Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tagliolini col sugo di agnello

I read a lot of pasta recipes. Occasionally I come across a recipe that illustrates a novel technique to cook pasta. Let’s take a look at one such recipe: Tagliolini col sugo di agnello (Egg pasta with lamb sauce). What’s unique about this recipe? You cook the fresh tagliolini directly in its sauce.

I first read Tagliolini col sugo di agnello in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Il Lazio a Tavola (1994), which Maureen B. Fant translated into English as The Food of Rome and Lazio. The recipe also appears in the updated 2013 version of The Food of Rome and Lazio entitled Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds – Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio published by the University of California (here). Look and you’ll also find a nearly identical recipe for this dish (but with more detailed instructions) on-line by Mario Batali. The following recipe from Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds makes 4 servings.

1 small onion
1 carrot
leaves from 1 small bunch basil
3½ ounces (100 g) lean pancetta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds (700g) boneless lamb, in ¾-inch (2-cm) pieces
1 cup (250 ml) dry white table wine
12 ounces (350 g) canned tomatoes
12 ounces (350 g) fresh egg tagliolini

Chop together finely the onion, carrot, basil, and pancetta. Put them in a pan with the oil over medium heat. When the pancetta fat has completely melted, add the lamb and brown, stirring. Add the wine and let it evaporate, then add the tomatoes and 4 cups (1 liter) boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the meat is tender. Remove the lamb from the sauce with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

Add the tagliolini to the sauce, which should be quite liquid, and cook until al dente. Return the lamb to the pan and stir for a few minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.

Read through Fant’s skillful translation of Zanini De Vita’s Italian recipe and the American reader might ask: What size pan? What cut of lamb? Chop the tomatoes? Cover the pot as the lamb cooks? Batali’s version of the recipe answers these questions: a large, fairly deep skillet; lamb shoulder; crush by hand and also add the can’s juice; yes.

When I make the dish I prefer to very finely chop the tomatoes. I might try reducing a cup of chicken stock in place of wine. It’s pretty remarkable to see the starchy pasta transform a very liquid stew into a lovely sauce in a matter of a minute or two. Take care to mix the pasta as it cooks so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If I want to save time when making the fresh pasta, I use the tagliolini cutting attachment to my Imperia R220. If you hand-cut your pasta, aim for a noodle width of around 1-mm.

It’s rare, but, as the above recipe demonstrates, not unheard of to cook pasta in sauce as opposed to boiling water. Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (2009) contains other examples (e.g., see gramigna (here).) It’s much more common to finish a dish by briefly cooking the just boiled pasta with its sauce. And since we’re exploring cooking pasta, why go through the trouble of finishing cooked pasta in its sauce? Thomas McNaughton writes in his 2014 Flour + Water Pasta (here) that this step allows the pasta to adsorb (as opposed to absorb) the sauce. McNaughton explains: “The reality of the science is that once pasta is cooked in water, it doesn’t absorb any more flavor from the finishing pan sauce. Because pasta is water-soluble, it absorbs only the water from the sauce, not any aroma or oils. Instead, the pasta is adsorbing the flavors, meaning the flavor only sticks to the surface of the pasta.” So, in a nutshell, the step helps pasta and sauce’s flavors to cling to one another. See what you can learn from reading cookbooks!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Welsh Rabbit

Let’s begin 2015 by tucking into a rich, spicy, cheese-glazed piece of toast called a Welsh Rabbit. Today’s recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s The Prawn Cocktail Years (here). Consult Fergus Henderson’s Nose To Tail Eating and you’ll find a recipe for Welsh Rarebit. Is the dish a Rabbit or Rarebit? It doesn’t really much matter. Call this delectable savory what you like.

Hopkinson and Bareham’s version cooks up differently than your typical Rabbit. Their recipe eliminates the dish’s standard roux base. This means one needs to take a bit of extra care when making their Rabbit’s cheese topping.  Cheese has a tendency to break when it melts at too high a temperature. Adding a starch (such as the flour in a roux) to cheese helps to prevent breakage, but you can also avoid overcooking by using a very low heat and slowly incorporating your cheese in small quantities.

Another difference in the Hopkinson/Bareham Rabbit is that it includes egg yolks to increase the dish’s already over-the-top richness. The yolks add additional fat and body and cause the cheese mixture to puff up nicely whilst the Rabbit broils.

But enough of the differences. Today’s recipe shares most of the essential ingredients in any Welsh Rabbit: butter, English mustard, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, stout and, of course, cheese. Although called a Welsh Rabbit, this dish, which serves 2, includes no rabbit, Welsh or otherwise.

25g butter
1 tsp English mustard [Note: I use Colman’s Mustard Powder]
Worcestershire sauce
4 shakes Tabasco
2 tbsp stout or Guinness
75g mature Cheddar or Double Gloucester or Cheshire or Lancashire, grated
2 egg yolks
2 thick slices bread
cayenne pepper

Place the butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and stout or Guinness in a small pan and heat it through. Add the cheese, stirring as it melts, without letting the mixture boil. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool to room temperature. Beat in the two egg yolks. Toast the bread on one side, spread the untoasted side thickly with the mixture and cook under a pre-heated grill until blistered and bubbling. Dust with cayenne and serve with a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Some notes and thoughts. Again, work over a very low heat and add the grated cheese slowly and you shouldn’t have a problem with the cheese breaking. I use a couple of splashes of Worcestershire sauce and this quantity tasted just fine to me. Finally, Hopkinson and Bareham admit that “[t]he recipe uses what seems like a silly amount of stout….” Yes, the recipe calls for two (2) tablespoons of stout. But the pair also point out that the rest of the bottle can nicely wash down the spicy Rabbit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Cookbooks of 2014

‘Tis the season to share my Best Of list for this year’s cookbooks.  I wanted to publish this list back in November, but one sluggardly publisher kept pushing back its release of a sure-to-contend cookbook. But now, with this excellent book finally released, I offer up, in alphabetical order, my choices for the top five cookbooks of the year.

Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. Chronicle Books.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson with Jess Thomson. Sasquatch Books.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker by Justin Gellatly. Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Heritage by Sean Brock. Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Company.

The Pizza Bible: The World's Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More by Tony Gemignani with Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman. Ten Speed Press.

So why, you ask, did I pick these books? I’ll tell you why.

As its title suggests, Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes divides its content into two main parts: how to make ingredients like dried powders, cheeses, vinegars, pickles, pastes and stocks (Part One of the book), and how to employ these ingredients in (mostly) simple recipes (Part Two). The techniques used to make the ingredients include drying, fermenting, sprouting & soaking, and preserving. In the Recipes section, the salads really stand out as outstanding. Here’s a partial list: Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing; Wedge Salad with Buttermilk, Barley and Sprouts; Kale Salad with Rye Bread, Seeds and Yogurt; Tomato & Pickled Green Bean Salad with Whipped Feta; Beet and Blue Cheese Salad; and Cauliflower Salad with Yogurt & Chickpeas. Bar Tartine will appeal to an audience that wants to make ingredients from scratch and that enjoys straightforward, flavorful food. Highly recommended.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus offers sophisticated yet simple and comforting dishes rooted in the Pacific Northwest, but with a French sensibility. Organized by season, you’ll find a lot of lovely seafood recipes for oysters, mussels, Dungeness crab, Pacific octopus, salmon, spot prawns, and scallops. I find the salad and dessert recipes particularly tempting.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding highlights the ample talents of Justin Gellatly, who spent 13 years at Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s restaurant.  If you already own the Nose to Tail books and Margot Henderson’s You’re All Invited, you’ll note a lot of overlap among these works and Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. No matter. Gellatly has penned an outstanding British cookbook in its own right. You’ll find recipes for Steamed Marmalade Sponge and Whisky Custard; Apple and Rhubarb Suet Pudding; Treacle and Walnut Tart; and Doughnuts stuffed with Carmel Custard and Salted Honeycomb Sprinkle. Although published in the UK, this great British cookbook deserves a large audience on this side of the Atlantic.

Sean Brock’s Heritage takes the prize for the best cookbook of 2014. Brock includes recipes for simple dishes (Cornmeal Hoecakes; Lowcountry Hoppin’ John; Fried Chicken and Gravy) and for fancy chef fare (Grilled Lamb Hearts with Butter Bean Puree, Vadouvan, and Corn and Sweet Potato Leaves; Crispy Sweetbreads with Spicy Red Pepper Glaze, Egg, Broccoli, and Puffed Rice). Really! This book should sate both home cooks and the food professionals. Brock clearly loves the Southern table and garden. Heritage celebrates the traditional and the new with a focus on the ingredients of the region. And you get Brock’s recipe for Pimento Cheese! What a great cookbook!

In 2007, Tony Gemignani traveled to Naples, Italy and became the first American to win the World Pizza Cup in the Neapolitan pizza category. His San Francisco restaurant, Tony’s Pizza Nepoletana, ranks among the best pizza venues in the United States. The Pizza Bible takes Gemignani’s great pizza-making talent, knowledge and experience and packs them into a 300-plus-page book. He’s a great and generous teacher and I cannot imagine a better manual for anyone interested in making different styles of pizza.

So, will 2015’s cookbooks offer us the same riches as 2014’s? Let’s hope so. Happy New Year everybody!