Saturday, March 13, 2010

0 Recipe #87: Wild Mushroom Agnolotti In A Hazelnut-Sage Butter Sauce

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Most of my recipes can be made in a few minutes. Clearly, this is not one of those recipes. :) The pasta is made from scratch, & I'm not going to lie, that can take a while. So, this is one recipe that's probably best to make on the weekends, when you have more time to make the homemade pasta.

The reason for all the effort is this: The payout of making your own fresh pasta is huge. You might even be tempted to chuck out the dried stuff after tasting the homemade variety. ;) OK, maybe let's not go that far. Surely dried pasta has it's place, & no doubt, it's a really time-saver when one is in a pinch for time. However, when it's good, nothing compares to freshly-made pasta.

You don't even need a pasta press to make the agnolotti.  Just a flat surface & a rolling pin will do just as well. Of course, the press will ensure that the pasta is of uniform thickness, but if you roll out the dough carefully, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. I personally think that food made with love and care & a handmade touch is often more appealing. Plus, it proves that you don't always need fancy tools to get the job done. Sure, they help, but if you don't have them, you can still find a way. A little bit of resourcefulness & creative thinking goes a long way....

At any rate, this is one recipe in which I don't believe in shortcuts.  In other words, no substituting wonton-wrappers for fresh, homemade agnolotti or any other such shenanigans. Honestly, wonton wrappers are great for Asian dishes, but Italian dishes? Um, no thanks, I'll stick to the real thing. It just doesn't taste the same. And frankly, it's just plain wrong. When it comes to Italian pasta, I'm a purist: Pasta dough is fine the way it is. Why mess with a good thing? The Italians would've created wontons instead of agnolotti, ravioli, & tortellini, if that's what they had originally intended. :)

In fact, while the Chinese are commonly credited for first inventing "pasta" (in its noodle form), it's likely that the popular legend of Marco Polo introducing pasta to Italy after his Far East explorations in the late 13th century is just that -- nothing more than a legend. There is scant evidence supporting this claim. Perhaps the Italians took the Chinese concept & made it their own, but it's also just as likely that they could've invented their own version separately. How do we know this? An Etruscan tomb from 4th century BCE depicts a group of indigenous people making what appears to be pasta. Also, Marco Polo also appears to have been familiar with the term, "pasta" before he even set foot in Asia. Also, the Middle East & Greece also appear to have been making their own versions from very early times as well, so it's unclear if the Italians created their own form or got the idea from somewhere else. There's a lot of speculation about this particular chapter of Italian history.

And now, I will address one final concern that I'm sure is probably on a lot of people's minds, especially after seeing the word "butter" (!) in the title of this recipe: The healthy food factor. You might be wondering: "Hmmm, wild mushroom agnolotti in a hazelnut-sage BUTTER sauce? Now how can I possibly make THAT healthy & still delicious-tasting?"  Just watch me. :) Here we go:

Wild Mushroom Agnolotti In A Hazelnut-Sage Butter Sauce

Dough Ingredients:
1 c. semolina flour
1 egg
1 pinch salt

Filling Ingredients:
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
1/8 c. sherry (or dry white wine)
4 oz. fresh wild mushrooms (porcini, crimini, shiitake, etc.) (equals 1 1/4 c. sliced)
1/4 c. nonfat, part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 c. nonfat yoghurt
1/4 c. freshly shredded Asiago (or if unavailable, use Parmesan)
1/2 Tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt & pepper, to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 T. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 Tbsp. pasta water
4 fresh sage leaves
1/8 c. freshly shredded Asiago
1 Tbsp. hazelnuts

Directions: Set up dough hook attachment in an electric mixer. Add flour, egg, & salt, & mix on high speed. Stop mixer every so often to fold in flour from sides of the bowl. Mix ingredients until dough ball is formed. (If you'd like to make dough the old fashioned way, pour the flour into a mound, make a small depression in the center, & drop the egg & salt into this hole, folding in the flour from the sides until fully mixed. Lightly oil hands & then knead dough, adding flour &/or small drops of water as necessary.) Be very careful to not overwork the dough or it'll become loose & crumbly, & lose its elasticity; this makes the dough extremely hard to work, as it'll easily tear, thus making the agnolotti a challenge to properly assemble! Place towel over mixing bowl, & let dough set for an hour.

While dough is setting, make filling: Sauté shallots & garlic in olive oil on medium-high heat. Deglaze with sherry & add mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, & continue to cook until soft & liquid has been reduced to a thin layer. Remove from heat & set aside, to allow pan to cool. In a separate bowl, mix together ricotta, yoghurt, Asiago, lemon zest, nutmeg, & parsley. Transfer ingredients from sauté pan to the bowl containing the ricotta mixture, & blend together thoroughly. Set aside. (Refrigerate if necessary, i.e., if you should finish making the filling before the hour is up.)

After an hour has passed, remove doughball, & roll out onto floured surface with a rolling pin.  Be sure to generously flour both the dough ball & the rolling pin, to keep them from sticking to each other. Roll out dough until it's approximately 1/8" thick and has a smooth, flat, & even consistency.

There are several ways to form the agnolotti: You can make them in assembly-line fashion by making a large rectangular dough shape, spooning out small dollops into the bottom half of the pasta sheet every few inches in evenly-spaced, parallel lines, & then folding the dough over top, sealing the pasta, & cutting out the shapes with a round ravioli stamp.  Cookie cutter molds, fluted biscuit cutters, & rotary style ravioli cutters will also work just as well.) To get the "half-moon" agnolotti shape (or mezzelune in Italian) in this particular configuration, you'd need to position the ravioli stamp exactly half-way over the folded edge & press out the shapes. Or, alternatively, you can cut out the circles first, place a dollop of filling on each one, & then fold & seal each pasta shape individually. In either case, be sure to press out the air with your fingers. If you don't have a ravioli stamp, press the tines of a fork around the sealed edges of your agnolotti to create pinked edges, if you so desire. Allow pasta to set for another 10-20 minutes.

At this point, you can either cook the pasta, or freeze it for future use.  Some people like to freeze the pasta for a few hours so that it hardens a bit before cooking.  I personally think this step is unnecessary for the most part, as the whole point is use the pasta when it's super-fresh & soft.

If you're planning to cook the pasta right away, please note that fresh pasta cooks a LOT faster than dried. (Most dried pasta is typically cooked 10-11 minutes, unless you are planning on cooking it further, i.e., in the over or in a sauté pan, etc., in which case you'd intentionally undercook it in its first stage.) As is the usual practice, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, add a dollop of olive oil & a pinch of salt, & cook the pasta for roughly 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat & reserve about 1/2 c. of the pasta water. Drain pasta & set aside.

Next, make the sauce: The following few steps must be done quickly, in order for the sage to maintain its color & texture. The technique is akin to flash-frying: Heat olive oil in sauté pan until sizzling hot. Then quickly add fresh sage leaves & cook 30 seconds on high heat.  Do not let sage brown or burn. If necessary, tilt pan & stir ingredients to prevent discoloration. Turn off heat & leave pan on the burner. Then, while pan is still hot, add butter, hazelnuts, & pasta water, & continue to stir rapidly until butter has melted & ingredients have been thoroughly mixed.  Then, as soon as butter melts, add in the agnolotti & stir to coat them in the sauce.  Quickly remove pasta from pan (so that it doesn't stick to the sides of the pan) & place on a plate, pouring any excess sauce on top of the pasta.  While agnolotti is still warm, sprinkle freshly shredded Asiago on top & serve.

Yield: Makes about 16 agnolotti. (Serves 2-4, depending upon the size of your diners' appetite. ;) )

Chef's Notes: Not long after I typed up this recipe, I found a really cool pasta-making accessory -- the ravioli cutter & sealer. It looks like it's a lot more practical & easier to use than some of the other tools mentioned above. Plus, since it does two things at once - it simultaneously cuts & seals the ravioli in a single rotary motion -- it appears to be a real time-saver as well.

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