Saturday, March 31, 2007

Return to Mezza-Luna

making pasta fig. a: making pasta at home

It's true. We haven't been the same since we took our Pasta I class with Elena at Mezza-Luna. We still buy pasta from time to time at the store, but mostly we've been making our pasta from scratch ever since. Our prep time has been coming down steadily and the results are just plain dreamy. The recipe we're most comfortable with is Elena's Basic Pasta Dough recipe--especially the all'uovo variation--but we've also branched out and started making other recipes too, like this one:

French Laundry Pasta Dough

8 oz flour
6 egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp milk

And while we've mainly been making pasta for Italian dishes, we've also started making pasta for dishes like chicken-noodle soup and the like. I mean, why not? That's what my grandmother always did.

Anyway, after a while we decided we were ready to graduate to another class at Mezza-Luna, so we paid a visit Quincaillerie Dante and looked into what other pasta classes they had coming up. We ended up choosing Stuffed Pasta B, featuring lasagne, tortelloni, and cappeletti.

Once again, Elena patiently and expertly walked us through all the steps from start to finish, and roughly three hours later we were sitting at the table enjoying a glass of red wine while Elena served up heaping portions of the three piatti del giorno: lasagne con legumi al forno, cappeletti alle erbe et formaggi, and tortelloni di radicchio.

Elena digs in fig. b: Elena digs in

Can I just say how much we love these classes? I can? Tons. They're really a lot of fun, Elena's repartee is priceless, you learn quickly, and they literally drive you wild because from about the 15-minute mark on the smell in that kitchen is absolutely to die for. Enough said.

The lasagne was a revelation. It had seven layers to it, but because the pasta was homemade and rolled thin it tasted like a cloud--a tasty, saucy, Italian one. The cappeletti alle erbe et formaggi was our favorite of the night. We loved its delicate filling of ricotta, gorgonzola, Parmesan, chèvre, parsley (Italian flat-leaf, of course), and freshly grated nutmeg, its simple sauce of butter, mixed herbs, and Parmesan, and the lovely shape of the cappeletti, "little hats." But the one that really stuck with us for some reason was the tortelloni dish--with its radicchio filling and its saffron-colored sauce it was certainly the most dramatic dish of the night.

A week later, when we decided we wanted to put some of our newly learned know-how to work, that radicchio recipe was the one that came to mind. Instead of going back to Elena's recipe directly, though, we followed a hunch and pulled out Molto Italiano to see what Mr. Batali had to say on the subject of radicchio pasta. We intended no disrespect, it's just that we thought we might be able to expand our pasta-making vocabulary by bringing in another hotshot, and, besides, one of Elena's stories the week before had been about how she and Stefano had had the pleasure of meeting Mario at a food show in Chicago earlier this year (the thought of which prompted me to quip: "Did he get your autograph?"). What we found was Batali's truly astounding Tortelloni di Treviso con Fonduta di Parmigiano. Just one quick read-through had us staggering. So we decided to do a version with cappelettti made with semolina flour, the way Elena prefers it.

Tortelloni/Cappeletti di Radicchio con Fonduta di Parmigiano

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion
4 heads radicchio, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, rinsed, and dried
1 cup ricotta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds Basic Pasta Dough
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces of equal size

Heat the oil in a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan until smoking. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, 6-7 minutes. Add all but 1/4 cup of the radicchio and cook, tossing occasionally, until very soft, 6-7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Add the ricotta, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, the parsley, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste to the radicchio mixture and mix well.

Roll your pasta out to the thinnest setting. On our machine that means "6."

To make tortelloni, cut the pasta into 4-inch squares and place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each pasta square. Fold the dough over to form a triangle, and press the edges together to seal. (If the pasta is fresh and moist, it should seal easily. If you're having a hard time creating a seal, moisten two adjacent edges of the dough with a bit of water then try again.) Then fold the two bottom points together, overlapping them slightly, and pinch to seal. Transfer the tortelloni to a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel. To make cappeletti, after you've made a triangle, pull the two edges under the filled portion and towards you. The shape resembles one of those The Flying Nun-style nun's hats.

Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Drop the pasta into the boiling water, lower the heat to a brisk high simmer, and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. (You'll notice that the cooking time is quite a bit longer than the "20 seconds" that it took our fresh non-stuffed pasta. The fact that stuffed pasta involve layers of pasta plus a filling means they need to cook longer.)

Meanwhile, make the fonduta. Bring the cream to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan, the egg yolks, and the nutmeg and stir until thoroughly blended.

Drain the pasta, transfer to the same 10- to 12-inch saucepan you used to sauté your radicchio way back when. Add the butter and the reserved 1/4 cup radicchio. Simmer gently over low heat, tossing gently to coat the pasta. Place a few pasta on each plate, spoon about 2 tablespoons of the fonduta over the pasta and serve.

The radicchio filling here is phenomenal. The semolina flour cappeletti were great with the filling, but the next time we'll definitely try making this with an AP flour pasta because we're pretty sure its neutrality and delicacy would highlight the filling even better. The real star here, though, may very well be that deceptively basic fonduta, though. Fantastic things occurred when we mixed the ingredients together. In spite of what you'd think it had a lightness and a lemonyness that we found difficult to account for. We really didn't spend too much time puzzling over it, though. Those cappeletti di radicchio con fonduta di Parmigiano were way too good to start getting all Harold McGee on 'em.


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