Hurray! So we eventually made it to phase 2 of the lockdown and we can slowly start to see how hospitality businesses may operate in this new, socially distanced world of the “new normality”.
Terraces or outside table service were already allowed to operate at 50 percent of occupancy and that will continue, but under Phase 2 restaurant use has been extended to include the interior of restaurants as long as occupancy is capped at 40 percent and people are grouped around tables 2 metres apart from other customers and customers won’t be able to sit at the bar. If things go to plan, these measures will be further eased on June 8, when capacity increases to 50 per cent and people will be able to be served at the bar, provided a distance of 1.5 metres is observed, which will be very tricky to enforce, particularly once people have had a few drinks. Whatever the case, it’s inevitable that some very difficult times lay ahead for restaurant owners and most are still unsure whether revenue will offset operating costs despite the looser restrictions under the coronavirus de-escalation plan.
Our restaurant will hopefully be up and running by the beginning of July and we are really looking forward to welcoming guests back and cooking some great food for them once more, although it may be some time before the public feel truly comfortable dining out again. We are fortunate to be a in a hidden oasis in the beautiful surroundings of the Hotel Convent de la Missio, but other restaurants around the world are already finding ingenious ways to keep customers safe. Mediamatic, a canal-side restaurant in Amsterdam, has erected entirely separate glass structures like mini-greenhouses inside which diners can eat, while being served by waiting staff in masks and gloves who remain outside. Food is delivered on long wooden boards. Another restaurant in the USA is planning on using mannequins to fill their empty tables to create the atmosphere of a full dining room, while in Germany, Cafe & Konditorei Rothe in Schwerin asked customers to wear straw hats with two swimming noodles attached to the top. The floats, more usually seen as swimming aids for children, were intended as a means of creating a zone of personal space for each customer…we are certainly living in interesting times, but personally I prefer the Convent!
If you’re still working from home or not too sure about returning to restaurants just yet, you might want to take on a cooking challenge and make your own fresh pasta. Homemade pasta is such a good choice for these moments. First of all, pasta requires minimal ingredients: flour, water, and salt. If you want to venture off into more complex directions, you can add eggs or olive oil, but that’s it! Secondly, you can make some incredible meals and it’s a very simple, cheap, and therapeutic activity, which you also can eat. Some people are unnecessarily intimidated by making fresh pasta, but with the aid of a pasta machine (not essential), pasta making is literally child’s play. All you need is patience, a little care and quality ingredients and there’s no going back once you’ve made your own homemade pasta. Good pasta, just like bread requires kneading until the dough is smooth and shiny. Here are a few tips to help you on the road to perfect pasta: If the mixture feels a little soft, add a little more flour. If the mixture seems too hard, add another egg yolk. Always cover sitting dough with cling film or a damp tea towel to prevent it drying out. Do not add olive oil to the cooking water. It is a fallacy that it prevents sticking and is therefore a complete waste of oil; glaze the pasta with a little olive oil after cooking. Once you have your fresh pasta cooked, its time to get creative again with a few delicious sauces. Next week I’ll share my favourite pasta sauce.
My basic pasta mix
*The best flour to use is semolina flour: a hard, very fine wheat flour. Doppio zero is the most highly refined but it is sometimes difficult to obtain, so you will probably have to visit a specialized food store to find some, but don’t worry too much, general plain flour can also be used.
Ingredients: serves 6
350g plain flour (*Doppio zero)
2 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp. Olive oil
1/2 tbsp. Warm water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of saffron powder
Put the flour, salt and saffron into a food processor. Add eggs and the yolks.
Blend until the pasta begins to form a ball. Add the olive oil and water.
Place on a lightly floured surface and knead until the mixture is smooth.
Cut into four equal sized pieces and wrap tightly in cling film and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Take the pasta from the fridge and remove the cling film.
Roll out on a very lightly floured surface as thinly as you can. You want to end up with a rectangle shape. Turn the dough regularly and sprinkle with a tiny amount of flour if it begins to stick. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Cut the pasta into wide strips – you’ll need to make them roughly 2.5cm/1in wide and around 30cm/12in long. Arrange the strips on a tray, keeping each strand a few millimetres from the next.
The pasta can be left to dry for a few hours at this point or used immediately. If your trays get too full, cover with another layer of baking parchment and a sprinkling of flour then create another layer.
Cook the pappardelle in boiling salted water until "al dente" (3-4 minutes).
Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the saucepan. Toss with a little olive oil and seasoning or the pasta sauce of your choice.