It’s wonderful to have moved on to round 4 of Project Food Blog. I am THANKFUL, excited and inspired!
Challenge #4 is about going “beyond” taking a “pretty picture”. We are asked to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial, guiding the reader through the steps.
I can hear Nino Rota‘s music in my head, and picture those magical B&W scenes from Federico’s movies. I see him sitting around a table with friends, drinking a glass of wine, eating a plate of pasta (agnolotti,
perhaps), discussing memory, dreams, fantasy, and life as a circus. Like Fellini, I also see life as a circus, and love to imagine and create the “scenes” of it, incorporating memories from my life in Italy into my life here in America. It all weaves into a wonderful little ravioli-like package: the malleable, flexible, soft outside dough being the present, the future, my dreams; the filling being my past, memories and heritage; the sauce being the unexpected surprises life presents; and the flavors being a mix of sweet and savory…just like the recipe I picked below – pumpkin agnolotti. My view is that we create our own magic and, naturally, our own pasta! That’s “Z” Tasty Life.
Amarcord… la dolce vita. Ahhh…I miss living in Rome!!!
(“Amarcord” in Italian dialect means “I remember”. “La Dolce Vita” in Italian means “The Sweet Life”, but it very well could translate to “Z Tasty Life”)
Pumpkin agnolotti with sage, brown butter and amaretti crumble
Only a few things in the kitchen provide me with such an atavistic, memory-laden and satisfying experience as preparing bread – but making pasta is one of them.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that I chose pasta as my step-by-step recipe. You may remember from my first pfb challenge that I used to spend days in my grandmothers’ kitchens watching them prepare traditional delicacies, such as Ravioli. Then, I watched my mother perfect ravioli into soft and dreamy pillows that would melt in your mouth!
Although agnolotti (pronounced anneeolottee), a ravioli typical of the Piedmont Region, is not common where I grew up, in Campania, I chose it for its design, and because I love that very little dough is wasted during preparation, unlike some ravioli. I decided on squash for the filling because it’s in season. Traditional ravioli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli) include an unusual secret ingredient – amaretti cookies, a crumbly almond macaroon – and are seasoned with brown butter and sage. I finish them with a drop of ultra-reduced aged balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with crumbled amaretti, and include a touch of orange zest.
Agnolotti are shaped like a puffy ring with curly edges. They are adorable little “purses” of flavor!
I used the dough recipe from Thomas Keller‘s French Laundry Cookbook, which calls for a rather large amount of egg yolks and some olive oil and milk. It makes for a silky-smooth, very rich dough. But you can certainly use a classic ratio of about 1 cup of flour to 1 egg, plus a little bit of olive oil and possibly some water, depending on humidity conditions.
Start with quality ingredients!
For the filling
1/2 medium squash (use butternut, delicata, or kabocha)
1/4 of an onion, sliced thinly
A few sage leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups parmesan, finely grated, plus extra for serving
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
5-6 amaretti biscuits, crumbled
salt and black pepper, to season
(note: I doubled the amounts)
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
For the seal
2 egg yolks, beaten
For the sauce
1 stick unsalted butter
1 handful sage leaves
Zest of 1 orange
1 Tbsp reduced balsamic vinegar
A pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
A few crumbled amaretti
A few drops of reduced aged balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350F
Prepare the pasta dough:
Mound the flour on a board or other surface and create a “well” in the center by pushing the flour to the sides.
Pour the egg yolks, egg, oil and milk into the well. Use your fingers to break up the eggs. Still using your fingers, begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them within the well and not allowing them to spill over the sides. Knead well to form dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Allow to rest for an hour.
Prepare the filling:
Cut the squash in half, peel, remove the seeds, dice and sprinkle with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
Add some sage leaves and a quarter of an onion, sliced.
Cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes or until very soft (halfway through the cooking you might need to add some water and toss the squash so it cooks evenly). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Combine the squash with the parmesan, nutmeg, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and 3 crushed amaretti biscuits.
Make the agnolotti:
Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll each piece through the pasta machine at its widest setting a few times.
Then roll through again, narrowing the setting each time, until you get to the narrower setting, to ensure you have a transparent dough.
Here I am very proud of the light coming through my pasta dough
Keep the pasta sheets covered, as they dry out quickly, and proceed with filling the agnolotti. Take a ribbon of the pasta dough and lay on top of a floured surface. Using a pastry bag (I simply use a zip top bag with the corner cut out!), pipe about a tablespoon of the filling at intervals, spacing it out (about 1-2 fingers’ width). Carefully brush beaten egg yolk along all the edges.
Pull the bottom edge of the pasta up and over the filling. Seal the agnolotti by carefully molding the pasta over the filling and pressing lightly with your index finger to seal the edge of the dough to the pasta sheet.
Run a crimped pastry wheel along the top edge of the folded-over dough, separating the strip of filled pockets from the remainder of the pasta sheet. Don’t cut too close to the filling, or you risk breaking the seal. Separate the individual agnolotti by cutting the center of each pinched area, rolling the pastry wheel away from you. Working quickly, place the agnolotti on a baking sheet covered with a kitchen towel, separated so they won’t stick together. Dust lightly with flour.Repeat the process using the remaining pasta dough.
NOTE: if instead of making agnolotti you would like to make ravioli: overlap one pasta sheet over another one that has the filling mounds and cut out rounds with a crimped ravioli round. They look like the sun!
Cook the pasta in a large pot of simmering salted water for just a few minutes.
Prepare the sage-brown butter:
Melt the butter in a pan. When foam forms, remove it and allow the butter to slightly brown, until a “nutty” aroma develops.
Drop in the sage leaves and allow them to “fry.” Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels.
Add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, the vinegar and the grated orange zest.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of the simmering pasta water and whisk until thickened.
Finish the dish:
Drain the pasta and add to the butter and sage mixture, tossing delicately until well coated with the sauce.
Divide the pasta between 4 plates and sprinkle with the fried sage leaves, the crumbled amaretti and freshly grated Parmesan.
Finish with a few drops of the reduced aged balsamic vinegar.
Note: I have made a pledge to donate a percentage of the win (if I get there!) to a very worthy cause: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Hospital, an amazing not-for-profit organization that I am dedicated to.