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.

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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.

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.

Aviary Cocktail: Another Caucasian, Gary

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The Dude might not recognize this lovely complex drink as his favorite indulgence but the folks at Aviary, the Chicago and NYC cocktail bar, created this in his honor. It is a refined take on the White Russian and named after one of thousands of memorable Dude quotes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.

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The classic white Russian cocktail is vodka, coffee flavored liqueur (like Kahlua), and cream or milk. The Aviary cocktail book is a beautiful piece of work that gives us a look into what it means to take modern cocktails to the next level. Have I mentioned that it is an absolutely beautiful book? It really is and the story of how it was put together is really fascinating too. The Aviary, from the same team as the three star Alinea restaurant, treats drinks as complex dishes. The recipes employ all kinds of techniques, hydrocolloids, equipment and service pieces.

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While time consuming, this is not a difficult recipe and requires no specialized tools or ingredients (unless you consider a large ice cube mold specialized in which case you can probably use smaller ice cube molds). The four major components in the “Another Caucasian, Gary” – I do love saying that- are: large milk ice cubes, chicory syrup, rum and Galliano L’Autentico. 

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Obviously, I did not have to do much to the booze beyond buy it. I got a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, one that I am fond of actually and is usually in my bar. The Galliano on the other hand is new to me. It’s in a class of Italian liqueurs that are considered Aperitifs or Amaros. Typically one of a kind recipes whose exact ingredients are very well-guarded and ranging in alcohol content all across the board from slightly more than wine’s ABV to stronger proofs. Galliano L’Autentico is around 30% ABV and has dominant notes of vanilla and anise. It makes a lovely Old Fashioned cocktail as well used instead of the sugar in that recipe.

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Milk ice cubes make up the dairy portion of the cocktail. Why not? They look cool, dissolve slowly and change the flavor, texture and dilution of the drink making it enjoyable till the last sip. So, just pour some whole milk into large ice cube molds and freeze. That’s all.

Chicory, for those here in the US and especially in the states close to Louisiana, might best know it as an additive to the famed New Orleans coffee. It’s a root that is bitter with notes of coffee, cocoa and some funk. It is usually sold dried and coarsely ground. To make the syrup it is first toasted and mixed with sugar and water, vacuum packed and “cooked” sous vide at 90 C for an hour. I then strained it and reserved the liquid in the fridge.

Chicory Syrup

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With the syrup done and the milk ice ready, the cocktail can be easily put together. The syrup, rum and Galliano are shaken with ice and poured over the milk ice cube. It makes for a complex drink that initially is bracing and has a lot of bitter boozy tones. As the ice melts we start getting more floral and herbal flavors from the liqueur, the dairy and coffee meld more and the drink starts to echo a White Russian. I doubt The Dude would love this version, but i sure did. It’s a much better cocktail than his beloved “Caucasian”.

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Lasagna al Forno: Two Excellent Versions

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We are a house divided. We are a house divided when it comes to Lasagna that is. My wife and youngest prefer the one common in the south of Italy while my oldest and I prefer the luxurious northern version. Recently I figured why not please everyone? Why not make both and let peace and awesome Italian pasta casseroles reign? So, what is the difference? Well, they are both properly called “Lasagna al Forno” meaning oven-baked Lasagna. So they both have lasagna (the actual flat noodle) and both are baked in the oven. They both have cheese and a sauce (and I am simplifying and generalizing quiet a bit here because really any dish of Lasagna noodles baked in the oven is a Lasagna al Forno).

Lasagna-Bolognese

Lasagna

The southern version has a sauce of tomatoes and meat. Most often the meats (sausage, meatballs, beef chunks, or ground beef or maybe a combo) are cooked in the tomato sauce to make a Neapolitan ragu before getting layered in the casserole with the noodles, ricotta cheese and mozzarella. First an foremost though, for me, what distinguishes this type of Lasagna from the northern version is the emphasis on the tomato sauce.

Now, the northern version is that of Bologna, the region (Emilia-Romagna) rich with dairy, pork and fat. It’s where so many delicious foods come from like Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and true balsamic vinegar. The Lasagna Bolognese is richer with a thick meaty Ragu Bolognese. It does not use ricotta and instead gets its creamy component from Balsamella, aka Bechamel sauce made from flour, butter, milk and seasoned with a pinch of nutmeg.

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To make the Bolognese meat sauce I follow a basic template I learned from Mario Batali that includes starting with finely minced pancetta, garlic, onions, carrots, garlic and celery. I like using a food processor for that to get them very fine so that they can almost melt into the sauce. For the meat I use at least two types (usually veal and pork). I get the vegetable mixture cooking very gently in olive oil and butter before stirring the meats in.

Tomato Paste

The only tomato in this sauce is a few spoons of tomato paste that gets added in with fresh thyme, white wine, a Parmesan cheese rind (yes, just like it sounds. I save those hard ends from the cheese I buy) and whole milk. The ragu simmers very gently for a couple of hours or more until everything is tender and the flavors are well melded. The end result is a thick meat sauce that is definitely on the drier side when compared with a typical tomato pasta sauce.

Pancetta

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The sauce for the Neapolitan style lasagna contains a couple of cans of San Marzano tomato, onions, basil, oregano, garlic and -this time around for the sake of time saving- ground beef. It is a delicious sauce and tastes lighter and fresher because of all the tomato, aromatics and herbs.

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To assemble the process is similar for both casseroles. A bit of sauce on the bottom followed by noodles, sauce, ricotta or balsamella, cheese (a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan), noodles,….I like to finish with a thin layer of sauce (or blasamella in case of the Bolognese) and some more cheese. I bake the dishes covered at first to get everything bubbly and cooked through then I uncover for the last 20 minutes or so to get the cheese and top browned. As for the noodles themselves, unless I made fresh egg pasta for the dish, I never boil them anymore. For dry pasta I just let them soak in water for about an hour. They hydrate and get soft and pliable. I make sure the built lasagna is slightly on the “juicy” side so the noodles cook perfectly as the dish bakes.

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Lasagna-Napoletana

Now the hardest part is to…wait. After the dishes are baked they need to rest for a good 20 minutes. They need to settle down, cool slightly and set a bit. This will, not only make them easier to eat, but also much easier to portion and cut out cleanly without the layers falling apart. Yes, two of those are a lot of baked noodles for the four of us, but Lasagna are excellent leftovers. So we enjoyed these for a couple of more days and everyone was happy.

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Manresa: Assorted Potatoes, Curds and Whey, Norinade

Potatoes-Curds-Norinade4The Manresa cookbook from the three- star restaurant of the same name in California is a beautiful, inspiring and thoughtfully written book. I read it cover to cover and frequently flip through it to read various parts every so often. Chef David Kinch got my attention when he was featured on a season of The Mind of A Chef on PBS especially the episode about how he builds a menu. It’s fascinating stuff to me. I had not cooked anything from the book until now though.

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It immediately captured my attention when I saw the picture and read the name. Norinade? What the hell is that. This is basically a dish of potatoes and cheese, but Norinade just had a nice ring to it. It’s a play on the traditional tapenade, the Provencal dip made of mashed up olives, capers and anchovies. Instead of olives though, chef Kinch makes it with seaweed, specifically nori sheets like the ones used in sushi rolls. It is deep black in color, looks like tapenade but tastes very different with brightness and sea flavor. It perfectly accentuates the freshly made curds and dense potatoes.

To make it I simmered shallots, garlic and onions in plenty of olive oil before adding minced toasted nori sheets and allowed the mixture to cool and infuse. I drained the solids and minced them very well to a chunky paste before loosening with the reserved oil and seasoning with soy sauce and Champagne vinegar. The idea is to get a sharp and pungent mixture so that only a few drizzles are enough to add a kick of umami flavor.

Potatoes-Crispy

 

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The potatoes are cooked in two ways. First we have the soft ones. I used a mixture of colors of small specimens. These are simmered in salted water with aromatics (garlic, thyme, rosemary…) until tender. I then peeled them and tossed in a little oil. The other batch is cooked in very little water but plenty of salt in a pressure cooker for only a few minutes. This makes them very soft, seasons them and does not allow them to absorb a lot of water. I then tore them to rough 1-inch pieces and let them dry on a plate in the fridge uncovered. When ready to serve the potato chunks are fried in oil to get lovely crispy nuggets.

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It is so easy to make a simple fresh cheese at home that I always wonder why I do not make more of it. Just mix in some whole milk and a little cream along with a tablet of rennet (or liquid rennet drops) and gently warm to about 180 F or so. Do not boil it or the enzyme will deactivate and not work properly. When the curds form a solid mass, let the mixture sit for another hour, then strain into a cheesecloth. The longer it sits in the cheesecloth to drain the drier it gets. This one sat for about 20 hours and was the texture of firm ricotta. I also reserved the whey that was produced since it is effectively the sauce for the dish. Whey is a great medium to cook in as well, like braising some pork in it for example.

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The whey goes in a small pan with lemon juice and some salt. Using my stick blender I frothed it up very nicely as it warmed up and added in a couple of tablespoons of butter. For the larger sized potatoes I cut them in half and the others remained whole. These got warmed up gently in the microwave and were the first items to go on the plates. I divided up the crispy potatoes next and 5 or 6 nuggets of cheese in each bowl. Then I sauced with some of the Norinade and the frothed whey mixture. A final garnish of thyme leaves finished the dish up.

Whey Foam

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Naturally Leavened Panettone

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This is another recipe from this past holiday season and it is worth recording for reference (and I got it posted before the end of January!). It worked very good but I will need to change a few things next time around, so a quick record of it is a good idea. Usually I make a Panettone or Stollen for Christmas but never with a 100% natural leaven. The idea to make a Panettone with natural levain is something that I wanted to do as soon as I saw the loaves made by Roy.

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I used my regular 100% rye starter to make the levain as always using 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat flours. For the recipe, I used Peter Reinhart’s from Artisan Breads Everyday as a reference. Seeing pictures of Roy’s bread I decided on chocolate and cherry as my flavors.

I soaked the cherries in dark rum while I worked on the starter and dough. To make the levain I mixed roughly 40 gr of the rye starter with 170 gr of 50-50 white and whole wheat flours. After about 6 hours it was bubbly and good to go. The dough in Reinhart’s recipe uses commercial yeast in addition to the levain, I opted to stick only with the natural starter and skip the yeast.

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Since the dough is enriched with soft butter and egg yolks it is a good idea to make it in a KitchenAid mixer to get everything well incorporated and the gluten developed. I decided to bake it in one large loaf using a bundt pan that I sprayed with non-stick oil. The dough, like most Panettone is too slack to really shape it so I just transferred it from the bowl of the mixer into the bundt pan and evened it out as much as possible.

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The dough rises slowly for about 12 hours and develops a lot of flavor. After baking and cooling it is ready to slice. The shape, look and texture of the finished loaf are all excellent. Due to the levain and the long fermentation time, the bread had a great robust flavor. This however did not really work as much as I would’ve liked with the tart cherries and dark chocolate chips.  There was almost too much flavor in there and the bread needed more sweetness and mellow flavors. Next time I’ll go with some almonds and some sweeter fruit like currents, apricots, prunes and maybe just a few cherries.