If you are a regular reader of my blog, you would most likely know how much I enjoy culinary challenges and competitions. I was thrilled to be invited to take part in Grana Padano Italian Maestro Blogger Competition. This competition will be judged by the renowned Italian chef Francesco Mazzei. He has recently appeared on MasterChef and from September has become a chef-patron of Sartoria in Mayfair.
As a competition participant, I received a basket of key ingredients, enough to create two courses, using Grana Padano cheese. We also received a supermarket voucher to buy any extras. The choice was to create either a starter and a main dish, or a main and a dessert.
I asked if the dessert should be cooked with Grana as well, and the reply was Yes. To err on the side of caution, I have opted for the starter and the main. I'd love to see what the other bloggers cooked as their dessert entry with Grana Padano.
My family loves Italian cuisine, and I often cook with Grana. My Italian mother-in-law uses Grana on a daily basis with pasta and risotto dishes. It is often referred to as a poor man's parmesan, a totally unjustified comparison, as Grana has its own taste and culinary qualities.
My family loves Italian breadsticks called grissini. I often buy them, either plain or with olives (we love Crosta & Mollica brand), but I haven't made them before. How difficult is it? As it happens, it is not difficult at all.
|Grissini with prosciutto|
7g dried activeyeast
200ml semi-skimmed milk, warmed
325g strong white flour + for dusting
100g Grana Padano cheese, freshly grated
90g butter, melted
a pinch of salt
a handful of chopped fresh rosemary
Sprinkle 7g of dried active yeast into a bowl of warm milk. I used Allinson dried active yeast, which recommends 650g of flour per 15g of yeast. Since I didn't want a huge amount of grissini, I halved the suggested amount, hence 7g of yeast to 325g of flour. In a bigger bowl grate 100g of Grana Padano cheese, and mix it with strong white flour. Pour the milk over the flour and cheese mix, season with salt. Using hands, mix the dough. Add the butter and chopped rosemary. Knead for a few minutes.
On a flour-dusted working surface spread the dough and roll out, using a rolling pin, to about 5mm thickness. Using a knife cut into thin strips about 1cm wide and 30-35cm long (or longer).
Put the grissini on a parchment paper placed into baking trays. Bake for about 20 minutes at 180C until golden brown. When you take the trays out, the grissini will still be slightly soft.
They are delicious hot, straight from the oven, and as good cold.
Serve them with slices of prosciutto for a lovely starter.
The combination of pasta and pastry is quite common in the Italian cuisine. My husband's hometown Ferrara boasts its own pasticcio di maccheroni which is a dish of maccheroni pasta mixed with minced meat and bechamel sauce and baked in a dessert pastry casing. They also have a quirky dessert with pasta called Torta di Tagliarini which I cooked earlier this year.
For my main I have decided to cook Crostata di Spaghetti, i.e. open pie with spaghetti.
Crostata di Spaghetti
1 pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry
80g dried spaghetti
77g pancetta (1 small pack)
1 red onion, finely chopped
5tbsp olive oil
150g butternut squash, cubed
100g Grana Padano, grated
4 medium eggs
1/2 pack of rocket, wilted (about 35g)
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
1tsp mixed herbs
a handful of pine nuts
Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente.
Cook the cubed pancetta with 1tbsp of olive oil until well browned. Remove the pancetta from the frying pan. Chop the onion and fry it with extra 2tbsp of olive oil until browned and translucent. Remove from the frying pan. Peel and cube the butternut squash (I used just part of the top, and cooked the rest the next day in the soup). Add more oil to the frying pan, and cook the squash cubes for about 10 minutes, stirring quite often. Add the rocket and pine nuts as well as basil and a sprinkling of mixed herbs.
In the meantime pre-cook a shell of shortcrust pastry by rolling the pastry over the pie dish. You can use baking beans to fill in the pastry case before baking for 10 minutes.
In a big mixing bowl grate the Grana Padano, add the eggs and mix together. Add the spaghetti, pancetta, squash, red onion, rocket, pine nuts and herbs to the egg and cheese mix. Stir well together. Pour the contents into the pastry case, and place the dish back in the oven for about 25 minutes until the the filling is set.
Slice before serving. It is delicious with a bit of salad on the side and a glass of wine.
Disclosure: This is my entry to Grana Padano Italian Maestro Blogger competition for which I received a hamper of foods and vouchers to buy extra ingredients.