Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fettuccine Verdi ai Fegatini, or Green Fettuccine with Chicken Livers

Frequently, our culinary exploits resemble nothing so much as a comedy of errors. Take out recent meal, for example--it called for making green pasta, which was going fine until it was time to roll out the dough.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, I seem to be lacking the right touch when it comes to the pasta dough, and rather than expelling a lovely smooth sheet of pasta, the rollers produce a shredded mass of green tatters. As the dough disintegrates into disarray, it makes a strangely palpable noise, "Squeaky! Squeaky! Squeaky!" and then "Splat! Splat! Splat!" as it misses my hands and hits the floor.

This is the scenario my Dad witnessed as he walked into the kitchen--Hunter standing by, half horrified, half amused, as the pasta goes, "Squeaky! Squeaky! Splat splat splat!"

After standing there for a minute with an 'Are you kidding me?' look on his face, my Dad said "Call Domino's!" (This was a joke, not a command). Hunter said later, "Little did he know, that wasn't the first time that happened."
"Yes, but it was the best," I said.

I've mentioned that every time I make pasta, there comes a moment where I become convinced that it's just not going to work this time. I tell myself, though, that if the Worst Cooks in America can make homemade pasta, then darn it, I can too.

And I did. At one point there was pasta in the cuff of my pants, but in the end, this was just about all the green dough that went to waste as a result of my suckiness:

Plus, no penguins interfered this time, so the pasta was not overcooked.

This, by the way is what Hunter thinks of the pasta roller:

I was initially going to explain that the first part is a bit tricky, so I'd let him do the cutting part, but he soon witnessed this for himself, and I think he liked the cutting part.

This spinach, a.k.a. green pasta was eventually tossed with a chicken liver sauce. Hey, don't diss the chicken livers. You'll hurt their feelings.

I will admit that they do look pretty gross.

The camera couldn't function in autofocus because they're just amorphous blobs, and they still look that way after using manual focus. Poor little guys.

More and more cookbooks offer recipes for liver, because in the high-low trends of today, things that were once declasse are gaining new status as the trend du jour. 'Look how cool I am,' you can say; 'I can mix H&M with Chanel and eat like an early twentieth century European peasant at Michelin starred restaurants.' I actually really like this turn of events in both worlds. Julia Child and Coco Chanel
were ahead of everyone on this, though.

I can claim to have liked chicken livers for a long time because I'm cool like that. But admittedly, not all my life. Chicken livers are very popular in Italy, and my Italian grandmother would frequently make chicken livers at family gatherings because all of the adults loved them. The kids, however, would run screaming out of the room as soon as the smell of searing poultry organs began to waft into the air.

I was one of those screaming kids until one of the adults said, "Oh, shut up and try one." That's a life lesson there, by the way.

I cautiously put it in my mouth, gave it a tentative chew, and found that, yes, it actually is quite enjoyable, even down to the dense, somewhat powdery texture. We have since then attempted to make chicken livers the way my grandmother did, but like paella, it's never as good as the first version you had.

So I knew as soon as I saw this recipe that I had to try it, and although it meant carrying the Kitchenaid stand mixer up three flights of steps, I decided to make it at my Dad's house. I figured I could get Hunter to carry it: "Holy s%#& this is heavy!" Yes it is. That's why you're carrying it, not me. That sounds terrible, but I have three flights of steps at my house, so I'd already done my turn.

Okay, so pancetta, I mean bacon, rendered its fat, and carrots onions and garlic were softened. Chicken livers, cloves, a bay leaf, reconstituted dried porcini and their mushroom water, tomato paste and white wine were added, and this was simmered for half an hour. Some diced scallions were thrown in and the sauce was simmered for 10 more minutes before it was tossed with the pasta.

Oooohh! We need Parmesan!

I mentioned that the pasta was properly cooked, but it was a bit lacking in flavor. I have a tendency to oversalt our meals because I loooove salt, so I've sometimes lately been overcompensating by undersalting instead. Exhibit A:

Tasteless pasta.

As my Dad said, he voted with his fork, and showed me his bowl that was filled with pasta and devoid of any liver bits.

The liver sauce was quite tasty, and certainly not too livery. This might be a good dish to serve to someone who claims to not like liver, as the bacon and other ingredients play a strong supporting role.

Hunter and I agree, however, that if we were to make it again, some changes would be made. As usual, we're not sure if we'll make it again, but if we do, we'll use red wine instead of white, add some chopped tomatoes, leave out the carrots, add some red pepper flakes and fresh rosemary, and use plain instead of green pasta. The last stipulation was my Dad's, actually--he found the green pasta objectionable solely on the basis of its color. Its lack of flavor didn't help matters, either.

Perhaps someday I will make a wholly successful meal for the fam. In the meantime, I'll leave you with some shots of the macabre voodoo/effigy thing made from the splattered pasta pieces in a collaborative effort by Hunter and my Dad.

I prefer this guy, though:

One more thing--I think I've finalized the list of 10X10 cookbooks. Here it is:

1. Ad Hoc, by Thomas Keller
2. French Laundry by Thomas Keller
3. Braise, by Daniel Boulud
4. Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts
5. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child and Company
6. My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris
7. Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
8. Italian Grill by Mario Batali
9. Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
10. Mexico the Beautiful

Fettuccine Verdi ai Fegatini

Green Fettuccine with Chicken Livers
(Originally from Molto Italiano, Very Much Adapted)

  • 2 ounces dried porcini
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pound chicken livers
  • 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds green pasta dough (see below), cut into fettuccine
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, to serve
In a small bowl soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 10 minutes. Lift out the mushrooms, reserving the liquid, and finely chop; set aside. Strain the liquid through is fine sieve and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, combine the olive oil and bacon and cook over medium-low heat until the bacon has rendered its fat. If desired, ladle out some of the fat. Maybe save it for another use. Add the onion and garlic, increase the heat to high, and sauté until softened. Add the chicken livers and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Remove the bay leaf. Add the red pepper flakes, rosemary, scallions, and reserved porcini liquid and simmer for 10 more minutes. Season to tasate with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large, salted pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain.

Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce and toss over high heat for 1 minute. Divide evenly among 4 warm pasta bowls, to with the Parmesan, and serve immediately.

Green Pasta
(From Molto Italiano)

  • 1 cup packed spinach leaves
  • Salt
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 5 large eggs

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and a teaspoon of salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove. Blanch one cup packed spinach leaves in the water for 45 seconds, and remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice bath for 2 minutes.

Drain the spinach and squeeze dry in a kitchen towel, removing as much moisture as possible. Chop the spinach very fine and combine with the eggs in a small bowl. Stir well until as smooth as possible.

Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the egg and spinach mixture. Using a fork or your fingers, with a swirling motion, begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape.

When half of the flour is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palm of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dry bits of dough.

Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 10 minutes. Seriously--10 minutes. Dust the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth, elastic, and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. 

To roll out the pasta, divide it into 6 pieces (if you're making the whole pasta recipe, rolling all of it, and drying the other half). Make each piece into a dish shape. 

With your plain roller set to the largest setting (lower number), pass the dough through once. Fold like a book (one flat piece in the back, and two pieces folded over on the sides so that they almost meet in the middle) and pass through again. Fold like a book and repeat 2 more times. After the last time, send the pasta through as is.

Then, put the roller on the next smallest setting and pass the dough through. Continue to do this on smaller and smaller settings until the pasta is the right thickness (a 5 on Kitchenaid stand mixers). Lay the dough out on a flat surface and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out, and repeat with the remaining lumps of dough.

When all of the pasta is laid out flat, switch to the fettuccine-cutting roller, and pass the pieces of dough through, one at a time. Again, spread out the dough and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out. Proceed with whatever recipe you're using this in.


Audax said...

Yes I agree most flavoured pasta is insipid and not worth the effort it is easier to have a great sauce and yours is a winner I love liver sauce and yours looks so good. I love the picture of Hunter at pasta rolling LOL LOL. You have such gorgeous pictures also. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

Leah said...

Thanks, Audax!
I do have to say, though, that I once made a Martha Stewart carrot pasta tossed in a brown butter sauce that was awesome.
Even my cousin, who has never in her life not hated a carrot anything, loved it.

moowiesqrd said...

I made this last night and I would have used less of the reserved porcini water. I ended up with one cup after the mushrooms were reconstituted and I thought the flavor overwhelmed everything else. Totally agree with using red instead of white. I ended up throwing a sprig of thyme into it, because it tasted so flatly mushroom-y and not even the pancetta and prosciutto helped. Ironically, I was disappointed that this didn't taste livery enough.