Friday, September 30, 2011

Egg Yolk Pasta

  Lately it’s been all almond cakes, which leaves me with tons of leftover egg yolks.  Instead of making endless batches of ice-cream and custard, which would be so good and so bad, I searched for a recipe high in yolks but not in sugar.  I found just the thing in the French Laundry cookbook- a pasta dough mixed by hand! 

Pasta Dough
from The French Laundry Cookbook
1 ¾ cups          flour
6                      yolks
1                      egg
1 ½ t                olive oil
1 T                   milk

 The recipe is basic, just 4 ingredients.  I searched my shelves for something to spice it up, and I picked a glass jar of espelette pepper that we brought back from Biaritz, and a box of saffron from India.  A spoonful of red powder went into the flour and I sprinkled a few red strands into the milk and let it soak while I formed my well of flour.

  The trick is to leave enough space in the middle for the wet ingredients, and to build a solid wall that is not too high- the height should be just over your first knuckle, enough to hold in the yolks without incorporating too much flour at once.  If you are going to attempt this recipe, a plastic bowl scraper is a cheap investment you’ll be happy you made. 

  I poured the yolks, milk and oil into the center ring and I had to marvel at how beautiful it looked!  I couldn’t wait to get my hands into it…

   I started to break up the yolks with my fingers and mix the wet ingredients together.  Then, I used my fingers like a whisk in the middle of the well, making small circles and pulling flour in from the walls a little at a time- the mixing technique explained in Keller’s recipe.  This slow incorporation of the flour cuts down on lumpiness- as the walls eroded, I used the scraper to gently push them in from the outside. 

  Eventually, the liquid became a yellow paste, then a shaggy ball of dough which I kneaded for about ten minutes.  I let it rest and kneaded it again, until it pulled back when I pushed a finger through it.

  The next day, I used my pasta machine to roll out sheets of dough, then rolled them up and cut them into thin strips.

  I pulled the strands of pasta apart and laid them on a rack to dry.

  Fresh hand-made pasta needs less than five minutes in boiling salted water- I cooked up discs of zucchini and deep green haricots vert in butter and finished with raw chopped tomato.

  Springy and delicate, the strands were all flecked through with red espelette and the subtle sweet taste of saffron.  The egg yolks added a richness and depth of flavor to the simple pasta, as did the memory of how good it had felt to wiggle my fingers through those cold, creamy yolks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hand Cut Pesto

  I picked a bunch of basil from my garden and had a craving for a simple pasta with garlicky pesto.  But since my counter is the size of a placemat, the bulky Cuisinart lives high above the kitchen cabinet (singular), and sometimes I just don’t have it in me to pull out the stepladder and lug it down.  So it occurred to me, of course they made pesto before they made food processors, so what would my hypothetical Italian grandma have done?    
  Pesto, like curry, is a generic term in its mother tongue- it translates to pounded or crushed, because that’s how they used to make all over Italy, using a mortar and pestle to mash different ingredients into a paste.  What we call pesto on this side of the pond- basil, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil- is pesto genovese, born in the same town as Columbus, but different regions have their specialties.

 Alas, my mortar and pestle is tiny, so I searched for an alternative online and found several recipes for a chopped pesto- an intriguing idea, and one I was excited to try.
  I kept it as simple as possible.  Using the back of my knife, I crushed a sprinkling of course salt into a fat garlic clove, then dumped a handful of basil on my board and shaved a hard sheep’s milk cheese over top.  Half a handful of walnuts went onto the pile, and then I started chopping everything together, using two hands to rock the knife back and forth across the board.  I picked the sharpest knife we have, a shiny curved Japanese knife that came to us as a gift and cut through the leaves without bruising them.
  I added another round of basil, nuts and cheese, and kept chopping, every so often using my bowl scraper to push it all back together on the board.  Between the smell of the crushed garlic and basil, the rhythm of the knife rolling across the board, and the sound- snip! snip!- I fell into a wonderful trance, watching the pieces get smaller and smaller until I could no longer tell what had started out green and what had started out white.
  I chopped for over ten minutes, and when it was all as fine as I wanted it, I scraped the pesto up and put it into a small bowl and streamed in a few tablespoons of olive oil to finish.  I tasted it for salt and pepper and added some more cheese.  The resulting pesto was fragrant and lively, and dissolved into a million little confetti specks when I stirred it into my spaghetti. 
  Pesto made by hand like this is a special thing, a labor of love.  It is absolutely best eaten the same day you make it, so be sure to sit down and enjoy it with some crusty bread or a glass of something special.