Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Flavorful Pasta and Re-invigorated Sourdough Starter

May 19, 2013

Spring Vegetable Pasta
Sourdough Almost No-knead Bread
2011 Sterling Central Coast Chardonnay
Strawberries and Biscuits

Spring Vegetable Pasta from Cook's Illustrated

I like variety in many things, including my cooking. From week to week I rotate through various proteins as my main course. If I haven't had beef in a while then I'll look for a beef recipe. In this regard I think of pasta as an equal to beef, pork, and chicken as a main course. Growing up, we always had pasta served with a tomato-based sauce. Even then I didn't eat it. My sister Deanna and I would always have something else when the rest of the family ate spaghetti. Now that I enjoy and appreciate pasta dishes, there are many that are new to me that I look forward to trying.

This meal featured a version of pasta primavera, or pasta with spring vegetables. It's similar to a dish I prepared last summer, but it uses a different pasta, prepared in a different way, and mixed with different vegetables. It's the same, only different. The pasta is toasted before being cooked in wine and a vegetable broth. This combination gives the bell-shaped campanelle a real nice, complex flavor. The vegetables were crisp and fresh but being all green the dish lacked somewhat in visual appeal. I think more vegetables for the amount of pasta would have been good.

It had been over six months since I last used my sourdough starter. For all that time it sat in the back of the refrigerator, neglected. It wasn't pretty, a thick layer of alcohol had collected on top  a product of the fermentation process that occurs naturally in the starter) and it had developed a grey tinge. Fortunately, starter is not only hearty but it is sufficiently acidic that the growth of bacteria and mold is inhibited. Thus even though it looked bad, it smelled OK and I was confident it was safe.  I took it out of the refrigerator, stirred it, fed it with equal parts flour and water, and let it stand at room temperature all day. The starter came to life, expanding and bubbling as the yeast went to work on the flour. I fed it again in the evening and the following morning it was even more active, all foamy on top and with no traces of the grey color.

For dinner I made a loaf of sourdough bread. As I have done before, I used the recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread but I replaced the ¼ teaspoon of yeast with ¼ cup of starter. After the dough sat overnight I was concerned that it hadn't risen enough. Even after proofing, the loaf of bread looked  too short and fat. However, it baked up really nicely with good oven spring leading to the usual excellent crispy crust and a chewy open crumb. The bread had a more pronounced sourdough flavor than I recall from previous attempts to make sourdough suggesting that over the 1+ years that I've had it the flavor has continued to build and improve.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake as my mom used to make it. She made drop biscuits using the recipe on the BisQuick box. Craving a dessert from my childhood, I bought a box of BisQuick and mixed up some biscuits. I enjoy the crisp crust of the warm, fresh biscuits and the way they soak up the strawberry juice. To prepare the berries, the calyx (i.e. the stem) is removed with a grapefruit spoon (a recent tip I read about, it works great). Half of the berries were quartered and the other half mashed. Some sugar was added and they were left to sit for a few hours at room temperature to release more juice and to absorb the sugar. These early-season berries aren't the sweetest.

We got a lot of meals out of this pasta dish. It keeps very well and can just be warmed up in the microwave oven and served. The pasta keeps its texture and if anything the flavors improve. 


  1. Did you make your own whipped cream to go with the shortcake? Chill metal bowl and mixer blades in the frig., then pour heavy cream into mixer bowl and beat it up! Add sugar to taste! MMMMMMMMM.

  2. No, I usually use whipped cream from a can. It's much more convenient though I do like fresh whipped cream, too. But no Cool Whip, it's not even a dairy product.