Sunday, September 12, 2010

Homemade Pasta with Bacon and Corn Pesto

Comfort foods are generally the provenance of the winter months, and rightly so--the pervasive chill is more likely to produce a need for solace in the form of warming soups and thick, satisfying braises. Rich foods like macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes are sometimes too heavy and filling for the sweatier days of summer, and their succor is less likely to be needed in the face of bright sunshine and long days.

Of course, summer has its comfort foods--fried chicken, potato salads, and berry pies, to name a few. Those are all delicious, of course, but I'd like to offer you another summer comfort dish. This meal is filling and hearty, but the fresh pasta prevents it from going over the comforting edge and into the realm of gut-busting. Plus, the chewy bite of the fresh egg pasta is quite delightful with the creamy sauce and crispy bacon. But if you're not feeling motivated enough to make your own pasta, that's perfectly all right--this dish will be delicious anyway.

If you happen to have some fresh corn on one of those random, coolish summer days, which are becoming more frequent as the season draws to a close, then this dish is for you.

  • Homemade Pasta with Bacon and Corn Pesto
  • 4 slices thick bacon, cut into lardons
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels from about 6 ears
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 recipe for homemade fettucini, recipe below (or dried fettuccine)
  • 1/4 cup slivered basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
Set a large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until chewy and beginning to crisp and the fat has rendered into the pan, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Add the corn and to the skillet and toss to coat in the fat. Add a couple pinches of salt and pepper and cook until the corn is just tender, about 5 minutes. Reserve a cup of corn, then scrape the rest into a food processor. Add the pine nuts and Parmesan and pulse to combine. Add the olive oil with the machine running and blend until smooth. 

When the water is at a roiling boil, add the pasta to the water cook the pasta until al dente.  Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so this will likely take 2-4 minutes. It is particularly important to not overcook the pasta here, as the cooking continues a bit when the pasta is added to the sauce.

In the skillet, combine the corn pesto, reserved corn, most of the basil, and 3/4 of the bacon. Add salt to taste and add a lot of pepper (this dish is reminiscent of a carbonara, so you need a lot of pepper). Over mediumish heat, toss to combine, and add the white wine. 

When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve at least a cup of the cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss. If it does not form a smooth, cohesive sauce, add the reserved cooking water until it does. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the pasta among bowls and top with remaining basil, bacon, and chopped chives.

Homemade Egg Pasta
(From Molto Italiano)

Makes about 1 1/4 pounds, which I've found to be good for 4-6 people, depending on the recipe

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs
        Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board, and sprinkle it with the salt. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork or your fingers, beat the eggs together, then 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. This takes some practice, and if the eggs break through the wall of the well, all is not lost--just try to combine the eggs and flour as well as you can.
        When half of the flour is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palms of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dried bits of dough.

        Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 10 minutes, dusting the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be elastic, very smooth, and a little sticky. And seriously, this really takes 10 whole minutes--do not try to slack on this part, just find a Zen place and knead away. 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 flattish 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.

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