Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Post-bar life is rather strange. As much as I’ve been looking forward to it…I find this whole leisure time business truly weird. I’m not naturally a “relax and do nothing” kind of person, in case you didn’t get that from the “law school plus food blog” thing. So I decided to channel my energies into cooking. For help, I turned to one of the most intense chefs I could think of: Thomas Keller. And The French Laundry Cookbook. I’ve been meaning to check out Keller’s pasta dough since Linda at Salty Seattle posted about it. I went a little creative with this one; the end recipe is a Celia original. Pasta is my lingua franca. This isn’t a vintage recipe, but it’s a new evolution of a traditional form. And it’s totally delicious.
Before we even get to pasta, though, we need to start with fillings. And before we get to filling, we need to start with ingredients. These agnolotti were to be ricotta-filled, so in keeping with Keller-esque attention to detail I made my ricotta from scratch. It’s really, really easy to do. You only need these three ingredients. Well…and a little salt.
I used a Barefoot Contessa recipe because I had a blechy day and was in a “screw it, use tons of cream” kind of mood. It was so worth it. The actual process is super-simple. You just mix together the dairy and the curdling agent (lemon juice works, as well as vinegar) and boil the crap out of it (OK, there’s more to it, but I’m trying to keep it simple right now). You can see the curds and whey starting to separate here.
Leave it to drain for about half an hour; you want your ricotta well-drained if it’s going to be filling pasta.
In the meantime, we can backtrack to that whole fresh pasta business. I’m a total pasta fiend. Want to know a secret? I convinced one of my law buddies to hit Michael White’s Ai Fiori the night before the bar exam. The next morning while most of my friends were comparing tales of insomnia, I was reflecting on the awesome night’s sleep I had on a tummy full of handmade tortelli. I’m sure the glass of wine didn’t hurt either. My pasta love is not restricted to haute cuisine, however: I am entirely capable of chowing down a whole pound of Barilla at a moment’s notice. It’s kind of bad. I’ve mostly restricted myself to fresh pasta the past few years, as a special treat…and I’ve lost a bunch of weight during that time. Coincidence? I think not.
As I said before, though, I was totally aiming for a treat here. And the French Laundry pasta dough was suitably decadent: there are SIX egg yolks up in this business! Six! Count them!
After I freaked about the crazy egg yolk ratio, I got back into my fresh pasta comfort zone: flour well on the counter. I love this. It is so quintessentially old country.
There is a knack to the flour well. You swirl the wet ingredients around in the middle and kind of push everything into the middle at the same time, so eventually it all collapses in on itself like a pasta dough black hole. Just try it. You will screw it up. And then eventually you’ll get the hang of it and feel awesome.
Also, if your well gets messed up…remember you might be able to work out the kinks in the 20 or so minutes of kneading that’ll follow. I sometimes wish I were more willowy and less sturdily southern Italian-shaped. Not so when I’m kneading pasta; this business takes muscle. Seriously, at the end your dough should be elastic and you should be sweaty.
Pasta dough has to rest after kneading to let glutens develop, so in the meantime I got back to my filling. I have a black thumb (I kill cactuses), but my dad gardens. I snagged some fresh mint from the yard; I decided to use it in these agnolotti in place of more customary parsley or basil.
Other than this switch-up, I kept the filling really simple: fresh ricotta, an egg, salt, pepper, and fresh herb. Don’t knock it. I totally started taste-testing really extensively after the first bite I tried.
When the filling was all taken care of and ready to go, I got back to the dough. I rolled it out in a pasta maker. Doing this was a real pleasure; the dough was perfectly elastic, didn’t over-stretch, and didn’t break. Keller says you should roll it until you can see your fingers through the pasta sheet, but not until it’s translucent; I found this happened around notch 5 on my pasta maker.
When I could see my fingers through my pasta, I laid the long, thin strip out on a lightly floured counter and cut off those tapered ends.
Then I got really wild and crazy; The French Laundry pipes their filling with pastry tubes…but I couldn’t find one, so I went all MacGyver and cut the corner off a plastic bag. Shh. Don’t tell. I’m a rebel. I still managed to pipe a nice line of filling 3/4 of an inch from the bottom of my pasta, though.
I also managed to fold the bottom of that pasta over the filling to form a big long close-ended tube. And then to press across the filling at regular 1-inch intervals to form little pockets of filling.
Managed this for a whole row of pockets, in fact. Not too shabby.
And then I got crazy again. I didn’t have a crimped roller to cut my pasta. So…I used a sharp knife. They came out rather adorable regardless, in my opinion.
And they boiled up very nicely. Remember: this is fresh pasta. Four minutes should do the trick. And be gentle: it’s better to fish your agnolotti and ravioli out with a slotted spoon than to drain them in a colander.
But wait! We still have no sauce! Well, let’s start with what pretty much every Italian sauce starts with: onion sauteed until it’s translucent. Gotta love building blocks.
Then things go pear-shaped. Or…melon-shaped. This pasta was inspired by the classic antipasto “prosciutto con melone.” So, I tossed a pureed cantaloupe in here. I reduced the melon for a bit, threw in some cumin to add depth to the flavor, and then whisked in a few tablespoons of butter. I think, in the future, I might add less melon and more butter to make a kind of fruity beurre monté.
This turned out rather wonderfully, though; cooked melon becomes more caramelly – with an almost squash-like flavor. It’s still very recognizable, though, and it still complemented the prosciutto beautifully, and was cut nicely by the mint in the pasta filling.
Hint-of-Mint Agnolotti with Cantaloupe Sauce and Prosciutto (Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a primo)
1 recipe fresh pasta
1 recipe fresh ricotta
1 large egg
6 fresh mint leaves, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 ripe medium cantaloupe
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. cumin
3 oz. prosciutto, sliced into strips
Salt and pepper to taste
1. For the pasta filling: mix the ricotta, egg, and mint with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Fill agnolotti according to these directions.
3. Cut the melon up, remove seeds and rind, and puree it.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat, and sautee the onion in it for 3-5 minutes until translucent.
5. Add the melon puree and heat until it’s bubbling slightly. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook for about 4 minutes over medium heat, then lower the heat and whisk in the butter. Cook, continuing for whisk, for 5 minutes.
6. Boil the agnolotti for 4-5 minutes and serve immediately, topped with melon sauce and prosciutto strips (about 2 tablespoons per serving).