Earily good pasta.

We used to own a pasta machine, but frankly the fresh spaghetti and tagliatelle that it produced were not worth the effort for me - exit pasta machina and no more home made fresh pasta for us. A few months ago however we had excellent, freshly made orechiette ("ears") at local restaurant Sapori e recordi. Simple but amazingly good, and no pasta machine required.

It took a few months but yesterday we finally came around to trying this ourselves. Not at the kind of finger-breaking speeds Italian nonna's seem to manage on all the YouTube video's I watched, but at a nice meditative pace.

The real secret of this pasta is rolling the 'ears' - apparently possible in one swift move, but also in a few steps. First you form the dough into 2cm rolls. Then you cut of a 2cm piece and, holding a blunt knife at a 45 degree edge, spread the pasta onto a wooden board with a little pressure. This way a curved slice of dough is produced. Turn it inside out and clean it up if needed and voilà - an ear-shaped piece pasta.

The sauce, like most Italian food, isn't too complicated but needs good ingredients. Choose flavorful,  ripe and firm tomatoes (preferably the coeur de boeuf variety), good wine and nice ground beef, preferably a piece of stewing meat your have coarsely ground or chopped yourself.


Sauce (too much for one dinner, but it freezes very well)
  • 2kg firm tomatoes, cut in pieces
  • 800g minced beef
  • generous amount of olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 200ml red wine
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • salt (see recipe)
  • pepper
Pour a generous layer of olive oil in a casserole, heat it up and color the meat. Add the onions wait for some colour on these as well before adding the garlic. Then add the wine, allowing to evaporate some of the alcohol before adding the other ingredients. Add some salt at this point, but keep in mind this sauce will reduce in volume by about half.

Leave the sauce to stew for as long as you can stand to wait - it has to reduce by half, creating a nice thick sauce with nice strong, stewy flavors. This will take at least an hour and a half, but more is better in this case. Don't forget to stir every once in a while, and add some water if the sauce gets too thick. Finally add salt to taste.

Pasta (serves 4 )
  • 200 gram flour tipo 00
  • 100 gram semolina
  • 3 gram salt
  • ca 200 ml tepid water
Mix the dry ingredients with half of the water, gradually adding more water until you can knead it into a firm, supple and elastic dough. Keep kneading for a while before rolling it out into long strips of about 2cm diameter. Use the description above to create the orechiette, placing them next to each other on a floured surface.

Cook the pasta in a large amount of salted boiling water until just done, which takes only a few minutes. Meanwhile heat up some olive oil in a skillet. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet, tossing it in the hot oil. Add sauce to taste, and some pasta water if the sauce is to thick. Mix it well, heat through for a moment and serve with freshly grated parmezan and a bold red wine.

This post is available in Dutch on Mout&Peper


La Douce Blonde

Foody francophiles and beer geeks usually don't mix - and unfortunately I'm both.This results in slightly schizophrenic holidays, since Germany and England may provide excellent beers, subtle cuisine and decent weather are hard to find. And when you try to recover on a meteorological and culinary escape to Provence it's best to forego the barley for a short while and make do with some excellent rosé wines.

The traditional French beer landscape can be divided into three regions that don't really consider themselves French. The first of these is Normandy/Brittany, where a handful of Anglosaxons create some decent real ales. A little further to the North, on the Belgian border, we find the bières de garde  and saison beers. Finally there is the Alsace region, also known as 'France's little Germany', where you find some small breweries between the vineyards, not to mention the giant breweries producing Kro' and 33 Export for the less discerning customer.

This summer the weather convinced us to drive directly south, to the Lubéron to be exact. A wonderful region with great wine, nice weather and mouth-watering food. And, lo and behold, with an actual little 'micro brasserie', and organic at that. The somewhat off-putting name "BAL" was easily explained and forgiven since it was the acronym for Brasserie Artisanale du Lubéron.

On a tiny marché artisanale in between the goat's cheeses and rosé farmers we had a bottle of brune and the inevitable blonde, the latter a bland tasting product. The brune however actually tasted of roasted malts - one might even be reminded of a stout or porter. A bit too sweet for my taste, but still, did I mention the actual roasted barley? A couple of days later we even found. from the same brewery, an IPA! A real one. With houblon. Not a lot, and nothing too bitter, but still, without a doubt, hops.

Unfortunately that about wraps it up for the beer highlights of this summer. The brune and IPA were nice, but the actual year-round range (a slightly sweet blonde featuring clove, a nondescript ambree and a boring blanche) left a lot to be desired. And even though we didn't really look for it this year, and even though I'm sure there are some wonderful little breweries to be found, when encountering a small, artisanal brewery in France you can expect the following;
  • A blonde, a bit too sweet, no hops to speak of and 6-7% alcohol
  •  A régionale featuring a regional ingredient. Often the only evidence of this ingredient is on the label, but choices may be brave; lentils from Puy, Camarque rice or Bourgogne berries. So far I have not yet encountered a Bresse chicken or Bayonne ham version, but I'm not sure they're not out there...
  • A couple of non-offensive, unimpressive rousse, ambrée or blanche beers.
Having tried a geuze (overly sweet with a hint of sour), a faro (mostly sweet) and some more failures from the Hyper market I was done for the summer and stuck to pastis and rosé, happy to be one of those beer geeks that fortunately also enjoys wine...

This post originally appeared in Dutch on Mout&Peper


Russian pork cheeks

Or rather, pork cheeks in Russian beer. Or to be precise, in English ale meant for the Russians. More precise still - in American beer based on an English style ale, meant for the Russians. Okay, if I'm totally honest, in Dutch home-brewed beer inspired by an American beer in the style of an English beer meant for Russia.

Still with me? So, pork cheeks. You can get them at a quality butcher or, better yet, a pig farm with own butchery. For pork cheeks in particular you need happy pigs, after all, the cheeks do all smiling. Ask the butcher to remove the membranes or do it yourself.

Pigs cheeks are quite fat, but also gelatinous, making them even more succulent whilst remaining in one piece. After a long period of simmering they are soft and tender. The simmering can be done in any liquid, wine or stock, but beer is especially good. Don't use overly bitter beers (a risk when using this beer style). Heavy, sweet Belgian style Double, Triple and Quadruple beers are a safe bet, and so is a milder porter or stout. Sour ales with or without fruit also work very well. A Russian Imperial Stout adds a more robust flavour and some bitterness, which turned out great.

Pigs Cheeks with stoemp

  • 8 pigs cheeks (they shrink significantly)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 branch of rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • pepper
  • salt
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • butter or lard
  • 250ml beer (heavy, dark beer; a Russian Imperial Stout, for example)
  • beef stock

Fry the pork cheeks in a little butter (as I was also crisping up some bacon I used lard) until nicely browned. Put all the vegetables and fry until the onions are translucent and begin to color. Deglaze with the beer and add the remaining ingredients. Add as much beef stock as needed to almost cover the cheeks. Let the cheeks simmer for as long as you have patience for it, but at least for two  hours.  

Gently take out the cheeks out and herbs. If you like you can blend the sauce, but don't overdo this. Thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water and put the cheeks back in. Serve with a hearty potato and vegetable mash (Belgian "Stoemp" for example) and a good beer, like the beer that you used when cooking.

This post orginally appeared in Dutch on Mout en Peper