a Sunday afternoon in November.
We both were also fascinated with how much fat rendered during the cooking process. It was a gorgeous site to see that thick layer of fat lying on top of the sauce. That is how you know you have really pumped flavor into this sauce and allowed the meat to get nice and tender.
This sauce with the pappardelle could have been a sufficient meal in itself, but we decided not to stop there. After we had some time to digest, we started working on our apple dessert. Baking this dessert was going to allow us more time for the ice cream to harden.
I had ordered a Plated box that week and for the first time, I ordered one of the desserts: pumpkin hand pies. When I got my box however, the ingredients for hasselback apples were included. While I was disappointed that I didn’t get what I ordered, I had the ingredients for these apples, so why not make them. It also was going to pair perfectly with the cinnamon ice cream I was already planning on making that weekend.
The apples were fairly easy to make, though I did mess up a couple of my knife cuts where the apple was thinner than I thought. Overall, I did a pretty good job at getting the cuts to go mostly through the apple without slicing them off. We rubbed the apples with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon and then baked them. After the initial bake, we topped them with a streusel made of chopped pecans, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. We put that back into the oven to bake.
While the apples were baking, we made whipped mascarpone with honey and sage. After baking, we let the apples cool for a bit. I didn’t want to top these piping hot apples with an ice cream that was still very much in the soft stage.
Once cool enough, we built our dessert. We took a streusel-topped apple and added a nice dollop of the mascarpone and finished it off with a good scoop of cinnamon ice cream. It was a beautiful looking dessert.
It also was delicious. It is a sign of a really good dessert when I actually eat it with the nuts intact and don’t pick them out. I really do not like nuts of any kind. I never have. I am not as bad as I was as a child where I would actually gag if one accidentally got inside my mouth, but I still really don’t like them. In this dessert, though, they were masked my so many other ingredients (and I chopped them pretty well) that they didn’t bother me.
The ice cream was so good. Even though it didn’t have enough time to harden, I could tell that the ice cream was well-made. It was creamy and had a good amount of cinnamon flavor. It didn’t taste like sawdust! I guess it was worth it to spend all that time grinding the cinnamon stick.
The ice cream was still very soft, and it melted quickly. We were both curious to see how it would be once it had more time to harden. Since I had the ice cream maker and the ice cream was in my freezer, that meant I got to be the one to find out. Transporting ice cream just doesn’t work too well.
I will say that the ice cream set up well after some more time in the freezer. I went back and checked it before bed and then again in the morning. It was the perfect texture. When I went to eat some the next evening, it was distinctly hard serve ice cream, and it tasted great in that form.
The only real complaint I had was that I didn’t have a container well-suited for storing ice cream in the freezer, and there was a thin icy layer on top of the ice cream. Despite the name, you really want to eat a cold and creamy dessert when you have ice cream, not an icy one. What I decided to do was order some containers specifically designed for storing home made ice cream in your freezer. I am interested to see how those work when I try this next time.
Overall, this was a fantastic cooking experience. I still can’t believe we did all this in one afternoon. Writing this post has been just about as exhausting as that whole cooking process was, but it was so worth it. The food was amazing, and I had a great excuse to spend hours with my best friend. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.