09 July 2010

The magic of pasta. And chocolate. Consecutively, not concurrently, that is.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

These past few (obscenely hot and muggy) days since the joint birthday cookout has seen our two refrigerators packed full of side salads. Some were made by me, but the pasta salad was made by my father-- following his aunt's recipe. It was so good, I had it for breakfast, lunch, and snacks until it was gone. It is so good, it was even worth some hives (I polished off the bit without scallions he had set aside for me and had moved on to the "regular" version; I'm deathly allergic to onions, but can get away with eating scallions for now as long as I'm okay with a few hours' worth of hives and scratching like a dog with fleas). Seriously, the pasta salad looks bland, perhaps, but it's packed full of a balanced, light flavour that is perfect for this hot weather.

As an interlude to my devouring of the pasta salad, I mixed it up a bit with some of the birthday cake I made for my husband. I make it every year for him because he loves chocolate a lot-- perhaps even more than he loves me!-- and this is a family favourite that my aunt has made every Thanksgiving and every Easter since I can remember. It's incredibly rich, but if you can keep it cool during these hot summer months, it is a very refreshing dessert and a little bit goes a long way. It's one of the few times my husband isn't willing to share his food with me and, if there are only two slices left, will go against his norm and give me the smallest piece!

Aunt Margie's Simple Pasta Salad
source: Margaret Bučar
yield: roughly a bit over 1 pound

1 lb elbow pasta (we prefer Barilla pasta; especially their elbows, which have grooves to help "catch" the flavour of the other ingredients)
2 bell peppers, chopped into 1/4" and 1/2" inch pieces (we use 1 red; 1/2 orange; 1/2 green)1 bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 bottle Good Seasons Italian Dressing fully mixed with oil, water, vinegar (or your preferred Italian dressing; I really like Newman's Own-- no HFCS!)
4 hardboiled eggs, chopped
mayonnaise (eyeball amount for correct texture/degree of moisture-- i.e. just enough to coat the pasta and bind all the ingredients together)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook elbows for minimum minutes (7), tossing in salt just before the water boils. Drain the pasta and return it to a cooled pot or large bowl; while pasta still hot, stir in Italian dressing and put the pasta in the fridge until cold (take care if fridge shelves are glass!) Do not skimp on the dressing! (Though for a double recipe, I add 1-1/2 bottles of dressing.) Chop up and mix peppers and scallions (can do ahead if you cover and refrigerate). Hard-boil eggs (put eggs in room temp water in pan until eggs and water are the same temperature. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Remove pan from heat, let sit for 10 minutes covered. Remove eggs, cool in ice water until room temp. Should be easy to peel.) Do not slice/dice yet.

When elbows cool, mix in peppers and scallions. Add salt and pepper. Mix in mayo until seems right (again: moist but not swimming in mayo.) Slice/dice hardboiled egg and mix in to pasta. (Add salt and/or pepper to taste if you feel the egg addition has changed the flavour balance.) Refrigerate, covering securely to avoid drying out. Wait at least 1 hour before serving cool so that flavours have a chance to meld and develop.

Chocolate Satin Cake

source: Nabisco via Lois Dawson (my aunt a.k.a. Tàtà)
yield: 1 round 14" x 2-1/2" cake


One package of chocolate wafer cookies, ground fine (some say these are hard to find, but I have always managed to find them in the cookie aisle of my local grocery store)

½ cup melted butter


1 lb. semi sweet chocolate - melted and cooled (I *love* the Lindt semisweet 10 oz. bars for this cake)

2 whole eggs

4 eggs separated

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup confectioners sugar

For the crust: Combine the crushed cookies and butter and press into a spring form pan, being sure that the crust extends at least halfway up the side of the pan-- aside from giving the cake structure once it's out of the springform, this also ensures that you don't end up with a bottom crust so thick that you can't cut/chew through it. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling.

Note: I tend to use the bigger spring form pan (about 14" diameter). The smaller one makes the cake too high/dense and much too rich-- this "shorter" cake is plenty rich as it is, believe me!-- but it is really a matter of personal preference.

For the filling: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring continuously. When the chocolate has cooled just a bit, add the chocolate to the 2 whole eggs and the 4 egg yolks. Combine until well blended (chocolate will look very "oily" at this point). In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold gently into the chocolate mixture. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar. Fold the cream into the chocolate mixture. Poor into the crust and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream just before serving, if so desired. This cake lends itself quite well to experimentation with flavoured whipped cream!

Note: the key to this cake is having the patience to take the time to gently fold the egg whites and whipped cream into the chocolate so that you end up with a light, fluffy, and well-blended chocolate mousse-like filling. This process is where the "satin" in the title comes from and is well-worth the extra effort!

1 comment:

  1. I will eat pasta everyday, pretty much anyway you want to make it.....and that cake...wow....wow....wow.....oh how I do love chocolate!!!