Tagine with lamb and pears

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2-3 hours

The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 1,2 kg leg of lamb cut in thick slices/pieces
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (4 cm)
  • 3 beef tomatoes
  • 3 pears
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 preserved lemon or lime (2 halves)
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1-2 red chilis
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1,5 tbsp. tajine herbs
  • ½ tsp. saffron
  • Fresh coriander (a handful)
  • Fresh mint (a handful)
  • Fresh leaf parsley (a handful)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

The work:

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Peal and grate the ginger. Chop the onion. Cut the garlic and chili very fine. Make a bundle of the stems of the green herbs.

Heat the oil in a baking pan and bake the meat on both sides until brown, adding salt & pepper. Add the onion and the garlic. After a couple of minutes, add the spices: red chili, cinnamon powder, cinnamon stick, ginger, the bay leaves, saffron, tagine herbs, and stir for about a minute.

Add the content of the pan in the tagine and add tomatoes on top, and the cubes of vegetable stock. Fill the tagine with water until the meat is covered. Dress the bundle of the stems in the stock. Close the tagine and put it in the oven. Check after about an hour how tender the meat is, but it is well possible that you will have to leave it 1,5 to 2 hours depending on the lamb.

While this is in the oven, peel the pears, remove the core and cut them in 4 pieces.

If you have the feeling the meat is just about tender, then take out the bundle of stems, dress the pears nicely on top of the meat. Add the lemon, the lemon juice and the honey. Close the lid again and cook 30 minutes in the oven until the pears are tender.

To serve: sprinkle the leaves of coriander, parsley and mint over the tagines’ content.

The Tip:

Serve with couscous and Harissa. When you serve with couscous it is important to serve enough of the tagine’s juice.

The Secret:

Take your time to ensure the meat is tender. Don’t follow the cooking time; follow the tenderness of the meat. You cannot overcook lamb. If in doubt, add 30 minutes more to the cooking time.

It is difficult to reproduce the same taste twice, all the ingredients (and there are many), especially the tagine herbs are distinctive for the recipe’s taste. But can you ever buy the same constellation twice?

Although I’m personally not a couscous lover, I must honestly confess, this recipe is by far the biggest taste sensation I know.

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Thai style mussels

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Preperation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The ingredients: 4-6 people

  • 1 kg mussels
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (2 cm)
  • 2-3 fresh small red chili peppers (depends on how spicy you like it)
  • 4 stalks of lemon grass
  • 4 dried lemon leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 large glass of white wine
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Fresh green herbs: coriander, basil, mint
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. trassie
  • 2 cubes fish stock
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Clean and rinse the mussels extensively. Grate the ginger, the garlic, the lemon grass & the red chili’s. Cut the celery and the shallots.

Heat the olive oil in the wok and braise the onions and the garlic. After a few minutes, add the rest of the grated ingredients. When this mix has baked shortly, add the mussels, the white wine, the fish stock, the fish sauce, the trassie, the lemon leaves and season with salt & pepper.

Close the lid and cook until the mussels open (typically 10 minutes). Now add the juice of 1 lemon and the coconut milk and stir to disperse the taste. Add the coarsely chopped leaves of the green herbs, stir and serve immediately.

The secret:

The secret is the trassie (shrimp paste), this Eastern ingredient really lifts the taste of the mussels.

The tip:

We serve these mussels as a starter with some bread to dip in the juice. But us Belgians like mussels in many styles as a main course and then we typically prepare 1 kg mussels per person. Although the standard in Belgium is mussels with frites, these Thai style mussels come out much better with good bread like Turkish pide.

If you don’t like grating ginger, use a small blender to cut ginger, chili, etc.

Turkey roulade

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Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 800 g turkey roulade
  • 400-500 g canned pineapple slices (in syrup or in juice)
  • butter
  • peanut oil
  • port wine
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • corn-starch
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Heat a bit of butter and some peanut oil in a pot, and bake the turkey roulade on all sides nicely brown. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Add the pineapple slices with the juice and a small glass of port wine (shot). Also add a cube of stock. Turn back the heat and close lid. The roulade is cooked when the inside temperature of the meat gets to 90°C. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, the time to cook a roulade will take about 50-50 minutes.

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Put the meat aside to cut it in slices. Take out the pineapple slices for a moment and thicken the sauce to your liking using cornstarch. Put the pineapple and the slices of meat back into the sauce to keep them warm.

Serve some slices of meat with some pineapple on top.

The tip:

Turkey is very light meat. So if you want this dish to be almost completely calorie free, then use pineapple in juice instead of syrup and serve the dish with a  cooked potato .instead of potato croquettes.

The secret:

Two secrets this time for novice cooks…

Always mix corn-starch in a small amount of water first before adding it slowly to the boiling sauce (e.g. 1 table spoon of corn-starch in a 3rd of a glass of water). This way you avoid clotting and you can control the thickness of the sauce you’re making exactly to your liking. Always stir while you add the corn-starch. The same process applies if you use potato starch instead of corn starch.

If you have to bake meat for a longer time then it is important to choose fat which can stand heat. This is why we use half butter half peanut oil. The peanut oil can resist heat much better and the meat browns but doesn’t burn.

Currysauce

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Preperation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

The ingredients:

  • 1 apple (preferably Granny Smith)
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • 1 to 1,5 l milk
  • 1 onion or 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsps. curry powder
  • 1 tsps. celery salt
  • 50 g butter
  • 50 g flour
  • salt & pepper

The work:

P1000969Peel the apple, remove the core and cut in in small pieces. Peel and grate the garlic, peel the onion and cut small. Braise the onions in the butter. Add the apple and the garlic and braise for 4-5 minutes making sure not to burn the mix, make sure it does not get brown.

Sprinkle the curry powder with the celery salt and the flour over the onions. Braise for another short time, 2 minutes or so, continuously stir slowly now since this will burn fast.

Add 0,5 milk and the chicken stock. Bring the milk to boiling while stirring. When it cooks, add milk to get to the right sauce thickness. Let the sauce simmer until the apples are soft.

Mix the sauce and add pepper to your liking. Most of the times, no salt is needed because of the herbs and the chicken stock.

The secret:

Definitely the secret to the recipe is the pinch of celery salt.

The tip:

We started to mix the sauce for our daughter, when she was young she didn’t like onions. When you mix the sauce, the apples make it kind of velvety. We love this sauce with white Tai rice and ‘chicken in the pot’ from an earlier post or grilled chicken.

I dedicate this recipe to my dearest friend who reads my blogs so carefully and kindly points out all my spelling mistakes.

Anchovy puff cookies

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I know it has been a while since the last post. The last months before summer holiday are typically extremely busy, just as the last month before Christmas. But from the evening terrace here in the South of France, we’re back.

If you want to impress your guests on summer eve, this will make a great tapas, appetizer, cookie, whatever…

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

The Ingredients:

  • 1 rol puff pastry
  • anchovy in olive oil
  • herbs de Provence

The work:

Open the roll of puff pastry half an hour in advance. Roll it open on the paper it sits on.

Preheat the oven at 200°C.

When the pastry has rested, lay the anchovy on the pastry in parallel stripes, about 3 cm apart (1,5 inch). Don’t worry about the olive oil, you can spill it on the pastry while dressing the anchovy on it.

When you’ve laid out the anchovy, sprinkle the herbs all over the pastry.

Now cut the pastry horizontally in between the rows of anchovy – the carving doesn’t have to go all the way through the pastry. Also make vertical cuts to form rectangular shaped ‘cookies’. It is important to make cuts beforehand to easily crack the pastry when done. You can also use a pizza wheel to make the carvings.

anchovy1Bake the pastry for 45 minutes in the oven.

When gold brown, take it out, let it cool down for a couple of minutes and crack into finger-food sized cookies. Serve in a basket.

It’s salty yes, exactly what you need on a sultry eve like tonight…

The Secret:

No secret, no tip… plain, simple, tasty, salty, simple, summer.

Pasta dish

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Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 1h30 minutes

Don’t be misled by the ‘simple’ name, this is anything but a simple dish.

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 500 g minced meat (half beef, half pork)
  • 6 tomatoes (at least 500 g)
  • 1 onion
  • 2,5 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp. flower
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ l milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
  • 75 g grated cheese (Emmentaler)
  • 250 g pasta (fusilli)
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Cook the pasta al dente in lightly salted water. Follow the timing instructions on the package. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to avoid that the pasta sticks.

Cut the onions into small blocks. Peal the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Cut the tomatoes in large portions.

Preheat the oven at 225°C.

Melt the butter in a pot, don’t let it brown, and mix with the flower. Add a third of the milk and bring this to a cooking point while stirring slowly. At the cooking point, add extra milk to get the correct sauce density. Turn down the heat a bit. Add the thyme and the bay leaf and cook the sauce gently for about 15 minutes. Keep your eye on the ballgame. Sauce on a milk base easily sticks to the pan or overflows, so don’t stop stirring, don’t leave.

Sieve the sauce and mix the grated cheese with the sauce.

Take an oven dish and put in a layer of pasta. Distribute the onion, the tomato and the minced meat on top. Season with salt and pepper. If the dish is not full yet, add the rest of the pasta and cover it with sauce. In case you have some leftover grated cheese you can sprinkle that on top.

The tip:

There are many different pasta kinds you can use for this: fusilli, spirelli, farfalle, penne, macaroni,…

We often replace the fresh tomatoes by canned tomatoes to save time and it has little effect on the end result.

All together this dish takes quite a while to cook. You wonder if it is really necessary to stir in that sauce for 15 long minutes. Believe me, it is exactly that herb-flavoured cheese sauce which lifts this dish from being ordinary to being incredibly fantastic.

If you do make the effort of cooking this on your busy week day, bear in mind that you can easily prepare some extra dishes and put them uncooked in the freezer for later use.

The secret:

I will confess that this recipe comes from a very old ­ actually our very first ­ cook book which came for free with our very first micro wave after we just got married. Because this is a recipe I never came across ever again I felt I should make an exception to my rule not to blog recipes from other cooks. Just to make sure it gets some extra exposure. I can’t leave it to disintegrate with the book.

Vongole

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 500 g spaghetti
  • 1 kg clams or cockles
  • olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 small dried chilli
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Make sure your shells are clean. Rinse as many times as you have to, to get them clean. Cut the shallots and grate or press the garlic. Cut the parsley.

Heat a pot of water with salt to boil the spaghetti and cook the spaghetti al dente.

Heat about a half a cup of olive oil in a pan and gently simmer the garlic, shallots and the pulverised chilli in it until tender. If your spaghetti is not ready yet, then take the pan of the heat until about 5 minutes before the pasta is ready.

Add the clams to the pan with the olive oil and shallots and heat until all shells are open. Put the lid on so you steam the shells to open them.

When the pasta is ready, take it out of the cooking water with kitchen tweezers and add it to the pan with the clams. Add parsley and mix everything gently. Serve is a deep dish.

The tip:

P1000315The golden advice is to rinse rinse rinse rinse… and rinse the shells until no sand or dirt is in the water anymore. Hateful it is when you are enjoying these delicacies from the seas and hear the sand grind between your teeth.

Don’t be dispirited if you have difficulties finding clams or cockles, you can surely find some shells to replace them, even mussels will work great.

Olive oils can have a very distinct taste. Taste your olive oil(s) beforehand to see if its taste is not too dominating, since you are using a lot of it in this recipe it can really start defining the dish’s taste.

The secret:

P1000318Less is more! Keep it simple, it will make everything better.

Our secret ingredient is the small dried chilli which we add to give the dish more pit.

Paella

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The Secret:

This recipe is definitely fusion cooking. We will not claim this is real Spanish paella, but it is definitely our Flemish best effort.

Between ‘90 and ’93 we lived in the area of Mons, a city where there used to be a lot of coalmines. Because of the mines, in the area there are still a lot of Italian and Spanish families. It is during that time that we tasted our first paella.

In an attempt to try this at home we looked up the recipe in a Belgian cookbook and tried this in a normal pan. It was disgusting; it didn’t even come close to what we had tasted during our local night out. We weren’t easily discouraged, so we made a couple more attempts, all without success.

So what was the secret?  Why didn’t we succeed?

As I traveled to Spain and to Portugal in my job as a software trainer, my husband said ‘do not come back without a paella recipe’. A good idea it was, but the people I had to train were mostly men. Each time I popped the question ‘Can you tell me how to make paella?’ Each time i got the same answer ‘I don’t know, my mother makes this for my family’.

Finally a friendly guy said ‘I’ll ask mom’ and a day later he handed me a yellow piece of paper with a handwritten recipe. ‘The secret’ he said ‘is to have equal heat under the pan and to get the balance between stock and ingredients just right’

Okay, this definitely gave a new start to our wrong footed paella project. We went out and bought our first paella pan for 10 persons. Later, as we became better at making it, we bought one for 25 and later one for 50 persons.

I don’t remember how close this original recipe came to how we make our paella today, but what follows is the result of many tries to get it exactly right.

Because paella is often made in larger quantities, telling you how much of each ingredient you need is difficult. How many people would you like to feed? 5, 10, 25, 50, 150? So the approach here will be different than in my other food blogs. I will post a recipe list and the ingredients for 5 persons. If you have other quantities, we developed a spread sheet to help you with the shopping list and calculate the cost.

The Ingredients: for 5 persons

  • 400 g round rice
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage (about 30-40 cm long, 1,5-2 cm diameter)
  • 10 drumsticks (front part of a chicken leg)
  • 12 mussels
  • clams (‘venusschelpen’ for the locals)
  • 300 g squid rings
  • 200 g prawns
  • 5 large shrimps (gambas)
  • 200 g green peas
  • 2 red paprika
  • 0,5 green paprika
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • parsley
  • 5 tsps. curcuma
  • 2 small portions saffron
  • 800 ml chicken bouillon (water with chicken bouillon cubes)
  • salt & pepper

The Work:

Make sure ingredients are cleaned or rinsed. Keep all your ingredients separately. Cut the onions. Remove the seeds of the paprika and cut them into pieces. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in small cubes. Cut the lemon in parts. Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut in 1,5 cm rounds.

Cut the cleaned squid into rings. If you have frozen fish, make sure to defrost them before cooking starts.

Clean the mussels by removing the beard and any dirt on the shells and rinse them several times. Put the clams in a bowl of water with some salt, afterwards rinse them several times. Throw away all clams and mussels which are open.

Put the garlic with some olive oil in a blender and blend until you have paste.

Prepare the stock adding the cubes to the water, adding the parsley, curcuma and saffron. Gently boil this in a separate cooking pot in order to mix all flavors. We like to add some extra salt, pepper and dried chilly to give the stock some punch. When all ingredients have blended together, you can put the stock aside until you need it later.

Now the prep work is done, we can start with the real job.

P1000297P1000300P1000304Heat up the olive oil and bake the chicken legs until they are browned, also add the chorizo. When done, move the chicken and the chorizo to the outer circle of the pan, and turn down the heater for that outer area. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how big the pieces of the meat are. If the chorizo starts to brown too quickly, move them to the outer circle. In this stage you can spoon out some oil and chicken fat out of the middle area, keep it to be used later.

Now you have an open space in the middle. Put the garlic paste and simmer for a while. Do not let it brown! Add the onions and paprika and let these soften gently while stirring from time to time. Move this to the outside, and let the water evaporate until you have only oil.

The following step is to add the rice in the center and let it glaze in the oil. At this point you can add some saved up oil again if necessary.

P1000305Add the peas, tomatoes, the squid and the stock and mix all. Always stir and mix gently in order to keep the ingredients in tact as much as possible. Put all burners equally on the lowest position. From now on don’t stir anymore. Just check from time to time that nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan

Put on top of the paella the clams, the mussels, the gambas and the shrimps and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let it all cook gently P1000307just checking that it does not burn.

After about 10 minutes you are allowed to stir everything once and check again that it does not burn. Reduce the heat if needed by cutting it completely for a while. Cover again with aluminum foil and let it cook gently for another 10 to 20 minutes until the rice is done and the mussels are open and all shrimps are nicely P1000310red.

Serve with a piece of lemon on top.

The Tip:

Anyone can make paella. It is not difficult; just stick to some simple rules.

In all stages of the cooking process it is important to control the heat well. P1000312Ideal is a paella pan heated with a burner with different circular sections. Make sure your pan is a 100% level. Nowadays every smart phone has a level app you can download free of charge to check. The biggest danger is wind, as this will make the heating less controllable. If you need to cook in an open area, wrap some aluminum foil around the pan so the wind cannot play with the flames.

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Mussel packets on the BBQ

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Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • aluminium foil
  • 1 kg mussels
  • 2 onions
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 small glass of white wine
  • 1 cube fish stock
  • leaf parsley (optional)
  • 0,5 clove garlic (optional)
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Wash and clean the mussels. It is very important to wash the mussels in plenty of water multiple times to make sure all sand and dirt is gone. As you poor the fresh mussels in a basin with ample water to rinse them, the mussels which do not sink to the bottom or remain open are the ones which are bad. So throw those away. After cleaning the mussels, leak them out for a short moment in time.

Fold a long leaf of aluminium foil double lengthwise. The idea is to make bags for the mussels, so you need a length of about 30-40 cm.

Add a handful of mussels in the centre of the foil. Fold the foil as if you will close it as a bag, so that a pit is formed to capture the ingredients and liquids which you will start adding to the mussel-bag.

In each mussel bag sprinkle some onion, some celery, some leaf parsley and optionally some garlic. Poor in the bag some white wine – a bottom will do since the mussels contain enough water in their shells to cook them.

Sprinkle some of the crunched fish stock cube in each bag and add salt & pepper.

Now close the bags smartly. The bags should be easy to grip with the barbecue tongs and all the moisture should remain in the bag until serving. It’s a challenge the first time, but once you’ve thought about it, I’m sure you’ll fold your own favourite bag shape.

When the bags are closed you can put them on the BBQ. Since no BBQ has equal fire everywhere, you should move the bags half way through the cooking time. Move the bags on the outside of the fire to the inside and vice versa. A mussel only needs 10 minutes to cook. Out of experience we know it takes a bit longer on the BBQ, but it will depend on your BBQ on how long they will need before done. Cooking time may easily go up to 20-30 minutes, depending. The solution is to peek from time to time. Take a bag from the fire, open it carefully and look if all the mussels are open and they don’t look glazy anymore. If some of the shells are still closed, close the bag and put it back on the fire for 5 minutes and repeat the sneak peek process.

Put the bag on a plate and serve with a piece of lemon on the side and brown bread. Let your guests discover the content of the bags themselves. The aroma escaping of such a bag is delicious. The cooking juices are great for dipping a good piece of brown bread.

Be careful, if you serve with bread some of your guests will turn this starter into a main course. In summer time this makes a great light lunch.

The secret:

Don’t look for the largest mussels. The small French Bouchot mussels are much more tasteful and are often less expensive than the larger ‘jumbo’s’ which are reserved for restaurants.

The tip:

Handle the aluminium bags always by lifting them up vertically. Don’t shove them over the grill; this will damage the bottom of the bag and let the cooking moisture escape. It is exactly that juice in the bag which steams and flavours the mussels.

Do not be tempted to put too many mussels in a bag!

You can develop many nuances to this recipe flavouring the mussels to your personal or regional taste. For instance you can add a slice of lemon in the package, or a drop of Ricard (anisette), or add some extra spices or herbs, or replace the wine with beer…these are only a handful of ideas.

Cleaning up after a mussel diner is not the nicest job. If everyone closes the packs again after eating, you can punch some holes in the bottom of the bag to leak out the left over juices. After some time, press out the bags and put them in the bin.

Pappardelle with cep and truffle

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Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes.

The ingredients: for 6 persons

  • 550 g pappardelle
  • 150 g grated parmesan
  • 300 g cooked ham
  • 80g dried cep
  • 1 cube butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. of wild broth paste
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (400 g)
  • 1 can passata (500 g pureed tomatoes)
  • 1dl cream (optional)
  • black pepper & salt
  • truffle or 3 tbsp. truffle oil.

The work:

First thing to do is to drown the dried mushrooms in lukewarm water. They need to absorb water for at least 15 minutes. After 15 minutes (or longer) you drain the mushrooms but make sure to collect the brown water in a small cooking pot.

Add the wild bouillon paste to the liquid and boil it down until it is really concentrated. You need a small cup of condensed liquid at the end of the process.

In the meantime, heat the oil and the butter in a pan and add the pressed garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes but make sure it does not get brown. After 3 minutes you add the drained mushrooms. Stir each time you add something, to mix the ingredients. After another 3 minutes add the ham, and after another 4 minutes add the chopped tomatoes and the passata. Season the sauce with pepper, salt and truffle or truffle oil. Let the sauce cook softly for 15-20 minutes. When the condensed stock is ready, add it to the sauce as well.

Optionally add cream to the sauce a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking time; always do this on low fire. Cream should not be boiled.

Cook your pasta al dente. Mix the pasta with the sauce and serve with some parmesan on top.

The Secret:

The reduced mushroom liquid is the secret of the success here. Take your time to reduce the liquid, it will make a huge difference.

P1000282The Tip:

You can make this recipe with real truffle and real fresh cep. Both are really hard or even impossible to find in a suburban town like ours and also influence the cost of this diner a lot. The truffle oil and dried cep are much easier to come by and much easier in your pocket.

We have a disagreement at home about using cream or not in this dish. OK, it adds extra fat to the recipe, but also smoothness in taste. The small picture is without cream. Try it out to find out your personal preference.

As you can see in our pictures, if there is no pappardelle in the house, another pasta will do fine.