- March 29th, 2010
I set out to make agnolotti stuffed with braised chuck and spinach but the universe conspired against me. Well, not really, I just got three hours and nine hand-rolled pasta sheets into the dish and decided rather than take the time to carefully form agnolotti I would cheat and no one would be the wiser. It’s not really cheating if you slow-braise your stuffing, hand cut your pasta and grow your own spinach, too, but I still felt a touch of guilt for not molding my little squares into perfect agnolotti. You see agnolotti requires some fancy folding, pinching and crimping, but my lovely quadrati (squares) stay together so nicely with just a slathering of egg wash and a few quick cuts in a way I view them as the perfect filled pasta.
I had a wine-soaked weekend of sexy soirees and tantalizing tastings, so I felt some classic comfort food was in order. My go-to is always hand-cut pasta because the meditative process is so soul-soothing. I’m experimenting with different ratios of semolina, tipo 00 flour, and eggs/egg yolks in my dough lately. This time I decided to try 100% tipo 00 (which is basically standard unbleached white flour), forego the semolina, and do whole eggs instead of a mixture of egg and yolk. I added a touch of salt, but held back adding oil, which I sometimes do for viscosity.
It turned out the oil was far from necessary this time- the dough lacked the stiffness semolina adds to it and it was malleable and soft as putty. It was a dream to roll into rectangular sheets, so acquiescent to the rolling pin, and not at all sticky. I prefer semolina pasta if I’m going to turn it into tagliolini, fettucine or another non-filled noodle, but all-flour dough is a dream if you’re making precision pasta.
I had a glut of spinach begging to be eaten, so I steamed it up and mixed it along with some duck eggs into braised, minced chuck. I added a few sprinkles of parmesan and I had the perfect filling. I retained the stock in which I braised the chuck; that’s what I used to make the sauce that would ultimately coat the quadrati. Normally I would have braised in a wine/stock combo, but after such a heavy red weekend I was feeling a tad wined-out, so straight stock won in the end.
I tend to make my pasta dough, let it rest for maybe half an hour while I’m finalizing the filling, then roll it into sheets as needed to stuff and cut. This way the sheets won’t dry out, though it does go against the rule of finishing like tasks at the same time. I roll out two rectangular sheets, maybe 3-4” wide by 30” long and dollop filling every few inches down one of the sheets. Then I wash it with egg everywhere the filling is not. This way the top sheet sticks beautifully and they meld as if into one sheet. I also think the egg wash helps the two sheets to thin out once they grab one another, which makes for better, less chewy pasta.
Once I drape the top sheet onto the bottom, I squeeze it shut down its entire length. All that remains is to cut the final pasta forms (in this case quadrati, or squares) and set them to dry on a baking sheet. Different pasta-makers have different rules on air-drying before the boiling plunge, but I’ve always found 30-45 minutes to be ideal. I like a touch of crispness, but not so dry the pasta cracks and cooks unevenly.
I add a bit of stock to the pasta water so the meaty flavor soaks through the noodle- a little trick I happened upon accidentally when I had excess stock one day. While the pasta is boiling I reheat the sauce and whisk in a few tablespoons of butter to emulsify it. After three or four minutes of boiling I remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon, and toss it in the sauce. The perfect comfort plate consists of three or four of these lovely quadrati drenched in sauce and topped with a generous shaving of parmesan. After the three hour process of making this pasta any impurities from a weekend spent having a ball virtually vanish and suddenly a bottle of Barolo isn’t sounding like such a bad thing. It sure complements the lovingly-prepared meal to a tee, but don’t let me be a bad influence, drink what you will. Mangia!