Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pi Approximation Day

Today is the 22 of July, 22/7, which incidentally is the approximation of Pi, π, and a long time back on actual Pi day (14 March, 3.14) it was suggested that on Pi approximation day we should eat approximations of Pie. Which are more fun and inventive than real pies. My approximation of pies seems to have an Italian theme, with a main course of pizza and 'rice pie', which I have recently learnt is generally called timballo. Back in New Zealand I had an Italian cookbook, I think it might have been an old Woman's Weekly one, with a lot of recipes that I never tried, but one that I still always wanted to try involved lining a pie dish with sliced courgette and then packing it full of cooked rice and baking it to get a slice-able pie-like dish. So this week I have been searching the internet and I did not find the exact image that I had in my head, but what I did find is much better. It seems that a timballo is basically a pie, but there is way more room for variation of the crust. You could use pastry of course but also pasta or rice, and then you fill it with something and put more 'crust' on top. So my version will include rice, already cooked into a risotto, bound with egg to make a proper crust, and filled with a mix of vegetables. As for pizza, that needs no explanation, clearly it is a form of pie with no sides and no top otherwise why would pizza-pie be in a song?

Finally, my dessert creation is something that I have wanted to make for a very long time but I just never got around to it - there is not always so much opportunity to make big decadent desserts and the opportunity for this one never arose. But I remained determined to try it and so here was my opportunity, finally! This recipe is from Cadbury's cookbook, the more recent version. The old cookbook is much better but it does lack this one recipe. My mother brought me this book back when I was in high school and my cooking obsession was just beginning. At the time she worked in a school or some such place, I can't remember where, but at home all educational facilities seem to be part of some book-selling thing where every month a selection of new books is on display in the staff-room for people to browse, and if they like them they can order a copy. So she brought me a cookbook and I am finally going to make that one amazing, intriguing recipe, Velvet Pie. I told a friend of it once and she told me it sounded like impossible pie so I looked that up and yes, it is actually just like impossible pie except it is chocolatey! So let's just get on with it and make one really gigantic post full of pie! Just a quick note - do not be alarmed by the length of the recipes! I like to talk a lot, which shows itself in my writing, but these dishes were all actually really simple.

Rice and Courgette Timballo

This was definately my favourite thing of the evening! Absolutely amazing! It could be done in about 2 hours, but I started the evening before, so that all I had to do was put them together and bake them. So to begin:

2 tablespoons butter or oil (or a mix of both)
1 brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup risotto (arborio) rice (250 grams or thereabouts)
1/4 cup white wine (or more stock is fine) (60 mL)
3 cups stock (vegetable or chicken) (750 mL)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup parmesan (optional) (about 4 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to season

2 courgettes
1 bell pepper
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
juice and zest of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Now this recipe is to be made in two parts. First, you make the risotto. Take two large pots and in one get your stock simmering. In the other, heat the oil and throw in the onion and garlic. Cook these for a few minutes, then throw in the rice. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so. Now add the liquid, the wine first if you are using it, slowly, a half cup at a time. Stir all the while and only add more after the liquid is mostly absorbed. It will take about 20 minutes or so, keep the heat about medium and keep stirring as much as you can be bothered. When all the liquid is in, including the lemon, add the cheese and season, then move from the heat and cover the pot and let it sit a good 10 minutes or so (or leave overnight as I did). I guess it doesn't have to be cold, I'm not sure. I think not hot might be good though, or the egg might begin to cook too soon!

The second step is the vegetables. Slice the courgette and the bell peppers really thin. Slice the garlic into thin slivers too, and cut the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters. Toss all together with lemon juice, zest and oil. At this point I left the mix in a bowl overnight,  but if you are doing this all on the one day just throw straight onto a tray and grill in the oven, at about 200 degrees celsius, until it is nicely cooked. Switch the oven to bake and leave it on because it must be nice and hot to cook your pies!

So now you need to put your little rice pies together. I made small ones in my giant texas muffin tin, but you could make a large pie of course in any pie tin or cake dish. So take whatever it is you are using and grease it well! If your rice is in a small bowl or pot you may need to move it in to a larger one, because now you must mix the eggs into it. Then take your eggy rice and press it into your pie dish (or dishes) so that it is like a crust, over the base and up the sides, making sure you have enough rice left to cover the top aswell. Fill your rice-crust with the grilled vegetable filling and then spoon the rest of the rice over the top. Press it down really well!

Finally bake your timballo at about 180 degrees celsius or so for about half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes. It should be crisp and golden on the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes, use a knife to make sure the sides are not sticking to the dish, then turn the dish upside down over a plate or tray and your rice-pie should slide right out.

Pizza Dough

My pizza dough comes from an old Italian cookbook that I had, given to me by my friend's mum who had two copies. I used to make it back in NZ, only our student flats were pretty cold and I did not believe it would rise on the bench so I would sit my bowl of dough on the windowsill in the sunshine. But the sun shining through the window and bowl was too concentrated, it would get too hot and kill my yeast! Not to mention that for some reason the recipe has really long rising times, which I think is actually much too long. It works just fine with a shorter rise and so it is my own adapted version that I will give to you today!

3 1/2 cups plain or strong flour (that must be about 500 grams, if one cup is 150 grams or so)
1 cup (250 mL) warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast, or about 10 grams fresh yeast
2 tablespoons honey (or sugar)
1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
1/2 teasoon salt

In a large bowl combine water, honey and salt. Add the yeast and mix, then let it sit for five minutes until yeast has dissolved. There should be little frothy bits on the top of the liquid, which shows the yeast is active still. Then add 1 cup of flour and the oil, and mix vigourously (this apparently helps the yeast be active or something, the quick mixing. If you like, after this mixing, let the dough sit 10 minutes or so before continuing. It's called autolysing, to let it rest. But I never used to do this and it worked out fine still).

Add the remaining flour slowly, bit by bit, and mix well until dough comes together in the bowl. There may seem to be too much flour, but at this point tip it out onto a nice clean surface and begin to knead. My original recipe calls for only 1 minute of kneading, but that is not enough, I would go for at least 5 minutes. So then after 5 or 10 minutes of kneading place the dough in a covered bowl and let rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size. When it is fully risen, if you press your finger deep into the dough the hole should not fill in but remain. About an hour should do though, less if your house is warm.

Punch the dough down (in other words, gently press the air out of it) and let rise again for 30 minutes or so, until double in size, then roll out and use. Except my friend's mum rolls it out first and then let's it rise again in the base shape, then we would press it down and make the pizza. So it is up to you, quite an adaptable recipe, and very simple, you are done already! Now all you need to do is spread sauce over it and cover it with fillings! By the way, this recipe makes enough for two large pizzas, and by large I mean the size of an oven tray. You could make three smaller round pizza's I reckon.

As for pizza sauce, homemade is of course the best! I have a great recipe that usually gets thumbs up all around, I have posted it previously as spaghetti sauce. So as well as using for pasta this versatile tomato sauce makes for a great pizza! If you want smooth pizza sauce blend it, but chunky is good too. The recipe makes far more than you will need for a pizza though, so I guess you will have to have more Italian food the next day!

Velvet Pie

 Finally we reach the dessert, the chocolate pie recipe that I have been meaning to try for so many years! After some internet browsing and a second look at the recipe it seems that this pie is really more like a baked custard, only it has coconut and cocoa. You could leave out the cocoa and get traditional impossible pie, or also leave out the coconut and have just a custard pie. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of egg custard so this dessert was not as fantastic as I envisaged! Of course, everybody else loved it. Not too rich or too sweet was the general consensus, and quite light considering it is a chocolate pudding, so better to have after a big meal than a rich, heavy chocolate cake. Still, I myself am quite a fan of terribly rich, heavy chocolate cake so I think next time I will just bake brownies! On the upside, I got to use my new pie dish and it is so amazing! I love it. It is even a beautiful chocolatey colour, just so that you know that the best sort of pie is chocolate pie. However, let's get on with it.

1/2 cup (75 grams?) plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa (optional, you could leave it out for normal impossible pie, though alternatively you could use even more for a richer velvet pie)
1 cup coconut (optional, leave out for just custard pie, and I have no idea of the weight of coconut, sorry)
1 cup (about 200 grams) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) cream
1 cup (250 mL) milk
4 eggs
100 grams butter

First preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease your pie dish - you want one that is about 25 cm in diameter, with straight sides. I am not sure why the recipe specifies straight sides, surely all pie dishes are like this? Otherwise it would not be a pie? Maybe it is trying to say a deep pie dish, as opposed to a very flat tart-like something?

Now melt the butter, and then in a large bowl lightly beat the eggs. So this recipe is amazingly simple. You just throw all the ingredients in together, so add everything to the beaten eggs. Perhaps sift in the flour and cocoa so that you have no lumps. Mix it together really well, you could use an electric beater if you want, I used a whisk, it doesn't have to be mixed hugely or anything, just enough so it is all mixed in.

Pour the mixture into your prepared dish and place in the oven for 1 hour. I placed mine on an oven tray because I always spill, or things always overflow. It is lucky I did because my dish is one of those in which the base comes out, and to pour liquid into such a thing often means a bit of leakage. It only leaked a very little though so it must have begun to cook and solidify really quickly. I also covered the pie with aluminium foil after 20 minutes because I was worried the top would burn while the middle was still cooking. After an hour the pie seemed solid and when I inserted a skewer it came out clean. So when the pie is done remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then enjoy!

So after a huge amount of food (there were also lemon curd tarts, they were delicious, I must get the recipe and try them one day) everybody was very full and tired but Pi Approximation Day was a success. Now I think it is time to stop preparing and eating excessive amounts of food before I cause an obesity epidemic in Ireland. I will try really hard to stick to my baking once a week rule. I have had suggestions of other recipes I have made that should go in here, like my chocolate truffles. But that may have to wait as I generally like to make something before posting it up, and truffles are so amazingly rich and compulsively edible that I usually restrict them to Christmas time. Still, I cannot stop baking so keep watch for new treats - I think next week's baking may be apricot & white chocolate cookies. Or cinnamon oysters. We'll see!

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to stop by and thank you so much for being such an active part of Love these posts, and such a great read!

    i set up your page with just your recipes on it... hope to see it grow!



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