Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mass Feeding and Cannelloni

Our entire kitchen has spent the past three days involved in a mass feeding effort.

The Pope has come to Brescia (a city nearby) and held a large mass this morning, and we (our Relais Franciacorta kitchen staff) were asked to cater the lunch for he and his followers afterwards. We have ordered, received, prepared, peeled, trimmed, refrigerated, chilled, baked, roasted, boiled, broiled, blanched, singed, counted, laid out, packaged, protected, sent and recovered from preparation for a brunch for 800 people. Maybe more. (We always need to overfeed, or at least be prepared for a considerable ‘overage’ when dealing with this sort of event).

I have hand-made 1,274 sandwiches, 3,687 ravioli, well over 1,000 fresh-baked brioche and other sundry treats. Thank goodness I have not been asked to make all this alone ... it is a group effort. At the same time we are still a full-service gourmet ‘gastronomic’ restaurant. This special order is over and above what we normally are set up for!

And how did we make all those sandwiches, I hear you cry? Well, we used ‘tramezzini’ bread! It is a denser version of wonderbread, and comes all trimmed and cut very thin the long way on the loaf then packaged into sets of 5 slices (who uses 2 ½ sandwiches?). We used quite a few cases of this stuff! Preparation is an assembly-line effort ... lay as much of the bread out as you possibly can on the counter, then two people start spreading mayo all over them, two spatulas flashing in the strong light of the kitchen, working their way down the acres of bread! The rest of the filling is done the same way ... two, sometimes four, people working with precision and great speed to get this all done before the bread starts to curl up. Fillings, cheeses, meats all go in or on. Then I, me personally, get to pile, cut, package and sort every sandwich.

We all got to work a bit early this morning and spent a while loading the whole works up for a road trip, then away it went. I hope the Pope’s mass feeding went well!

This morning Daniele summoned me over to his station. It was just past 11 AM. The kitchen eats at 11:30. “Martin, we are going to make cannelloni. I will teach you. I have 3 minutes. Then you make them”

We had made FAR too much meat stuffing for the ravioli effort a few days before. Those heaps, piles, drumlins of delicious ravioli are now secreted far away in the bone-chilling reaches of our deep freezers, ready for the day they’re needed. But what to do with the extra 15 kilos of stuffing? (We work in large amounts here. 15 kilos is the leftovers!) Cannelloni is easy, fast, cheap and anyone can make it at home. (You can all see what’s coming, can’t you!) It can be made with leftovers or the vegetables you can buy at the store that are marked down for quick sale, and a little meat that is left from a roast, or that you get by buying chicken backs in a large bag and, after using the backs to make stock, you have all this lovely meat to pick off the bones and run through the mincer!

So, for true fun and a meal to get every member of the group engaged (even the young ‘uns!), here goes. I hope the photos help. Some day-before preparation is required for really good pasta, so mark your calendars!

Start by making basic pasta the evening before, or the morning of, your event ... to feed a group of four, make pasta with 1 kilo of type “00” flour, if you can get it, very fine bread flour if you can’t. Don’t go to anything as fine as pastry flour ... put the flour, perhaps in two batches, into the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer, and add 400 grams of egg YOLKS, then 2 or 3 whole eggs, another if needed) to the flour as it goes around in the bowl. Do not add salt to pasta! A very little bit of EVO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) may be added, but only a tiny amount! When it gets too stiff to go around any more, take the pasta out of the bowl, put it on the counter and roll it firmly with the heel of your hand until it is baby-bottom smooth. Then cover the ball of pasta tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator, for no more than 24 hours, before use. The glutens need time to develop to the extreme. In this business, it is called 'building your glutenous maximus'.

Also, the evening before or the day of the event, make your filling. It is best if you have a meat grinder or some sort of pretty strong blender. Turn the meat into a medium-fine grind. Or, you can just use commercially-made burger of any sort (beef, veal, chicken, turkey). Add a bit of breadcrumb and some fine-grated cheese to this meat, and whatever vegetables you have cooked up quite soft and minced. Add enough liquid to make it a thick pulp, neither runny nor utterly cement. Toss in any old gravy you have kicking around. Add seasoning and salt and pepper near the end of the cooking and preparation time, not at the beginning. Simmer extra liquid off, and savour the generous bouquet from your own stove! I like to add a bit of thyme and marjoram part way through, a different twist on the usual ‘Italian’ herbs in north america of only basil and oregano. Consider some fresh-ground nutmeg! Refrigerate if it is made far in advance. Remember, this will be run through a piping bag, so you don’t want anything that is too thick. If it is too hard to pipe, without a nozzle on the bag, just put the bag into a microwave for about 25 seconds to re-warm and make it easy to pipe.

Here at the relais we keep all sorts of ends of meats and bits of pates in a case in one of the refrigerators. When we have enough, we make filling and turn it all into our special ravioli and cannelloni. But here, because of volume, it happens pretty quickly. At home, if you have the space, you can keep meat bits in the freezer for a while until enough adds up to make the filling for cannelloni. We don’t worry about mixing meats ... beef, ham, pork, chicken, pates, un-used ends of salamis ... everything but seafood goes in. The result is absolutely delicious!

(Seafood hint ... if you want to get really experimental, make seafood cannelloni, and, instead of using pasta, fill the tubes from home-cleaned squid!)

Now, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for ... Daniele’s DIY Cannelloni Recipe (That's Daniele in the photographs.)

Dust the counter you will be working on with rice flour.

Take out your prepared pasta and roll it out with a pasta rolling machine until it is thin enough to almost see your hand through, but not paper-thin. Lay the long sheets on the counter in the kitchen. Your sheets should be between 12 – 14 cm wide, and at least 40 cm long. Trim off shaggy ends with a knife. (photo 1)

Paint HALF the length of each rectangle of pasta with melted butter. (photo 2)

Put the stuffing into a piping bag and with a very large opening (we don’t even use a nozzle, just the open end of the bag), pipe a roll of filling onto the part of the pasta that does NOT have the butter on it. (photo 3)

Then roll the pasta closed into a long tube, so the buttered bit is rolled onto the bit that is right around the filling. (photo 4) Roll it fairly tightly ... this is a filled pasta, and should not be sloppy or loose ... and reserve on the counter or on a tray for 10 – 15 minutes while you do the rest of the pasta dough and filling and buttering and rolling!

There! You’ve just made your own cannelloni! Don’t you feel accomplished?

In order to ensure the pasta does not stick to the counter, dust the counter frequently and fairly generously with rice flour. That is the white dust you see in our pictures. The rice flour we use is re-used again and again as a counter (and temper!) saver.

A quick cooking and pasta hygiene note ... do NOT try to work with pasta if you have fake or long fingernails! You will need every part of your fingers to work successfully with pastas.

Make a favourite sauce for pasta, and think outside the tomato can for this. Why not try a white sauce with a bit of nutmeg to pop the flavour, or a green sauce made of celery, a little fennel and white onions? Just sauté these three together after par-boiling and then add a little stock of any sort, or just water, to the pot and then put it all into a blender and make a purée which then goes back into the pan to do a final heating and then use for serving. Or, if you want to get all restaurant and fancy, use this green sauce with a paintbrush, and brush it generously onto the plates BEFORE you put on the cannelloni, then garnish with a different sauce, and top with a few little fronds from the top frilly bits on the fennel. Consider making this sauce with a little roasted (not raw) garlic!

To prepare for the plate and table, the cannelloni rolls need to be cut into lengths of about 10 cm each. (photo 5) Use a very sharp knife for this, and dust the countertop or cutting board with rice flour to avoid sticking. Trim the ends of the pasta tubes away that might not be properly stuffed.

To cook, bake in a 180 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until it is done. Remember to lightly oil your baking pan. We bake in a Béchamel sauce (recipes available everywhere). Don’t turn the Béchamel into Mornay (by adding cheese) to bake ... add cheese afterwards, if you must. But you might find, with a good sauce base and interesting flavours, that extra cheese is not needed. (There should be cheese in the meat mix.) Remember to salt your meat mix before cooking ends (but don’t add salt at the beginning ... always spice, herb and salt at the mid-cooking time, with only a few exceptions).

Have your plates warm. Garnish plates before plating the cannelloni, if you wish, with a sauce and a kitchen brush. Then ease a few delicious home-made cannelloni onto each plate, and top with a little sauce (don’t drown them)! And do something artistic with the plate; perhaps a little dab of apple sauce, if you have a meaty sauce, or just a tiny bit of a rocket salad with radicchio if your plate is a little sweeter. Perhaps a few carrot strips poached in milk.

Gather with friends, serve this after making it together and include a refreshing beverage of choice ... Ta da! Instant popularity for you, the super-chef, and a great event is launched.

Thanks, Daniele, for the lesson and photos.