Wednesday, October 19, 2011

First Chanterelles of the Season

My husband has developed what can only be described as a sixth sense for mushrooms. Somehow, he knows exactly when and where to look. He said it was time to go hunting. But the weather seemed too warm, and the fog hadn't set in yet. I was certain that the sun was too direct, I was convinced that the ground was too dry. I questioned him. I second-guessed him. I doubted him. Until he led me right to them.

The first chanterelles of the season. This time, I was all too happy to admit he was right.

Despite my husband's keen mushroom hunting intuition, chanterelles are still a rare treat for us. So whenever we find some, we pull out all the stops and make something very special with them. This time it was delicate ravioli.

But before I get to the recipe, here's my interview on the Lonely Gourmet in case you missed it. We chatted about my cookbook and the finer points of searing. So much fun!

Chanterelle Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound chanterelles, torn into bite-size pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces ricotta
1 ½ ounces grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 large egg
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Fresh Egg Pasta dough, cut into sixths
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup fresh sage leaves

Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chanterelles and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, or until tender. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool.

Combine the chanterelles, ricotta, Parmegiano, egg, and nutmeg in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sheet and form just 1 or 2 pieces of the pasta dough at a time according to the recipe, sheeting it until the second-to-last narrowest setting of the rollers and using 1 teaspoon of filling per ravioli. As you work, arrange the ravioli in a single layer on lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays.

Heat a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the butter and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned. Add the sage and a generous pinch of pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, or until the sage is crisp. Remove the pan from the heat and dip the bottom into an ice water bath for a second or two.

Meanwhile, cook the ravioli in 2 or 3 batches in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are al dente. When the ravioli are al dente, using a wire skimmer, transfer them from the pot to a large bowl, drizzle with a bit of the brown butter, and gently toss to coat. Arrange on individual plates, drizzle with the remaining brown butter, top with plenty of Parmegiano, and serve immediately.

Makes approximately 7 dozen 1 ½-inch ravioli, serving 6 as a main course. This was the ravioli plaque used. Speed the cooking time by using two large pots of water for boiling the ravioli. Uncooked ravioli may be frozen in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray and transferred to a zip-top bag when frozen solid. Ravioli keep for several weeks frozen. Add them to boiling water while still frozen—there's no need to thaw them, just increase their cooking time by a couple of minutes. Keep scraps of dough leftover from cutting ravioli to put in soup.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fresh Egg Pasta

It's one thing that should be in every cook's repertoire.

Clockwise from top right: garganelli, corzetti, farfalle, spaghetti, linguini, pappardelle.

But before I share the recipe, I'd like to invite you to tune in to my interview on the Lonely Gourmet at 6PM EST on Friday, October 14. Click to listen live.

Fresh Egg Pasta
Printable Recipe

13 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Combine the flour and eggs in a large bowl and mix until a rough dough forms. The dough will seem dry at this point, but resist the temptation to add more liquid. Transfer to a work surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for about half an hour.

Cut the dough into sixths. Flatten 1 portion of dough and pass it through a pasta machine 3 times with the rollers at the widest setting, folding the pasta sheet widthwise into thirds between each pass and feeding the folded pasta into the machine with the folds perpendicular to the rollers. Pass the remaining portions of dough through the pasta machine in the same manner. Close the rollers down 1 notch and pass each pasta sheet through the pasta machine once. Continue passing the pasta sheets through the pasta machine with the rollers at successively narrower settings until the pasta sheets are the desired thickness. As you work, lay the pasta sheets flat in a single layer on a lightly floured surface or clean kitchen towels.

Cut and form the pasta sheets as desired into lasagna, pappardelle, tagliatelle, fettuccini, linguini, spaghetti, garganelli, corzetti, farfalle, ravioli, tortellini, or other shape.

Makes about 1 ¼ pounds, enough for 4 to 6 main-course servings. Making pasta is all about developing a feel for the dough—the more batches you have under your belt, the easier it becomes. Here's what you need to know to get started…Farm fresh eggs with golden yolks make for the best pasta. The amount of flour needed may vary depending on the brand of the flour, the size of the eggs, and the humidity. It's much easier to add flour to a wet dough than it is to add liquid to a dry dough, so hold back a bit of the flour at first and then add more if the dough feels sticky. The result should be a firm dough that isn't sticky at all, and kneading it is quite a workout. If you or the dough need a break, wrap the dough in plastic wrap or cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for up to 5 minutes. When you just can't knead any more, take heart in the fact that rolling the dough through the pasta machine will continue the kneading process. Keep pieces of dough covered until you're ready to roll them out. Using a pasta machine is easier with an extra set of hands, so bribe someone to do the cranking for you with a fabulous homemade pasta dinner. Lightly flour the pasta sheets if they stick or tear as they go through the pasta machine. Catch the pasta sheets as they come out from between the rollers without pulling or tugging. Sheets of pasta may stick to smooth surfaces such as marble or stainless steel, so keep work surfaces dusted with flour or lay the pasta sheets on clean flour sack kitchen towels. Pasta is less likely to stick to wood surfaces. If the pasta sheets get too long to work with comfortably, feel free to cut them into more manageable lengths. For most shapes, pasta is rolled as thin as the second-to-last or third-to-last narrowest setting of the rollers, but thickness is largely a matter of personal preference. Passing all of the pieces of pasta through each setting of the rollers is more efficient than sheeting 1 piece at a time, and it allows all of the sheets to dry at a more even rate. However, hand-formed shapes such as garganelli, farfalle, ravioli, and tortellini must be made with freshly-rolled pasta that hasn't had a chance to dry and harden, so sheet and form just 1 or 2 pieces of dough at a time. For long cut pasta such as fettuccini and spaghetti, allow sheets of pasta to dry a bit until they just start to feel leathery before cutting them. Strands of pasta cut from sheets that are too moist will stick to each other, and pasta sheets that are too dry will shatter when cut. Dust pasta sheets with flour if there's ever any sign of stickage, but try not to use any more flour than necessary (excess flour can be removed with a pastry brush). To cut sheeted pasta into ribbons or strands, dust it with flour and pass it through pasta machine cutters or fold it up widthwise loosely and slice it lengthwise with a knife. For other shapes, use a straight or fluted pastry wheel or other specialized tool. Cut and form shapes as follows:

Lasagna: Cut the sheeted pasta into 9-inch lengths.

Pappardelle: Cut the sheeted pasta into ½ to 1-inch wide strands.

Tagliatelle: Cut the sheeted pasta into ¼ to ½-inch wide strands.

Fettuccini: Cut the sheeted pasta into ¼-inch wide strands.

Linguini: Cut the sheeted pasta into 1/8-inch wide strands.

Spaghetti: Cut the sheeted pasta into strands that are as wide as they are thick.

Garganelli: Cut the sheeted pasta into 1 ½ to 2-inch squares. Roll each pasta square, starting from a corner, around a rolling stick while pressing lightly against a garganelli board, forming ridged tubes with pointed ends. A gnocchi board may be used if a garganelli board is unavailable.

Corzetti: Cut the sheeted pasta into circles using a corzetti cutter and press each circle, first making sure that it is well floured, using a corzetti stamp, forming large coins.

Farfalle: Cut the sheeted pasta into 1×2-inch rectangles and pinch each rectangle at the center, forming butterflies or bows.

Ravioli: Cut the sheeted pasta into pieces slightly longer than a ravioli plaque. Dust a pasta sheet with flour on 1 side only and lay it floured side down on the ravioli plaque. Place a small amount of filling into each depression. Using a fingertip, lightly moisten the pasta around each depression with water. Drape another sheet of pasta over the filled ravioli plaque, eliminating any air pockets as you go. Roll a rolling pin across the ravioli plaque, pressing down hard to cut out the ravioli. To remove the ravioli, invert the plaque onto a lightly floured surface. Make more ravioli with the remaining pasta pieces in the same manner. If a ravioli plaque is unavailable, sandwich evenly spaced bits of filling between sheets of pasta in the same manner, moistening the pasta around the filling with water and eliminating air pockets, and cut ravioli using a cookie cutter, ravioli stamp, or pastry wheel. Size varies.

Tortellini: Cut the sheeted pasta into circles using a cookie cutter or ravioli stamp. Place a small amount of filling in the center of a pasta circle. Using a fingertip, lightly moisten the edges of the circle with water. Fold the wrapper in half over the filling, forming a half circle, and eliminating any air pockets, firmly pinch the edges together to seal. Lightly moisten the corners of the wrapper along the straight side of the half circle with water. Fold the two corners together and firmly pinch to seal. Make more tortellini with the remaining pasta circles in the same manner. Sheeted pasta may be cut into squares using a pastry wheel instead of circles. Formed in the same manner as the wontons pictured here. Size varies.

Maltagliati: Scraps leftover from cutting other pasta shapes, literally "badly cut". Good for soup.

Arrange short cut pasta in a single layer and dust long cut pasta generously with flour and form loose nests on pasta screens, lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays, or towel-lined baking trays. Alternatively, hang long cut pasta on a pasta rack. Pasta may be left at room temperature like this to dry for up to several hours or cooked immediately. Cook in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Cooking time is usually only 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pasta and how long it has been left to dry.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Final Word on Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese used to be a tangle of steaming spaghetti with butter and cheese melting into it and a generous grinding of black pepper on top. All gooey and stringy, that's how my mom would make it when I was a kid. She cooked the pasta beyond al dente until it was tender, and she must've used cheddar or mozzarella or possibly Monterey jack but I can't remember for sure. She was never one for sauces.

Then one day, I had dinner at a friend's house and discovered the joy of macaroni bathed in a cheese sauce. It came in the form of Velveeta Shells and Cheese. I know it seems odd to give Kraft credit for one of my formative food experiences, but I still remember it as the moment that I, an impressionable teenager, tasted a creamy cheese sauce for the very first time.

(For the record, I never ate the stuff in the blue box. For some reason, my little brother was crazy for that crap, but not me.)

So now when I close my eyes and imagine the perfect comfort food macaroni and cheese, the dish the kid in me idealizes, I think of a velvety cheese sauce flavored boldly with real cheddar cheese. And I imagine an effortless recipe that is a cinch to quickly throw together on a whim and can be made with ingredients that are always on hand.

It's elusive, this macaroni and cheese I dream of.

For or a long time I thought it didn't exist at all. Most versions that I have had…that I have myself made don't live up. Macaroni and cheese made with roux-based white sauce doesn't quite do it for me because it tastes more like the white sauce than the cheese, no matter how expert the execution and fine the ingredients. It doesn't have the right creaminess either. Besides all that, why should a dish so humble require at least 45 minutes, the use of both the stovetop and the oven, and the dirtying of two pots, a colander, and a baking dish? Boxed macaroni and cheese and deli versions don't even come close, since they employ processed cheese and various neon orange powders in lieu of real cheese.

Researching stovetop recipes proved fruitless, as most called for evaporated milk, which seemed gross, or thickening the sauce with egg, which seemed out of place, or both.

I got to thinking…Why drain the cooked pasta, losing all its precious starch just to use a different starch to thicken the sauce? Why not take advantage of the pasta's own starch for thickening the sauce? And why not cook macaroni and cheese more like it was risotto, adding only as much liquid as the pasta will absorb? I literally ran into the kitchen and started cooking. It was nothing less than a eureka moment!

Thus, Lucy's Ultimate Mac & Cheese was born. I must say, even if it borders on bragging, that I'm really proud of this recipe. The texture and flavor are exactly what I'd been looking for ever since I was a kid. It requires little more time or effort than the packaged stuff, and the only cleanup is one pot and one spoon. It's a stovetop recipe, so you can make it even in the summertime when it's too hot to turn on the oven. Oh, and leftovers, should there be any, reheat nicely in the microwave. I think you'll agree it really is the ultimate.

Lucy's Ultimate Mac & Cheese
Printable Recipe

1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon powdered mustard
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
12 ounces, or more, shredded sharp cheddar
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the macaroni, milk, butter, mustard, granulated garlic, cayenne, and 3 cups of water in a medium, heavy pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly and adding more water as necessary any time the macaroni looks dry, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the macaroni is just tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6. The trick to this recipe's seductive creaminess is constant stirring from the time the pot is put on the heat and making sure there's enough water in the pot. There will be plenty of liquid in the beginning. When the mixture comes to a boil, the starch from the pasta will make it thicken, creating a creamy sauce. The sauce will reduce and continue to thicken as it simmers and as the pasta absorbs water. Adjust the heat so that it cooks at a lively bubble. Too slow, and the pasta will take forever to cook. Boil it too fast, and it'll be hard to monitor the level of the liquid. Toward the end of the cooking time, there should still be enough sauce in the pot to just cover the macaroni—if not, or if you like it creamier still, add more water a little at a time, keeping in mind that the cheese will thicken the sauce considerably. It's best to incorporate the cheese off the heat. Do not boil the mixture once the cheddar has been added, or it will have a grainy texture. And speaking of cheddar, why stop at 12 ounces when you can add a whole pound? Or mix it up—consider substituting a portion of the cheddar with provolone, mozzarella, and/or Parmegiano for a different flavor and some stringy action. Top with toasted buttered breadcrumbs or some such crunchy thing if you must, but I prefer to appreciate the creaminess unspoiled.

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