Ooooh...the first French Laundry recipe of 10X10.
This might actually be a good time for a little tallying. So far we have:
Two recipes from My French Kitchen, one recipe from Braise, two recipes from Parisian Home Cooking, one recipe from Molto Italiano, and one recipe from The French Laundry. Just 93 to go.
Also, Ad Hoc came in the mail, so it's time for the "random" number generator.
Page 136 is a selection of 10 different salads. While these salads are not necessarily simple, as every salad is actually a combination of a few different recipes, this seems too lackluster. Perhaps I'll pick again.
Page 150 is iceberg lettuce slices with blue cheese dressing, oven-roasted tomatoes, bacon, and brioce crutons. The number generator apparently really wants me to make a salad from this book. Well, this looks delicious, and I had actually planned to make it. Althought it is a salad, it's not necessarily a copout because the recipe requires that you make the dressing, roast the tomatoes, as well as make and toast the brioche. Brioche requires an overnight rest in the fridge, and the tomatoes take several hours to slowly roast, so it's a actually not a wimpy recipe.
By the way, did you know that the formerly tacky, pre-foodie, chicken-soup-casserole-era iceberg is making a comeback? It's true. Look for heirloom varieties of iceberg lettuce at the farmer's market this summer. People are once again coming to appreciate its crispy, watery coolness, and its image is being revamped from a holdout found only in steakhouses, to an unapologetic indulgence. Who cares if it has "no nutritional value?"
So, part of the reason that I liked Nick's idea for this project was because I had been interested in getting back to utilizing cookbooks. I love the tactile act of flipping through a cookbook, marking the pages you like, and maybe rediscovering a recipe that did not previously interest you. But I had been cooking from online recipes for so long that when I walked into my Dad's house this past fall with a book rather that a computer, Hunter was amazed. It was time for a change.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with online recipes. Epicurious, for example, has a wonderful (and extensive) collection, and the functions that enable you to organize your recipes are awesome. With a cookbook, however, someone has created a whole world within the two covers, and when you explore a cookbook, you become a part of that world.
A cookbook can tell a story, and it can teach you to be a better cook. Just about every cookbook has some instructional aspects, and their usefuleness depends on your proir experience. For example, I didn't find anything new in Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen. I chose that book because he has a wide range of seemingly solid recipes, and I particularly liked how a lot of his desserts have savory aspects. When I read the French Laundry cookbook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, however, I learned a lot.
I first took note of Tyler Florence's book when it was listed in this article that my Dad thoughtfully sent in order to assist me in the search for books for this project. The article purportedly enumerated the best cookbooks of the decade, and Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen was on this list, so when I saw it in the library I decided to give it a chance, and I ended up putting it on the list.
I have to admit that I am not familiar with every book on this 'best of the decade' list, but I have perused many of them. And I have to say that this is a list with some notable errors. For example, the French Laundry cookbook is not on this list. How can it not be? Alinea is first on the list, but without Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, Grant Achatz might not have even opened Alinea. Plus, the French Laundry cookbook revolutionized the way cookbooks are published.
When Thomas Keller made the first edition of this book, everyone thought that he was crazy. They tried to tell him that people didn't want such a lavishly illustrated, complicated cookbook. It went on to sell insanely well, of course, as it is a stunning and inspirational book. Had he not made this beautiful book, would Heston Blumenthal have been able to publish the Big Fat Duck Cookbook, and would David Chang have been able to create the Momofuku cookbook? If you think that the French Laundry is challenging, try one of those books.
I've had my eye on this recipe for a long time, and it's one of the recipes that made me really want the pasta maker attachment for my stand mixer. In fact, if I didn't receive it as a Christmas gift, I was going to make it a Merry Christmas To Me present. Don't deny it, you do it too--"One for me, one for them, two for me, one for them..."
Well, I wrecked my car on Hunter's birthday, which is right before Christmas. Not only did I mess up his party, I had to buy an Audi as the Merry Christmas To Me present, instead of the pasta maker. Well, I didn't have to get an Audi, but whether I got an Audi or a Volkswagen, it precluded buying myself a pasta maker. Lucky for me, Nick got it for me.
So you start by roasting a pound and a half of sweet potatoes with four tablespoons of butter. You scoop out the flesh and pass it through a food mill or potato ricer while it's still hot; this is always an opportune moment for some nice scalding. I didn't take a picture of this step, as I thought it would be better to show you how Hunter feels about the food mill:
(This was actually for the French Laundry recipe Warm Friutwood Smoked Salmon with Potato Gnocchi and Balsamic Glaze. It was very delicious, and very buttery.)
Two pieces of bacon are then lightly browned and added to the sweet potato mixure, along with some nutmeg, allspice, and four more tablespoons of butter. I think Thomas Keller is trying to kill me. With butter.
This filling was allowed to cool and then piped onto the freshly made pasta dough. Okay, I admit it--I didn't pipe it, I spooned it. I was too lazy to get out the pastry bag, okay?
Ummm...I also didn't use Thomas Keller's pasta recipe. "Gasp!" Well, I've attempted it before, and I don't like it. I found that the flour-to-egg ration was too high to make the dough workable. I recently read that West Coast eggs are smaller than East Coast eggs; I don't know if this egg thing is true (although I think I read this in the Ad Hoc book), but it might help explain why I found the dough to be too tough.
I used Jamie Oliver's recipe instead, and it turned out beautifully. The best part is--it didn't smell like placenta! The last time I made pasta, I made two different batches, and both times, the dough smelled overwhelmingly of placenta. If you think about it, this sort of makes sense as an egg is sort of like a placenta, but it was still traumatizing for me and my Facebook friends. As I was working with that dough, I had to avert my face and hope that the resulting pasta tasted better than it smelled. Don't worry--it was delicious.
After the filling was "piped" onto the fresh pasta dough, it was time to form the agnolotti. Much cussing ensued. I mean, the part of the French Laundry cookbook that explained the forming of the agnolotti is a column of about 6 inches of dense type, and I couldn't make much sense of it. It got to the point that Nick offered to make an attempt, because I think he started to worry about all of the sharp and breakable stuff laying around within my reach.
I couldn't not be a pain in the butt, so I complicated the situation by not leaving Nick alone until I was quite frustrated with myself, and with the very concept of agnolotti. "Why do these stupid pasta have to be in such a stupid shape, and why does it have to be so stupidly difficult to make them?" Once I let Nick do his thing, though, he figured it out. They don't really look like the ones in the book's pictures, but they'll do. Thanks, Nick.
In fact, they're rather cute. They look like wrapped up candy.
It was now time to prep the chicken cutlets that had been brining. I had loved the idea of pan-seared scallops with the agnolotti, but for many years, half of the time that we ate scallops, Nick and I would throw up. I don't think it was a matter of food poisoning, as we didn't necessarily throw up at the same time. It hasn't been a problem for a while, so I don't know what that was all about, but it's left us a bit wary of scallops. The ones at Whole Foods didn't look so hot, so chicken it is.
Meals that involve Thomas Keller's recipes tend to come together in a concluding crescendo, and this one was no different: we pan-seared the cutlets, dropped the agnolotti in salted water for boiling, pureed warm creme fraiche and a half a cup of butter (for a half-sized sauce recipe) with some previously boiled sage leaves, strained the cream sauce back into the skillet, made some brown butter, wilted some spinach, tossed the cooked agnolotti with the cream sauce, plated the spinach, plated the chicken, strewed the agnolotti around, and drizzled them with brown butter. Whew.
Did I mention that Thomas Keller is trying to kill me with butter? Have you been keeping track? I'm not eating again until my birthday dinner.
I have another confession--I didn't make the fried sage leaves, and I forgot to put the julienned prosciutto on the initial plating.
Well, it was delicious anyway. The filling was sweet and buttery without being too dense and heavy, and the sage cream sauce nicely complimented the sweet and salty aspects of the agnolotti. The pasta was tasty, and if it was a bit too chewy, I'll just tell myself that it provided a nice counterpoint to the meltingly soft sweet potato filling.
The best part was that while you could certainly tell that the sage was there, and it played well with the other flavors, you almost had to go looking for a distinct taste of it. The execution of this recipe wasn't perfect (especially my sucky plating), but it was quite satisfactory. This, too, will go on the repeat list.
Sweet Potato Agnolotti in in Sage Cream Sauce
(From the The French Laundry Cookbook)
Sweet Potato Filling
- 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter
- 2 slices bacon, frozen and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Pinch of allspice or nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 recipe for pasta dough
- 1/3 cup sage leaves (save the smaller leaves for the fried sage leaf garnish)
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 1 cup Buerre Monte (below)
- Pinch of Kosher salt, or to taste
- Canola oil for deep-frying
- 48 tiny sage leaves (reserved from above)
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
- 4 thin slices prosciutto, cut crosswise into fine julienne
For the sweet potato filling:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the ends off the potatoes and wrap the potatoes individually in aluminum foil, dividing 4 tablespoons of the butter evenly between them. Bake until they are soft, 1 to 2 hours (the time will vary, depending on the size of the potatoes).
Unwrap the cooked potatoes and cut a slit lengthwise in the skin of each. Pull the skin away from the potato and discard. Push the potatoes through a potato ricer while they are hot and place in a saucepan.
Place the diced bacon in a skillet. Cook until it is lightly browned and the fat has been rendered. Transfer the bacon pieces to paper towels to drain briefly, then add them to the potatoes.
Stir the potatoes over low heat, seasoning to taste with the nutmeg or allspice and salt and pepper. Mix in the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. You will have about 1 2/3 cups filling (enough to fill 48 agnolotti). Refrigerate the filling until chilled, or for up to 2 days, before filling the agnolotti.
Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces. Run the dough through a pasta machine as for ravioli, but make the sheets wider. The size will vary according to the pasta machine used, but the sheets should be at least 5 inches wide. It is important that the pasta sheet be thin enough so that you can see your fingers through it, but not so thin that it's translucent. Keep the pasta sheets covered, as they dry out quickly.
Lay the pasta sheets, one at a time, on a lightly floured work surface with the long side facing you. Trim the edges so they are straight. Place the agnolotti filling in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe a 'tube' of filling across the bottom of the pasta sheet, leaving a 3/4-inch border of pasta along the left, right, and bottom 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; don't drag your finger along the dough to seal, or you risk riping the dough.
When it is sealed, there should be about 1/2-inch of excess dough visible above the tube of filling (where you sealed it). Be certain that you are sealing tightly while pressing out any air pockets. Seal the left and right ends of the dough.
Starting at one end, place the thumb and forefinger of each hand together as if you were going to pinch something, and, leaving about 1 inch of space between your hands and holding your fingers vertically, pinch the filling in 1-inch increments, making about 3/4 inch of 'pinched' area between the agnolotti, or when the agnolotti are separated, they might come unsealed.
Run a crimped pastry wheel along the top 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 through the center of each pinched area, rolling the pastry wheel away from you.
Working quickly, place the agnolotti on a baking sheet dusted with a thin layer of cornmeal, which will help prevent sticking. Don't let the agnolotti touch each other, or they may stick together. Repeat the same procedure with the remainder of the pasta sheets.
For the sage cream, blanch the sage leaves in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, cool in cold water, and drain again. Squeeze the leaves dry.
Heat the creme fraiche, buerre monte, and salt over low heat until hot; do not boil. Place the sage in a blender and process to chop it. With the motor running, pour the hot cream mixture through the top and blend thoroughly. Strain the cream into a large skillet. Check the seasoning and set aside.
In a small pot, heat oil for deep frying to 275 degrees. Fry the small sage leaves briefly, just until they are crisp (their color should not change), and dry on paper towels.
Place the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook to a nutty brown color; reduce the heat and keep warm. Meanwhile, cook the agnolotti in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.
Drain the cooked agnolotti and mix them gently with the sage cream sauce over low heat. Divide the agnolotti among six serving dishes and drizzle with the browned butter. Scatter some prosciutto over each serving and garnish with the fried sage leaves.
A little bit of butter helps the emulsion process: Whether you emulsify 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) or 1 pound of butter, just a tablespoon of water will do.
Bring the water to a boil in an appropriate-size saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and begin whisking chunks of butter into the water, bit by bit to emulsify. Once you have established the emulsion, you can continue to add pieces of butter until you have the quantity of buerre monte that you need.
It is important to keep the level of heat gentle and consistent in order to maintain the emulsification. Make the buerre monte close to the time it will be used and keep it in a warm place. If you have extra buerre monte, it can be refrigerated and then reheated to use as melted butter, or clarified.