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!