Monday, February 28, 2011

brief notes from the VA wine expo

i made my way to the virginia wine expo in richmond this past sunday and managed to squeeze in about an hour of light tasting before getting to work. i approached my time at the event with a narrow focus and the goal of tasting wines from producers who were getting praises and currently setting the bar for quality in the state and who's wines i had not been able to previously try. i started my run at the king family booth to try their viognier (2009 is the current release), a wine i strongly consider the best virginia wine i've tried in the last 3 years and one of the best that i've tried in the last decade. true to form, this wine was balanced, focused, elegant and had serious concentration along with a truly remarkable texture.

next stop was the barboursville booth, where they were offering a very generous vertical of 2006-2008 cab franc reserves, a merlot (forgot the vintage... 08 maybe?), a 2008 cab sauv and three vintages of their "octagon" bordeaux blend (again, i think 06-08). of the cab francs the 07 stood out as having the most to offer in this context... all were clean, focused and showed varietal typicity, plus a consistency of quality and an unnamed "italian" influence (could that have been my imagination?... sure tasted italian). the 2006 showed the most vibrancy, but the 07 had more depth on the palate and would be the wine i would recommend from their entire lineup. the merlot was plump, fruit forward, and showed great promise... the well integrated, approachable tannins and structure of this wine would lend themselves to a wide range of pairings. the octagon blends were impressive in their concentration and consistency, with a more apparent, muscular structure set behind more delicate aromatics. barboursville manages to produce food friendly, strong showing wines with a definitive style while remaining outside the realm of "stylistic".

the most impressive wines that i tried were from blenheim... a viognier, rousanne, marsanne blend was an eye opening wine in terms of what these varieties are capable of here. very deep and quite viscous, lots of oak (100% new???) and ml structure/mouth-feel without the faintest amount of vanilla, toast, butter or any of the other signature flavors/aromas that typically show up in wines receiving these cellar treatments. this wine was as intellectually stimulating as it was drinkable... really it was amazing. they offered two red blends (sorry i can't recall the compositions... pretty sure one was strictly bordeaux and the other had some syrah), the bordeaux blend was a bit more tannic and linear, but both were fruit forward, approachable and had nice depth and concentration. all of their wines were clean and well made. based on this tasting i will be making a trip to the winery to learn more about their process.

i missed my opportunity to taste a few wines that i was hoping to, but overall the experience left me feeling like virginia as a whole is getting a bit more focused and the quality bar is set higher than ever.

unfortunately these types of tasting scenarios don't usually lend themselves to contemplative or in depth experiences with the wines, but that's why we buy bottles and take them home.

on the home front there's not much to report wine-wise or other-wise. over the weekend we drank an interesting 2005 toros collio tocai friulano (a native white from northeastern italy) that was deemed "architectural"... lots of textures and sheer edges, but the aromatics and flavor profile were fairly muted. this wine didn't strike me as having purity of flavor as much as generally lacking. there were some glimpses of dried grass/hay, some early summer, dusty road minerality and a thin veil of nuttiness, but i kept expecting this wine to show up and sadly it never did. maybe it was too restrained? either way, i have little experience with this variety and would like to explore it more, but for the meals we paired it with (a mushroom, garlic, olive oil and white wine "pesto" pasta and, on day two, crab and fresh veggie sushi) i'd sooner reach for an off-dry riesling, a pinot gris, a number of alsatian/german/austrian whites, or even a vernaccia di san gimignano like the one we had a couple weeks ago.

while at a tasting in woodbridge over the weekend i got a chance to purchase some finger lakes wines (from a very comprehensive selection at wegman's) that i've been looking forward to trying for a long time but have been unable to locate... can't wait.

Monday, February 21, 2011

weekend wine tasting

friday night was a rare (ok, unprecedented) occasion, as the bird had flown off for the evening leaving me and the chick to fend for ourselves. no big deal, we were armed with pasta and chianti.

dinner was simple; spaghetti with mushrooms marinara that had plenty of time to stew while we enjoyed the warm evening outside, chasing the dog, laughing and clapping.

i opened a 2005 scopetani chianti rufina riserva stellario as we were getting ready to sit down. this wine had plenty of classic italian rustic charm... a muscular, earthy, soil scented nose with a deep, dried red fruit core and hints of mushrooms mingling with lighter cherry notes. a little bit of menthol, alcohol and a subtle oak presence, but nothing overwhelming. the wine was very linear on the palate and the tannins were tight. at first i thought that the wine could have used some more time in the cellar to allow it to relax, but it came around quickly to reveal a good amount of dried fruit and more perceptible oak "sweetness" along with some leather. the wine (particularly the acidity) did pair well with the meal, although the tannins remained a little abrasive and distracting. this seemed like a fairly average chianti, made in the more modern, extracted tuscan style... i'm not sure what 2005 was like in tuscany but this wine would have me guessing at a warmer vintage. over the next two nights i revisited this wine and it gradually(?) became a bit more dis-jointed and oxidized to the point of being labeled "an old wet stump with mushrooms growing out of it" and compared with childhood mud-based witches brews.

we traveled up to charlottesville on saturday with a plan to visit three wineries. we started the day at wintergreen where we tasted through their lineup very quickly. we tried a chardonnay, a viognier, a petite manseng/traminette blend (that they referred to as their answer to riesling), a verdelho, and a couple cab francs before finishing with an apple wine and a raspberry wine. the verdelho stood out, and the younger cab franc was a decent effort, but none of these wines made a positive impression on either of us and several were flawed (obvious so2 on the more recent vintages, VA and even oxidation on some of the older wines).

next we made our way to the flying fox vineyard's tasting room. the pace here was much more comfortable and we leisurely tasted through their chardonnay, viognier, a vidal blanc/traminette blend, a cab franc, trio (a cab franc, merlot, petit verdot blend) and their petit verdot. the wines all showed focus and were clean. the owner's of the vineyard were pouring the wines for us and were very knowledgeable and happy to talk to us about their work. they poured us a side by side comparison of the same wines that had been opened a few hours apart to help give us some insight into their oak preferences and how the wines evolve. the viognier was focused, expressive and made in a seemingly transparent style that allowed it to express delicate floral aromatics with a few lighter tree fruit accents. a well defined, lush fruit core carried the palate through seamless transitions and on into the lengthy finish. their cabernet franc was the highlight of the reds for me... a lighter style with highlighted acidity and impressive vibrancy. mostly bright cherries and a bit of tobacco and other dried leaves on the nose. the palate lacked serious depth, but was quite focused and bright with ample ripe red fruit and a shade of leafy green to the core. the tannins were present but tamed and took a back seat to the fruit in this wine. the other reds were a bit lean for their more aggressive tannin and oak profiles in my opinion, but any of these wines would be welcomed at my table. the idea of their cab franc and the suggested pairing of roasted goose has inspired the search for just such a bird.

after our visit at flying fox we were ready for lunch and decided to have our picnic up the road at king family vineyards. we brought a classic road trip lunch; italian hogies (chewy baguette with provolone, capicollo and sopressata salami) in hopes of pairing the sandwiches with a cool rose or something new. we had tried several of the king family wines over the past few months and were excited to try their current releases. all of charlottesville must have had the same idea... the parking areas were completely full save for one last spot all the way at the end of the lot. we decided to have our hogies and pickles in the car and ultimately concluded that an over-crowded tasting room was not really what the chick (who had been quite patient with us all day) deserved.

the evening was relatively quiet... a fun supper at the buffalo store in riner, paired with iced tea.

the following evening we finished off the last of the chianti (now in full blown muddy mushroom mode) with a bowl of chili over brown rice and a side of fried okra. a much more sensible pairing was the 2010 amrhein (virginia) pinot grigio, which, with it's .5% RS, approachable, fruit forward roundness and cleansing acidity made it a very complimentary match, able to stand up to (and meld with) the chili and neatly cut through the okra.

cheers!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

tbilvino and the sweet trend

For a couple who rarely drink sweet wine we seem to have opened about a year's worth in the past few days. Both wines from Sunday night were sweet as were the two we enjoyed last night. Dinner was a throwback to the summer... really to childhood summers; Hamburgers! Some might have called them sliders, but we kept it "classic":

Bright's beef (one of the longest running local farms around) seasoned with s&p, garlic, parsley and of course a splash of red wine

Home made rolls (sesame semolina, 3 day ferment)

The "classic toppings": lettuce, onion, dill pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo for the bird

Served with our house version of mashed potatoes (which is so much fun to make and eat, but usually requires a meat partner) - red potatoes boiled with a parsnip until soft, then mashed together with olive oil, s&p and chopped green onion... I usually end up adding a bit of the cooking water back in to keep it "texturally sound"

The first wine was "night two" of the 2008 Manfred Breit Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett (Mosel) - I was expecting this wine to be dry or close, and while it was balanced, the sweetness was much more perceptible on the second day. Still, beautiful acidity and a very juicy style for a kabinett... loads of nectarine with some tropical hints and a strong stone quality that was the real backdrop for this wine... almost as if the stone were carved in such a way as to allow the bright, golden fruit inside to seep out and delicately coat it. The fruit had a strong presence but certainly played a supporting role in this well crafted wine. This was a great contrasting/cleansing pairing with both the potatoes and the burger, cutting right through the fat and refreshing the palate after a quick exclamation point of melding juiciness.

The second wine was a 2007 Tbilvino Khvanchkhara (sweet red made from indigenous grapes Aleksandrouli and Mujuretuli) from Georgia (the country) and I'm not sure if it's imported into this country, although there was some English on the label. I had tried a Saperavi (another native Georgian variety) not too long ago and found it very interesting and expressive, plus the geek factor was way high due to it's place of origin and the fact that it was fermented and aged (with months of skin contact) in amphorae. Based on that wine I was very interested to try the Khvanchkara. The wine had an impressive nose... not too deep or rich, but fine, with soil and earthy notes on top of an understated but well framed red fruit core. It reminded me of a Primitivo or a Portuguese table wine. This wine was clean and clear on the palate, but the sweetness was too much for me and the food. Solid cherry fruit and a bit of chocolate, but the acid and tannins (if there were any) were buried. I'll revisit the wine tonight, but don't have high hopes for a pairing... maybe it will work as dessert.


2/16, revisit

Over a relaxing dinner last night, the bird and I revisited both of these wines...

The meal was simple, arborio rice cooked with tumeric, olive oil and fennel over massaged spinach, topped with roasted root veggies (parsnips, beets and sweet potato coated with olive oil, s&p, and cider vinegar). A tiny side of cucumber and black olive salad rounded out the meal.

We started tasting the Khvanchkara while cooking... it seemed to have come into focus, showing more tree bark and what I described as "crayon box" on the nose. The tannins peeked out from wherever they were hiding and the sweetness took a step back. The wine paired well with the food, especially the beets and parsnips, making for a very complimentary match. Overall my lasting impression of this wine is that it is obviously a local style and has a solid place with appropriate food.

The first sniff of the Riesling set off the "reduction" alarm in my mind, but that blew off quickly to reveal a bit more evolution. The nectarine was joined by more obvious stone fruit notes as well as a bit of lime. Some interesting descriptors were thrown out, and for some folks these lines might sound like a turnoff - "this wine smells like dogs" - "I get wet wool" - "___ used to use puppy breath as a descriptor and I can see that in this wine" - but these qualities were more intriguing and novel than off-putting. The stone quality on the palate had diminished a bit and while I couldn't detect any overt oxidation, the wine seemed more awkward and clunky. Still a solid and enjoyable pairing with the meal, showing the versatility of low alcohol whites with good acidity.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

wine recap

Well, I'm feeling inspired so maybe we'll pick up a little steam on the blog.

I would like to recount some of the better wines we've had at home over the past few months... let's see how it goes:

Most recently we were very impressed by a 2009 Chateau Morrisette (Virginia) Viognier that was a gift from a friend. I didn't have high hopes for this wine and upon opening it initially thought it didn't have much to offer and tasted like citric acid and water. I recorked it and left it on the counter overnight, planning to cook with it. We decided to taste it again on day two and it was stunning! Hugely floral, but well balanced with just enough fruit and viscosity to be a great example of what Virginia can do with a Viognier. I'm not sure which/how many vineyards they sourced from but this was a really impressive wine and I aim to learn more about it.

We had a lovely Sancerre a few nights before that and an even better Pouilly Fume about a week ago, keeping the almost flawless track record for small production Loire wines going. Sadly I took no notes and took the bottles to the recycling. Great deals though, neither bottle was over $15.

A 2008 Benton Lane Pinot Noir First Class, was a bit of a disappointment... although plenty ripe (no surprise for the vintage), it tasted a little too unfocused, with fruit spilling out all over the place and a seemingly haphazard approach to the oak regimen. By day two the oak was overpowering the wine completely. My guess is that they jumped at the chance to release a special bottling in a special vintage but in doing so missed the mark.

A couple weeks ago we went on a Vinho Verde kick and had a blast trying a few different wines, none of which was over $8. The favorite was the current release from Broadbent (with a pretty flower on the label... ooooooh). Every wine we tried was super crisp, precise and ultimately paired well with whatever we tried it with (a beautiful piece of poached fish, an earthy massaged kale salad, pigs in a blanket with sweet potato fries and ketchup).

We drank a couple vintages (2005 & 2006) of Frederic Mabileau's St. Nicolas de Bourgueil (Loire Cab Franc) and the difference in the vintages was striking... of course, now I can't remember which was which, but I think the 05 was the riper of the two and it showed... much more extracted, bordering on jammy, which is not why we drink Loire Cab Francs, but the wines were well made and it was a great lesson in vintage variation. Both wines showed poise, but the 06 was much more lively and showed a glimpse of that tension that the Loire can deliver. If I had to lay one down I'd choose the 06.

In keeping with the Loire, a few weeks back we tried a pair of wines from Domaine de la Garreliere, a declassified Sauvignon (le Blanc) and a Cab Franc (le Rouge). I think both were from 07. I would happily try any of the wines I could find from this estate if I were to come across them again. Both were a bit rustic, but it came across as very intentional. I would guess they will smooth out in time, but as they are I really enjoyed drinking them. Again, lively and taught with very well balanced acidity.

My brother and I shared a Muscated sevre et Maine (western Loire, Melon de Bourgogne) over dinner at a fancy pants farm to table restaurant that is haunting me to this day, partly because it was great, but mostly because I have no idea who the producer was... either way, it was amazingly good for a $20 bottle at a restaurant whose list starts at about $30 and has an unusually high markup. Paired with super fresh, buttery clams and a white anchovy ceasar salad this was a knockout combo, only one-upped by the second half of the meal when we shared an older first growth Bordeaux paired with lamb shoulder and a NY strip.

Other fun wines we've tried lately were a pair of 2007 Virginia Aglianicos, one from Villa Appalaccia and one from Amrhein... we didn't get too in depth with these as they were opened at a dinner party, but they were amazingly different... the Amrhein was much more fruit forward with plenty of spice/pepper and a solid tannic backbone, but it was a bit creamy and less focused than I would like. The Villa App. was made in their classic house style with a very resinous, piney quality, restrained, bright cherry fruit and well integrated tannins... I could see the Amrhein winning in a comparative tasting thanks to it's lushness, but for dinner I'd take the Villa Appalaccia... which is what I ended up enjoying with a hearty jambalaya.

Outside of Virginia and the Loire, we've been enjoying the typical northern Italian reds, but no examples to run on about... every time we have a wine from GD Vajra (Piedmont) it's a winner, from their Pinot to their Langhe Rosso. Brigaldara has been a go to Veneto producer for us. Of course any time I come across a bottle from Elio Grasso it's a sure bet.

We did have a very (surprisingly) good Vernaccia di San Gimignano recently. This wine offered a change of pace from the typical tree fruit driven whites we tend to encounter. It was very textural but stopped just short of becoming waxy or oily on the palate and had pleasant "drying hay" and "partly cloudy sky" characters on the nose. I know it was pushing 13+% alcohol, but showed no signs of heat at all. I can't recall the producer, but I know where to find it and will be seeking it out again.

We happened upon an inexpensive bottle of red Portuguese table wine from the Dao that was earthy and engaging with great structure and fruit, a relative a steal at $8. It made me miss inexpensive Barberas.

Coming up we're planning (and in fact started last night) a bit of a Riesling excursion. We've got a Mosel Kabinette and Spatlese from the same producer (and vineyard) and an older 94 Spatlese to try out.

If anything else springs to mind the next time I open the cork drawer I'll be sure to jot it down here.

Cheers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

valentines 11

Following a beautiful day with the family (and a fun trip to the wine shop), we settled in a bit later than usual to make supper. On the menu: an asian themed salad, shrimp and grits and a baked banana brulee'. Accompanying the meal were two outstanding wines, a 2007 Braida Giacomo Bologna Brachetto D'acqui (a northern Italian sweet sparkling red) and a 2002 Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon "Les 4 Villages" (a Loire chenin blanc), both bought for a relative steal.

The salad was simple... massaged spinch (olive oil and salt massaged into the leaves) topped with fresh red bell pepper slices, green onions, sesame seeds, raw, thinly sliced mushrooms and a shitake dressing.

The shrimp was a bit of a project, but one well worth the effort.

We used:
2/3 cup white hominy grits

3/4 lb large raw shrimp
~2 oz country ham

1 - 2 tbs olive oil
1 small onion
1 celery stalk
2 cloves of fresh garlic

3 cups water
1 tbs tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp dried thyme
~1/2 of a dried citrus peel

2 tbs butter
1 tbs flour

salt
pepper
crush red pepper

1 green onion
1-2 oz. shredded Irish cheddar (optional)

The basics work for this dish goes something like:
Make a stock from the oil, shrimp peels, onions, celery, water, tomato and spices.
Cook the grits separately.
Strain the stock, and then reduce the liquid into a gravy (with the butter and flour whisked in at the end).
Cook the ham, shrimp and some of the onion separately.
Combine the shrimp with the gravy, then serve it over the grits... sprinkling green onions and cheese on at the end.

The prep work:
First-
peel the shrimp, saving the shells
chop 1/2 - 2/3 of the onion, mince the rest (set aside minced portion)
chop the celery
crush/chop the garlic
crack the peppercorns

While the stock is cooking-
combine the butter and flour into a paste (helps if it's room temp)
dice the ham
chop the green onion
grate the cheese


The action:
Stock-
Heat the oil (medium heat) in a small pot or sauce pan and add the celery, chopped onion, garlic and shrimp shells. Cook until shells are crispy and veggies are tender (8-10 min).
Add the water (how much depends on how long you want to cook this... keep in mind that you will be reducing this into a gravy, so up to 4 cups and as little as 2 cups will work), tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, citrus peel and a dash of salt. Bring to a simmer and keep simmering, partially covered for as long as you like (30 minutes is good, an hour is better, but really you can get away with 15-20 minutes if you're in a hurry).

While this is simmering you can finish the prep work.

Grits-
Grits usually take about 3 parts water (and a dash of salt) to 1 part grits (a good serving for one person is about 1/3 cup). Bring water to a boil, turn heat to low and stir in grits... keep on low, stirring occasionally, you can stir in some pepper if you like. The grits can sit on low heat for a while... just make sure they don't stick to the pan and add water if you need to. As the meal gets close to finished you may add some butter or cheese to the grits if you like (letting it melt on top so that it doesn't stick).

After the grits are cooking and before starting the shrimp the stock should be strained into another medium sized pot and kept at a simmer. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of liquid. The tricky part of this meal is cooking the shrimp and reducing the stock at the same time. Once the shrimp are underway turn up the heat and monitor the stock closely. You will whisk the butter/flour mixture into the stock (to create a "gravy") right before the shrimp are done.

Shrimp-
Start cooking the ham in a pan over medium-low heat (5-8 minutes). Turn the heat up to medium, add the shrimp and continue to saute for about 1 minute or until the shrimp are about half cooked. Add the minced onion and continue to cook until the shrimp appear mostly done, then add dashes of salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Cook for about half a minute and then remove from heat (my goal is to get the shrimp just cooked). Combine with the reduced stock when it has reached desired consistency.

Divide the grits into bowls and then top with the shrimp and gravy, followed by the chopped green onions and cheese (if desired).

This meal paired beautifully with both the brachetto and the chenin blanc. Both were somewhat sweet but maintained great acidity which helped them to compliment and cut through the richness of the meal. Other good pairing choices might be an off-dry riesling or another aged white or for a more hedonistic approach maybe a creamy chardonnay.

Cheers!

Monday, November 9, 2009

weekend activity

well the weekend did not yield much in the way of culinary excitement as i mainly stuck to leftovers, pasta and raw fruits and veggies (with one exception that we'll get to in a minute). some of the fruits were a bit exciting... had my first passion fruit or lilikoi... very nice, if a bit tart. had a persimmon that was superb. if you can track one (or more) down give an arkansas black apple a try... these are pretty neat apples. with the season now there have been all sorts of different apples and pears popping up at our local market and we've been evaluating each type as it shows up... our favorite apples right now are ambrosia and liberty. the arkansas black is worth trying, but a bit of a meal in itself. as pears go, the small seckel pear is a great treat as are the starkrimsons.

as far as the rye recipe, that will be a work in progress... took the weekend off from baking.

yesterday morning things did get a little exciting in the kitchen with a request for crepes. the request was granted and here's what we ended up with:

macsweeney's crepes:

-1/2 cup unbleached flour (i'm sure other types of flour would work fine... and i may try whole wheat or rice or spelt at some point)

-3/4 cup milk ( i ended up using 1/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup rice milk... any combination of milks/milk substitutes should work)

-1 egg (may try a vegan version with two whites sometime)

-1/2 tsp salt

this makes enough batter for three to four crepes... more like three.

mix all of these ingredients until you've got a nice smooth batter and then cover and set it aside for at least 20 minutes (plenty of time to get your topping(s) ready). if you've got a cast iron skillet then you'll want to put it in the oven at this point and turn the oven to 350.

for the topping i whipped up a banana (a trick is to smash it as much as possible while still in the peel), a few tablespoons of yogurt, some crushed walnuts and a some black currants with a little, tiny bit of maple syrup. vanilla would have been good now that i think about it. i also cut a few strawberries and kiwis into heart shapes for the bird.

i like my toppings chilled, but that can cool the crepes down, so i guess it's up to you what to do with the toppings.

once the batter has rested you can pull the cast iron out of the oven (turn the oven off or to low) and place it on the stove and set the burner to about medium. oil or butter both work to keep the crepes from sticking... i went with butter this time but coconut oil would be just as good.

pour the batter into the pan starting at the center and spiraling outwards so that you have a nice thin layer. cook for a couple minutes and then flip and cook for an additional minute. i stack them on a plate or piece of foil in the still warm oven to await topping.

once your batter is gone you should have a nice stack of crepes that you can top however you like... let me know how you top them and of course, enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

old favorite 11/05

a favorite in our house and a meal we enjoy usually more than once a week is pasta. to say it like that doesn't do it justice though... we make our pasta and we take our time and we love it! this meal can be the definition of simplicity or it can be an extravagant indulgence, but it's always good and it's always fun.

last nights menu was somewhere in the middle...

fresh pasta noodles (about like fettuccine) with a home made red sauce focused on onion, garlic and kalamata olives, a side of steamed purple kale and a slice of garlic toast (courtesy of our soon to be "daily" light rye loaf).

if you're making a red sauce it always helps to start there... everything else is quick, but sauce gets better the longer it cooks (cooks, not burns).

started with:

-half of a medium sized white onion, sliced julienne

-five small cloves of garlic sliced the same

-a small bit of bell pepper that was laying around, sliced long and thin

-about 8 or 10 some-what dried kalamata olives, pitted then quartered longways

-quarter cup fresh italian parsley, finely chopped

-enough olive oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of the sauce pan

-dashes of salt, black pepper and dried oregano

heated the oil for just a minute over medium, then added the onion, bell pepper, garlic and olives and let them cook for a few minutes before adding the parsley and other spices. the goal here is to integrate the flavors of the veggies and in particular to caramelize and soften the onions to add a little sweetness to the sauce.

tomatoes are a personal choice, as are all ingredients... for this sauce i was aiming to make something light and simple and avoid a trip to the market (otherwise fresh or over-ripe tomatoes on sale are the way to go), so i used what was in the fridge, which was:

-most of a 16 oz can of crushed tomatoes

-about a 1/4 jar of pasta sauce

this yielded only enough sauce for about three servings, and i could have opened another can of crushed or diced tomatoes but decided to save that for when i really had everything i wanted in place.

once the onions were nice and clear and everything seemed cooked the tomatoes went in along with:

-another pinch of salt

-another dash of black pepper

-a few sprinkles of dried oregano

that's it... cover and lower the heat once it starts bubbling, stir occasionally to keep from burning and the sauce is on auto-pilot until everything else is ready.

now the fun part... the pasta! we were down to about a serving of what we had made last weekend so it was time to make more. this recipe makes enough for about four to five servings, assuming you're not cooking for any 16-21 year old men who eat like wolves. we adapted this recipe over many attempts and it has become the standard and favorite... it can be used for fresh pasta to be cooked immediately, it can be made into ravioli, it can be dried as long noodles, short noodles, fat noodles, bowties, anything you like. serve it with just salt and pepper and a few slices of fresh tomato, tossed with oil, garlic and basil, or loaded with your favorite red sauce... it's great all around. we usually make it once a week, eating half of it fresh and drying the other half for later. this recipe can easily be doubled to yield enough dried pasta for two weeks without much more time or work.

macsweeney's egg free pasta:

*-3/4 cup semolina flour

*-3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

-1/2 cup water

-about 1 tablespoon olive oil

-about 1/2 teaspoon salt

*the flour percentages can be altered and you can use whole wheat or other flours if you like... this is a good starting point to get the technique down and then of course you can make it your own... another option is to substitute some or all of the oil for a pesto to give your noodles a little color and extra flavor. have fun.

the two important factors in making this dough are time and moisture... you want the dough to be nice and firm, but still retain a bit of moisture... here's how to do it:

mix the flours and salt together with a fork in a large glass or metal bowl. add the oil and mix it around a bit, it will form little clumps, this is good. add the water and continue to mix as well as you can with the fork for a minute or so. there will likely still be plenty of loose flour... now you start mixing by hand. try your best to get a homogeneous mixture by basically kneading the dough on the bottom of the bowl... you can knead on the counter, but i like to keep it contained. after a couple minutes you should have a solid dough ball... you may need to make a slight adjustment either way with water or flour, but it should be close... if it's still grainy, add a teaspoon of water... still sticky, pinch of flour. knead the dough for a good five plus minutes until it seems to develop a nice workable consistency. shape the the dough into a ball roughly the size of a baseball. wrap it in a damp, not wet, cloth and let it rest for at least five minutes, ten is best. you can experiment with the kneading times and resting times to find what works for you, but without a good rest the dough won't roll out nicely. the purpose of the cloth is to keep the dough moist... it will start to dry out pretty quick, so even when rolling it out i keep the portions waiting to be rolled wrapped in the cloth.

after the dough has rested it's time to start shaping it... for the most part long, wide noodles are easiest, except for ravioli which is by far the easiest and most fun. we'll save ravioli for another time.

to make long noodles i start by dividing the main dough ball into manageable sections... what's manageable? depends on how much counter space you have and how big your rolling pin is... i usually divide it into thirds or quarters. have some flour handy as it really helps in keeping the counter smooth and the noodles from sticking to each other. once you've got your piece to be worked, flour it up and start roughly shaping out a flat square or rectangle. with a dusting of flour on the counter you can begin rolling it out into a square or rectangle. once the dough begins to take on the shape of a "sheet" be sure to keep things floured or it may stick when rolling, causing it to fold or tear. noodle thickness is up to you... the thicker they are the longer they take to dry (doesn't apply if you're eating them fresh), the thinner they are the more fragile and more likely to break and mash together. you'll figure it out... to start, err on the thick side... it will make rolling the noodles much easier. once you've attained your desired thickness make sure that there's a good coating of flour on the sheet and (if you're making long noodles) start at one end and gently roll the sheet up... keep it snug and be very gentle. leave an inch or so "tail" on the end for the next step, which is... cutting. with a floured knife, and starting at one end of the roll, firmly, quickly chop through the dough at the desired thickness of your noodles. you want to be careful and quick so that the dough can easily be unrolled by picking up the tail. if you've done it right, the dough will basically unroll itself... if the sheet was too thin or there wasn't enough flour on the sheet before rolling or the roll got smashed in the cutting process then you may have to start over... cut a little way into the roll and check how they're performing.

that's it really! this technique requires a little practice, and common sense, but not too much.

once you've started to accumulate a few cut noodles you may start thinking about how to handle them or keep them until they're ready for cooking. we usually hang ours from a long wooden spoon held up by two wine bottles. you can rig all sorts of things, but the important factor is to keep them separated so that they can dry or wait to be cooked without sticking to each other. a floured surface works fine if you've got the space, and you can always stack floured cloths.

as far as cooking them, it's just like cooking dried pasta except that it only takes a minute in boiling water (with a drop of oil and pinch of salt). if you've dried some it takes a few minutes longer.

one thing about these noodles... they should be treated gently and not allowed to sit in a strainer in the sink or they will break and stick together. i drain them gently and then use a fork to place them lightly onto the waiting plates.

as far as the rest of our menu, it doesn't get much simpler than steamed kale... after cutting out the main rib at the center of each leaf, tear or chop it up a bit and put it in the pan or pot with about a quarter inch of water and turn the heat on medium high until you smell the kale (about 3-4 minutes), cut the heat, stir the kale around to make sure it looks good (should look much brighter and shrunk up a bit), drain the water and salt if desired.

the garlic toast was equally simple... sliced bread with oil (or butter) and either finely chopped fresh garlic or garlic powder and a little bit of oregano or parsley if you like. toast it. enjoy it with your red sauce!

enjoy! let me know what you think and what kind of wine you have with it!