The Olive Branch: February and March

Golly gosh, where is the year going? My aim was to write an Olive Branch update at the end of every month but somehow February got away from me and now it’s already the first week of April! Time for a bumper edition!

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Back in February, we took an overnight trip to the one place in Israel where you can count on seeing snow in the winter: Mt Hermon. As you can see, we weren’t alone there. Yup, Israelis get pretty excited about snow…

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We shared a DIY for a Kids’ Art Wall Collage. Also a great way to spruce up and repurpose an old picture frame! Mmmm, look at the nice tidily-arranged toys and books (it never really looks like that).

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Sophie performed in her ballet show and I was so proud I could burst! I guess ballet love must be hereditary…

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We went on a spring almond-blossom hunt. Every year we take a trip to the Sataf, an agricultural site in the Jerusalem Hills, where they experiment with growing vegetables and orchard trees as they were grown in biblical times. So pretty!

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Yup, still working on that scarf! Pretty slow going, but it is my first knitting project after all. Hope to finish it by next winter! I’ve joined a knitting group and we meet every Thursday. Wouldn’t even have managed one row without those lovely girls…

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I finally dug out my pasta machine, which had been languishing decadently in its box for the last four years, and proceeded to make tortellini, which didn’t take very long at all. I lie, it took A WHOLE DAY! Avoid making all my newbie mistakes by checking out our post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips!

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Was it worth spending a whole day learning how to use a pasta machine! Absolutely it was! Especially when the result was Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter. Check out our recipe and I defy not to lick the bowl at the end!

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I made a wig. Not a very realistic-looking hairpiece, I admit, but one that was befitting of a little mermaid all dressed up for Purim. For anyone unfamiliar with Purim, it’s often described as the Jewish Halloween: kid-centered, fancy dress costumed, too many sweets… you get the idea. I gave Sophie a deadline for deciding what costume she wanted and then held her to it. Although I did somewhat modify her initial request to dress up as an ‘evil mermaid’. What the heck?

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Purim was an insane week of costume making, egg decoration (not just for Easter, apparently), goodie basket prep and multiple parties. Super fun and rather knackering! Here are Sophie the Mermaid and Tom the Pirate just before we headed off to Mr Olive’s office Purim party.

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Current obsession: The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. This is a book which is basically a step by step system for discovering your own personal style and curating the perfect wardrobe of clothes to meet your style and lifestyle needs. I’ve worked through most of the exercises and am now on the section about working with outfit formulas. Doing the exercises in this book is basically what I would prefer to be doing over almost anything else at the moment and I’m already feeling so much more confident in how I dress. Did I mention I’m obsessed?

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Last but not least, my parents and brother came from the U.K. to visit for a week so I went all quiet on social media so I could focus on really being with them. It was so wonderful having them here and getting to share my Levantine life with them! We did beach walks, hummus lunches, extended family gatherings, road trips… ah, missing them  so much already…

All that plus a baby shower, a Mums’ karaoke night, closing on a kindergarten for Tom for September, and house hunting. LOTS of house hunting.

Sometimes it feels like time is moving so swiftly without much being achieved so it’s fun to look back and see how much we really did in these months! How is spring treating you so far?

Love Em xx

 

Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

Mr Olive and I go out on a date every couple of weeks and our favourite type of date consists of heading into Tel Aviv to eat at one of the city’s amazing restaurants. Sitting and chatting in a cool venue over a selection of delicious and surprising dishes and a yummy cocktail is basically our idea of the best quality time ever. Mr Olive’s mother often rolls her eyes at us: “There are so many things you could do on a date!” she says. “Go and see a film or a concert for a change!” She has a point but, in the end, as a couple with young kids and real face-to-face time at a premium, we’d much rather be interacting with each other than looking at something else or staring at a screen (we do quite enough screen-staring as it is!).

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A month ago we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Dalida, in south Tel Aviv. Named after the Egyptian-Italian singer popular throughout the 60s and 70s, the restaurant describes itself as a European khmara, where ‘khmara’ is the Arabic word for a drinking den – a cave of pleasure where people gather late into the night to eat, get drunk and talk nonsense. While a little scuzzy, the khmara is also joyful and fun. It’s a distinctly Levantine concept. A Middle Eastern stereotype. Presumably, the ‘European’ part of Dalida’s claim alludes both to the food and to the atmosphere of urbanity and self-awareness that lies alongside that down-to-earth khmara vibe. In practice, Dalida is not a dive, but a cozy bar-restaurant, very hip and vintagey, which serves an exciting fusion of European and Middle-Eastern cuisines.

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One of the dishes we ate was described on the menu thus: ‘Tortellini. Inside: Ricotta, chard, cranberries, pistachios. Outside: Fresh shiitaki, scorched cherry tomatoes, sage-lemongrass butter, vegetables, parmesan.’ Um, what? Cranberries and pistachios stuffed inside tortellini? Shiitaki with parmesan? Sage-lemongrass butter? Oh. My. God.

The dish was one of the most moreishly umami concoctions I have eaten in a long time. That hint of sweet and salty crunch inside the pasta, mixed with the powerful (and weirdly complimentary) flavours of shiitaki and parmesan. And the tomato juices mingling with the fragrant notes of lemongrass and sage. It was so good. It was so good that I had to recreate it. Even if that meant dusting off the unopened box in which my pasta machine had been sitting for the last four years. That good.

So I made tortellini from scratch for the first time in my life (that time back when I was in my 20s and didn’t have a pasta machine so I used a rolling pin and each tortellini emerged resembling a baseball mitt? We don’t mention that time). And it was soooo worth it. I may have stuck my face into the bowl and licked it clean at the end. Ok, I definitely did.

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If you are experienced at making fresh pasta, this will be easy peasy for you. I am not so I can’t deny that it took me a while. However, the only actual challenging part was getting the hang of the pasta machine so, if you’re also a newbie pasta maker (or even if you just haven’t done it in a while) I highly recommend that you check out our previous post, How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. I learned a lot while using my machine for the first time and next time it will be much quicker and easier! And I think the next time is going to be very soon…

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Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

MAKES APPROX 36 TORTELLINI / SERVES 4

PREPARATION AND COOKING (INCLUDING DOUGH RESTING TIME): APPROX 2 HOURS

Inspired by the Tortellini served at Dalida Bar-Restaurant, Tel Aviv.

Pasta dough recipe based on the one in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef. I used a food processor to make the dough, but you could also use a stand mixer, or do it by hand in a big bowl.

Ingredients

Pasta Dough

250g / 2 cups strong pasta flour (Tipo ’00’)

2-3 large free-range eggs

1/2 tsp turmeric

Lots of semolina flour for dusting

Tortellini Filling

100g / 3.5 oz swiss chard, roughly chopped

100g / 3.5 oz roasted, salted pistachios, shelled

50g / 1.75 oz dried cranberries

200g / 7 oz ricotta

3 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

To Serve

20g / 0.75 oz dried shiitake mushrooms

Cooking oil spray (I used a coconut oil based one)

400g / 14 oz cherry tomatoes

50g / 1.75 oz unsalted butter

White part of a stalk of fresh lemongrass (usually the bottom third)

20 sage leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

25g / 0.9 oz grated parmesan

Method

  1. First make the pasta dough. Put all the dough ingredients, except the semolina flour, in the food processor and turn it on. At first, as the dough starts to come together, it will look similar to breadcrumbs, which will then start to stick together to form a larger ball of dough. When this happens, take it out of the processor and see how it feels. Remember that eggs can differ in size and different flours can have different absorbencies, so squeeze and knead the dough a little bit and, if it feels too wet and gloopy, return it to the processor with some more flour. If it feels too dry and not stretchy enough, return it to the processor and add another egg. The final consistency should be smooth, silky and elastic, similar to bread dough.
  2. When you’re happy with the texture of the dough, remove it from the processor (it should leave the bowl clean) and knead it for 2-5 minutes until it’s soft and stretchy. I usually put on some music and knead for about the length of an average pop song. This time my musical accompaniment was this 😉 Wrap the dough in plastic and put in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
  3. While the dough is resting, clean the bowl of your food processor and put the shiitake mushrooms to soak in a mug of lukewarm water.

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  1. Make the tortellini filling. Put the chard, pistachios and cranberries in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
  2. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and whiz until the mixture is a similar colour and texture to guacamole. Taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

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  1. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and spray with cooking oil. When the pan is very hot add the cherry tomatoes and leave them to sear for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they don’t stick. After 5 minutes they should have some brown sear marks on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
  2. Sit down, have a cuppa and, if you haven’t already, read this post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface.
  3. When the dough has rested for an hour, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 2 balls. Re-wrap one ball in plastic while you work with the other one.
  4. Dust your work surface with semolina flour and then flatten the ball of dough with your hand. Run it through the pasta machine on the lowest (widest) setting until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends of the pasta sheet into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
  3. Repeat the process for the 2nd ball of dough.
  4. Making sure your work surface is well-dusted with flour, cut your pasta sheets into 8 x 8 cm (3 x 3 inch) squares.

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  1. Taking one square at a time, place a teaspoon of tortellini filling in the centre of each square. With a clean pastry brush and some water, brush evenly around the edges of the square. Make sure you use enough water so the tortellini will stick together properly.
  2. Fold the pasta square over the filling diagonally (see pic above) and press the edges together firmly. To get rid of any trapped air you can hold the triangle in the palm of your hand and squeeze it gently. Fold in the two flaps and press them together to join. You’ve just made tortellini! Repeat for all the remaining pasta.

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  1. Cook the tortellini for 3-4 minutes in boiling, well-salted water, then drain. While it’s cooking, drain the mushrooms and finely chop. Save a few sage leaves for a garnish, and finely chop the rest, along with the lemongrass.
  2. Using the same large frying pan you used for the tomatoes, melt the butter on a low heat, then add the mushrooms, lemongrass, sage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  3.  Add the drained tortellini to the pan and toss gently. Add the seared cherry tomatoes and squash them slightly with the back of a spoon so that some of the juice runs out to mingle with the butter.
  4. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, toss again and check seasoning. Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and serve with extra parmesan. Lick the bowl clean with abandon. 🙂

How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips

Funny story: on my 34th birthday I was 35 weeks pregnant with our first, Sophie. A few weeks earlier Mr Olive had asked me what I would like as a birthday present and I told him that I desired nothing so much as a pasta machine. Thing was, Israel at that point was in some kind of unprecedented pasta making frenzy. Put it this way: I was not the only person in the country who desired a pasta machine – to the point that (as he never tires of reminding me) Mr Olive ended up having to to comb the land back, front and sideways in order to find me one. Every supplier he tried was out of stock. Who knows into which distant and obscure regions poor Mr Olive had to venture, or how much he had to pay in order to procure me this highly desirable piece of kitchen equipment. Maybe as far as Petach Tikva. Maybe as much as 200 shekels. 😉

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However, all kudos to the mister: I received that coveted pasta machine for my birthday.

And then I gave birth to a baby.

The pasta machine never even made it out of its box.

So there it sat, at the back of the cupboard, staring at me petulantly every time I opened the door to get a saucepan. It started to become like one of those embarrassing memories you think you’ve successfully repressed until, oh no, here it comes bouncing back up again. Except that pasta machines don’t bounce. They clunk.

In order to put an end to the annoying clunking in the back of my mind I made the decision this month to finally address the issue and – gosh darn it – just flipping use that pasta machine! Sophie is now 4 years old. Tom is 2. I really had no more excuses.

So I cracked open the box and last weekend I made tortellini stuffed with ricotta, chard, pistachios and cranberries and it was amazing (recipe coming to the blog soon)! But there were a few lessons I learned along the way about old Clunk (as he will forthwith be known).

Here’s the thing about using a pasta machine: it’s easy. When you know how. I used the instructions in Jamie Oliver’s first book as a guide. But still, there was a bit of trial and error involved, a bit of dumbfounded head shaking and a bit of waving my arms around like a duck before I mastered the art. And so I would now like to share the lessons I learned using a pasta machine for the first time, so that when you use one for the first time, or even for the first time in a long time, you will sail through it like some kind of stereotypical apron-wearing, top-knotted Italian mama.

  1. Don’t think you can get away with not clamping the machine to your work surface. If you don’t it will jump around. Also, you need a work surface with a straight edge (no lip) and enough space on the underside on which to place your clamp. Our kitchen counter didn’t fulfill either of these criteria, so I used the dining table.
  2. Divide your dough into 2-4 balls and work with one ball at a time. (Keep the other balls wrapped in plastic).
  3. Run a small amount of dough through the rollers to clean them before use and discard the dough. (The rest of the machine can be wiped and carefully dried after use).
  4. Use a ton of semolina flour for dusting (you could probably use any type of flour but semolina is the most authentic). I really don’t think you could use too much. You’ll need flour to dust your work surface, both sides of the dough (before and after each time you roll it), and absolutely loads if you’re stacking sheets of dough in a pile, so they don’t stick to one another. Go crazy with the flour!
  5. In general, you’ll need one hand to crank the handle which means that all the feeding through the rollers needs to be done with your (one) other hand (unless you are an octopus). I found a technique where I would feed the dough through from the top a bit and catch it as it came out the bottom, then go back to feeding from the top, and take turns, catching from the bottom and feeding from the top until the whole sheet had gone through.

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  1. Flatten the ball of dough with your hand before the first time you run it through the rollers. Then run it through on lowest (widest) setting first until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.

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  1. As the pasta sheet gets thinner it also gets longer and you may find it easier to maneuver if you cut it in half width-ways. Just make sure you remember to run each piece through all the settings.

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  1. Stack the pasta sheets in a pile, dusting the top of each one generously with semolina flour. Next time I might try putting sheets of parchment paper between the pasta sheets too, but still I wouldn’t scrimp on the flour.

Now your pasta sheets are ready for anything! Keep them as they are and use them as lasagna. Cut into strips to make tagliatelle. Or cut into squares for tortellini like I did.

Just remember, using a pasta machine is one of those things which can seem a little intimidating the first time you do it, simply because it’s a new skill to learn. But hopefully this list of tips will help you avoid making all my newbie mistakes and, really, as soon as you’ve done it once it quickly becomes very straightforward. You’ll soon be whipping up a batch of fresh pasta with one hand while applying your lipstick with the other. (Actually, I’m not quite sure how you would do this since you do need both hands to operate the machine – unless you are in fact an octopus. Who wears lipstick. Um… where was I?)

I’ll keep you posted on my further adventures in pasta and stay tuned for a surprisingly umami tortellini recipe coming soon!