Rolling Pasta By Hand – Tortelloni Burro E Oro

Making pasta by hand from start to finish, mixing the flour and eggs, rolling and rolling and then shaping and filling is really therapeutic. This is the old school way that Evan Funke in his book American Sfoglino (and his restaurant in Venice, CA) preaches. He apparently despises pasta machines and blames them for inferior pasta that lacks the proper texture and firmness.

Well, I am not throwing away my pasta machine anytime soon. I am a firm believer in convenience as much as I love good food. So, I leave the hand rolling of the sfoglia (that’s the pasta dough sheet) to those days when I want to take my mind off work and stress (lots of stress these days). Those days where I do not mind taking my time and stretching and rolling egg dough with a long wooden dowel until it is as thing as paper. Truth be told after doing this a few times now it barely takes much longer than dough rolled with the old Atlas pasta machine.

The dough is only eggs and flour gradually mixed together by hand. Initially the mass is ragged and had dry spots here and there. Then slowly with some cutting action from a dough scraper is starts becoming more homogeneous. After it rests for 15 minutes or so I divide it into 2 pieces and knead each one very well, then wrap in plastic and leave them alone for a couple hours. After that they are ready to roll.

I do not have a specialty cool artisanal matarelo (long rolling pin) but i do have a long round dowel that works pretty well. For a surface you really need a good wooden board. Something large that will accommodate the big sheet of pasta you are about to roll. The first time I tried this on just my granite counter top it definitely did not work too well. It either kept sticking or I had too much flour. So, I now use a large cutting board i have and it works great. It has the right texture and surface to roll and then cut the dough. It also fits a Negroni on it at the same time!

Funke has a good clear method for novice pasta rollers like myself. He basically directs us to roll the dough into a large circle and using an imaginary clock as a guide. Always roll at 10, 11, 12, 1 and 2:00 o’clock then turn the dough clockwise and roll….until it starts getting thin and can be rolled on the matarello and gently stretched, rotated and rolled again. The end result is a thin round sheet that you can almost see through it. He recommends different thicknesses depending on the final dish you are making but I do not find the directions of “As thick as 7 post-it notes” very helpful. So, I judge it by eye until I am happy with how thin it is.

Tortelloni2

When the pasta sheet is rolled it is ready to be shaped into whatever you want. Simplest form is to roll it over itself like a loose jelly roll and slice it into noodles like Pappardelle or Tagliatelle. This time around I went with a stuffed pasta and made a filling of ricotta, eggs and Parmesan cheese.

I used an accordion cutter to quickly make squares of the sfoglia and with a piping bag I put a dollop of filling in each square and shaped them into cool Tortelloni. For a sauce I served most of them with a simple tomato butter sauce. This is a ridiculously easy sauce I first heard about it from the late Marcella Hazan. An onion is gently simmered in pureed tomatoes with a good dose of butter. In the end the onion is removed and you have a wonderful Burro e Oro sauce. I also tossed some in browned butter and walnuts for variety. Both delicious but the butter tomato sauce is fantastic with the perfect pasta and the creamy filling especially after a good shower of Parmesan cheese.

Granny Smith Apple Ice Cream

It’s rare that I proclaim something “the best”. Even when I do -like I am doing about this ice cream- it’s sort of a hyperbole. Maybe it should be “up until now, in my humble opinion, this is the best apple ice cream I’ve had”. So, if you had not gotten my point yet, what I’m saying is this is one awesome ice cream if you like apples. I’ve prepared this recipe (it’s from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook) multiple times and it never disappoints and have not been surpassed. It’s got the deep tart flavor of Granny Smiths swirled with a vanilla scented sweet apple puree.

The ice cream has two main components, an apple custard and a puree of apples that is mixed in after the custard is churned. To make the custard we start with a bunch of Granny Smith apples. I sliced those and cooked them till softened in apple cider (this would be the sweet non-alcoholic one, not the hard cider. It’s basically unfiltered apple juice) and citric acid. When the apples are very tender I pureed them with a stick blender and strained them to get as smooth of a product as possible.

The rest of the custard is a standard mixture of egg yolks, glucose sugar, milk and cream. The yolks get whisked with the sugar. The dairy and glucose are warmed with the apple puree and gently added to the yolks. The custard is then carefully cooked to thicken. Lastly I added a bit of Calvados (French Apple brandy) to the cooled custard.

For the second component, sweet apples like Honeycrisp , Fuji or Gala are used. I peeled those, removed the cores and quartered them. They are cooked in a baking dish in the oven along with brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and the pulp from a vanilla bean. When totally soft and syrupy I pureed the whole mixture resulting in one of the most delicious apple sauces possible.

As with all ice creams and sorbets I make I like to let mixture sit in the fridge for 8 – 24 hours at least before churning. This is really essential for a good texture and better “shelf-life” in the freezer. There is a lot of science about why that is the case and it is fascinating (well, to me it is). In any case, after a rest in the fridge I churned the apple custard and layered that in two quart containers alternating with the baked apple puree.

It’s so delicious and addictive on it’s own but it also goes good with any cake, especially if it has hints of caramel. Recently I also served it with an Italian ricotta apple cake. Truthfully I was not crazy about how the cake turned out (odd texture) so I was glad I had the delightful ice cream to help it along.

Cod Almondine, Spinach in Almond Cream and Lemon Sauce

Fish Almondine is a classic dish. Usually made with trout. The fish is floured and sauteed in brown butter with almonds. The sauce is finished in the pan with lemon juice and parsley. It’s delicious and that’s what was for dinner tonight…sort of. This dish loosely based on one from the Rich Table restaurant book has all the elements and flavors of the classic Almondine with a few really nice twists.

The book recipe makes a pureed sorrel sauce as a sharp contrast to the fish. Instead of that I made a lemon sauce based on Italian lemon Marmellata that is awesome with any fish dish. I wanted it refined rather that rustic and chunky (usually it is like a relish). So, I pureed whole lemons in my Vitamix with olive oil, a pinch of salt a pinch of chile flakes and some sugar along with some water to get a smooth sauce with the texture of a loose mayonnaise.

Sauteed spinach is a pretty good light accompaniment to fish. Toasted almonds are frequently added to it. To make it more interesting and special (this was a birthday dinner after all) it is amped up with more almond flavor in the form of almond cream. To make the cream I simmered 3 cups of almond milk and a 1/4 cup heavy cream together until they were reduced to about 2/3 of a cup and became thick. Interesting thing, store bought almond milk has some salt in it. So by the time the whole thing is reduced the cream was pretty well seasoned. Good thing I tasted and noticed before adding any salt!

I sauteed shallots and garlic in butter and added fresh spinach leaves. The spinach cooked in the pan for only a couple of minutes until wilted. Then I chopped it coarsly and added it to the almond cream. This was re-heated when ready to serve.

With the sauce done and the spinach good to go the dinner was easy to finish. As usual, I had brined the fish in a 10% salt water solution for 15 minutes, rinsed it and patted it dry. Even though the original recipe called for trout and the store had some very nice steelhead trout I really wanted a thick white flaky fish today. They had fantastic cod. So I went with that.

Cooking the fish is more or less a classic method for this type of dish. I dredged the fish in flour and cooked it in olive oil till very well browned on one side. I flipped the fish, added some brown butter to the pan and slipped the whole thing into a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes. I basted the fish with the butter and juices about half way through. When I took the fish out of the oven I threw in sliced almonds (these were toasted in butter earlier as the butter was browning), fresh parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice. The sauce is wonderful and with in a minute or two it gets emulsified into a nice consistency.

To plate it, I had the kids do the whole thing with some direction. They did a good job smearing the lemon sauce on the fancy plates, putting a clump of the spinach. Then a drizzle of the almond cream around the spinach and a piece of fish on top followed by the pan almond-lemon sauce. Everyone one really loved this dish and it will be worth a repeat, probably with trout next time around.

Beans and Beef with Chile and Panela

It’s the season for deeply flavored stews, braises, roasts and rich bean dishes. This one is not based on any specific recipe but like most cooking I do is more based on a flavor profile, in this case American Southwestern/Mexican. The starting point was the beef shoulder roast. I wanted it more substantial, enter the beans and I wanted some spice and a chile profile. It came out very good and worth documenting for future repeats. Here’s what I did.

I seasoned the beef with a combination of freshly ground Ancho and chipotle (the dried not canned chipotle) chilies, salt, black pepper, ground allspice and dried oregano and panela (more on that panela part a little later). I let that sit for several hour, doing this overnight is not a bad idea but I did not have the time.

Like most any classic braise or stew I first seared the meat in fat, pork fat in this case. Similar to what I did with the Sugo and Polenta dish I posted about recently, I wanted to cook this low and slow in my clay pot. So, once browned the meat would go there until all pieces where browned.

I sauteed a mixture of onions, garlic, peppers and more of the spice mixture in the fat left in the pan, then I deglazed it with beer to get all the good browned bits off. I added that to the pot with the meat, put in some pinto beans that I had soaked in water overnight. I topped it with tomatoes and water. For balance I wanted a very small hint of sweetness so I added a couple of spoons of Panela.

Panela is a type of unrefined sugar used a lot in Latin American cooking. It’s used to make sweet treats, drinks, or in stews. It usually comes in the shape of large disks or pyramid shaped blocks. I use a knife to shave off as much as I need.

It’s a very tasty stew that can be adapted to whatever you might have in the pantry, freezer or fridge. Depending on what part of the world you are in now too it is a lovely comfort food perfect for the cold weather. We enjoyed it just like a bowl of chili with jalapenos, sour cream, cilantro and cheese.

Beets with Tahini

I had dinner at Zahav in Philadelphia recently. It’s a very popular Israeli restaurant with tons of acclaim and awards. It was a fantastic meal with lots of small vegetable appetizers, some delicious hummus tahini, and very good lamb shoulder and chicken (the dessert on the other hand was not exactly my cup of tea). What really stood out for me, way more than the meat courses, where all the awesome vegetable dishes. These included spicy roasted eggplant, tart napa cabbage salad, pickled persimmon salad, roasted cauliflower and this excellent beet dish (I am sure I am forgetting a few too).

Since I already had the Zahav cookbook on my shelve I took a look in it to see if the beet dish is there and sure enough it was. Beets are definitely a dividing line dish. So many people hate them. Others love them. I’m certainly in the second camp of people. I’ll eat them almost any which way. I even like those canned ones in salads. Back to this simple recipe. I learned the value of salt roasting the beets here.

Usually I would wrap the beets in foil and just roast them. This works great but the shredded beets in this dish had a totally different texture. They were perfectly cooked, a bit dry but also had a nice mild crunch. Salt roasting is the answer. Solomonov (the chef/owner of Zahav) buries the beets in kosher salt and roasts them. This wicks away moisture, concentrates the flavor and of course cooks the beets. They can be then peeled and grated to shreds without getting mushy or losing their texture.

Sure it takes some time to get the beets cooked, but after that the rest is very quick. The shredded beets are tossed with tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, mint, cumin and dill. I served it initially with some more dishes from the Zahav book including the onion marinated chicken skewers and the kale apple salad. The best part is that this stuff keeps pretty well and tastes amazing for days with crispy pita chips.

Sugo and Polenta with Over- Easy Egg

Rustic, but not simple, as it gets and so very satisfying. The combination of tender polenta and some sort of saucy meat is a classic. This one, based on a recipe from the book Hello! My Name is Tasty (I’m loving this book and I wrote about it previously here), is an excellent example of this combination.

The sugo is an Italian sauce usually meaty and usually in my experience on the thinner side. This one is based on a few different proteins. First I cooked down a bunch of bacon pieces to render lots of the fat and get the bacon a bit browned. In the rendered fat I seared a large hunk of pork shoulder. The the same is repeated for boneless chicken thighs in the pork fat.

I added chopped up onions, carrots and celery to the pan along with some sage and some spices- a small piece of cinnamon and a couple of cloves. To that I add the canned San Marzano tomatoes and a few cups of whey. Yes, whey. If you have a restaurant or two and you make cheese -like the folks from the Tasty restaurants do- then it makes sense to waste as little as possible. So the recipe for the sugo uses the whey left over from making cheese as the liquid. It is a bit tangy, it is delicious and makes a lot of sense in this rich sauce. I also love the addition of the spices. They by no means overwhelm but stay in the background adding warmth and edge.

I like to cook these types of dishes in a clay pot if I have the time. So all the stuff went into a large Colombian Champa pot and into the oven for a few hours. When it was done and cooled I put it in the fridge overnight. The next day the thick layer of fat on top is removed and the meat gets shredded by hand. I gently reheated the sugo and adjusted the seasoning.

Now that the sugo is done it can be tossed with pasta, used in a lasagna (I did exactly that with the leftovers actually) or as a perfect comforting topping for polenta as I did here. I cooked the polenta in the oven as I usually do, ratio of about 1 to 4 polenta to water. It cooks gently for about an hour with minimal stirring and stirred in Parmesan and butter in the end.

To assemble the plates I put in a ladle of soft polenta in oven-proof bowl and topped it with the sugo and a couple of slices of fresh mozzarella. These go in a hot oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese, then they are served piping hot with a sunny side up egg. It’s a deliciously warm and comforting plate of food with great mix of flavors and textures.

Lardo Tipico

Lardo

Man is this good. Like very very good. It’s another one of those posts here that did not start as a planned blog post, hence the no preparation pictures. I wish I had taken some. Oh well, maybe next time since I am sure there will be a next time. After months in the cure, I sliced and tasted the Lardo and it was so amazing I had to post about it. What was once just a chunk of pork fat became -with the application of salt, herbs and time- a luscious, nutty, savory piece of Salumi.

Let me back up a bit. I’ve mentioned a few times that I buy most of my awesome pork from a local farmer who really raises some tasty pigs at Yonder Way Farm. A while back some of the shoulder pieces I bought had a thicker than normal layer of perfect white fat on them. Usually I save that up, freeze it and use it for sausage. These were too nice and perfect though. So, I decided to keep them whole and invest some time to make Lardo. This preparation is a classic method of preserving and enjoying pork back fat from the Lombardy region of Italy, especially the town of Colonnata. The “real” Lardo from there is labeled as the only authentic “Lardo di Colonnata“. It is salted and kept in beautiful boxes made from marble harvested in those same Lombardy hills. I have never had this real thing and truth be told I did not have a ton of expectation for my humble cured fat back.

Lardo3

Still, I figured what do I have to lose. I already have a good bit of frozen fat for sausage, so I gave Lardo a shot. I used the recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s Salumi book as a template but it really is more of a process than a recipe. I chopped up fresh rosemary leaves, crushed some juniper and a good bit of black pepper and mixed that with kosher salt. Since this is pretty much 99% fat and has little to no muscle fibers the salt percentage is not that important to measure out. Usually when I make Coppa, Bresaola or Lomo or any other cured whole muscle the salt should be about 3% of the weight of the meat. Too little and the meat might spoil or not taste well-seasoned. Too much and it will be way too salty and not pleasant.

The fatback on the other hand does not absorb the salt nearly as readily as the muscle fibers and has very little water content. So, what we do here is just pack the fat in the salt and spice mixture and ensure there is a thick layer of salt all around. The best way to do this is to just put it in a Foodsaver bag and vacuum seal it. The real enemy of this process is light. Keep it away from light while it cures and to store it after it is cured (I wrapped mine well in parchment paper to store in the fridge). After vacuum packing in the salt cure I put it in the back of a fridge drawer for about 4 months to cure. Yes, four months. This is easy Salumi but it is S…L…O..W. When time is up, I took it out of the salt, rinsed it well and patted it dry very well. I sliced a few very thin sliced right away and tasted. It was just awesome. The flavor was nutty, seasoned perfectly with salt and all those herbs and spices. Everything came through but the flavor of the pork was all there and shone through. It’s tough to describe how good this damn stuff is and how surprised I was by that. The texture also was not greasy or soft but had a delightful firm “crunch”. Even visually it is arresting, just look at that lovely pink hue.

Lardo2

How to serve this? Well, I ate a good bit as described above. Sliced razor thin. It is really good if allowed to sit for a moment on a good piece of warm toasted bread, drizzled with a bit of grassy olive oil and topped with a piece of arugula. Next level up? Pizza “Bianca”. This is my homemade pizza dough, baked naked and then as soon as it comes out of the oven covered with those thin thin slices of goodness. This one is especially good with a few dollops of ricotta, perhaps not “traditional” but taste in my house always wins over tradition!

Lardo Pizza

…Or just on a pizza with other awesome toppings

Lardo Pizza2

Still, I wanted to make a dish that uses more of the Lardo.

Lardo-Chicken

I recalled a recipe I had seen in Zachary Pelaccio’s book Eat with Your Hands┬áthat combines Lardo with chicken thighs and cape gooseberries. That was a good idea! It starts of by chopping the Lardo pieces into small cubes and cooking them down until crispy. I took those out of the pan and used the fat to sear the chicken, then braising it with my local version of gooseberries, aka tomatillos. I added the crisped Lardo pieces and let the chicken cook until tender and the tomatillos are burst making a thick sauce. A simple and delicious dish that we served with pasta and a glass of wine.

Lardo-Garlic

Lardo as is the case with most whole muscle (or fat) salumi is really about the pig. I have no doubt that if this was done with commercial factory pork it would not be anywhere as good and most likely the Lardo especially would be shitty. Now that I know how amazing this salted, seasoned pork back fat can be I will be looking forward to the next piece of free range pork with a thick layer of snow white fat.

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