Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 321 - Agnolotti, Tortelloni, Spinach and Cheese Filling, and Duck Confit Filling

When I served Orange-Braised Rabbit to Barbara and Dawn and Kevin, we had such a great time together that I've been looking forward to having the three of them back for an encore. I had been telling Barbara, who's been through culinary school, that I was having some pasta issues, so she offered to come over to give me some tips next time I attempted it. Well, tonight is that night, and Dawn and Kevin are back, on Kevin's birthday eve, for Pasta Glutfest, 2010.

We're making two new shapes and two new fillings. And Barbara's shaking things up with some of her own special goodies.

Duck Confit Filling (p. 374)

You knew this was coming.

This filling is pretty much what it sounds like. The other ingredients are sliced, sautéed shallots, thyme leaves, sherry for deglazing, and egg yolks. The duck tastes so damn good that you could probably pair it with a Snickers bar and it would still work, but these flavors are terrific.

The only thing I'm going to say is that it might be a better idea to chop/mince the shallots than slice them. It would probably make the filling easier to work with, especially when filling a smallish shape like agnolotti. I got a little hung up on shallot slices here and there.

Still, it's a small complaint about a really delicious filling. This is definitely the most substantial pasta filling in the book (although I haven't done the meaty Tortellini in Brodo yet). The duck meat has a weight to it that I like in contrast to the light pasta. Mmmm.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Agnolotti (p. 370)

Since Martha suggested that the duck confit filling would be particularly great in agnolotti made with Spinach Pasta Dough, I thought I should try it. I whipped up a batch of dough, and for the record, it came out beautifully, no problem. (I have much better luck with the spinach dough recipe than I have with the regular dough recipe.)

One of my big pasta problems is that in the rolling out of the pasta, I can't get a nice, wide, evenly shaped sheet. But since I was going to be cutting out 2 3/4 inch round circles for this pasta shape, I didn't even bother trying! I just needed to make sure that my sheets were at least 3 inches wide, which they (mostly) were.

This is a pretty easy shape to make, following Martha's excellent directions. Put a teaspoon of filling in the center of the circle, fold in half, wet edges and seal.
The trickiest part is getting the cut circles off the counter when you haven't put enough flour under them to release them. I used a bench scraper a lot. Also, these are quite small, so shaping them is TIME CONSUMING! If you want to make nicely shaped pasta, allow some time for this! (Dawn took this picture, so you can get a sense of how behind I was: still shaping pasta when my guests had already settled in. Not good....)

We thought this pasta might be nicely paired with some tomato sauce, so I whipped up this Marinara. In the end, though, the tomato overwhelmed the flavor of the agnolotti, so we swept the sauce aside and tried to enjoy the pasta solo, which was great. I can't think of how these could have been any better.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Spinach and Cheese Filling (p. 373)

I didn't end up having enough spinach for this recipe, so I added some chard to get me the rest of the way there. Once that was drained and chopped, it was just a minute before this was done. All I had to do was add the cheeses (ricotta, parmagiano-reggiano, and pecorino-romano - any other two name cheeses I should have put in?) and the egg yolks, and it was ready to go.

This is a great, middle-of-the-road, delicious filling that could work with any pasta and any sauce. It's easy, quick, and sure to please even the most finicky eater.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Tortelloni (p. 371)

Barbara made a batch of regular pasta dough for these, and I watched and learned. There were some differences in Martha's recipe, a slightly different egg to flour ratio, and a little added olive oil.

She showed me some great mixing and kneading techniques which, though more time-consuming, yielded a better finished product. It's hard to describe the technique without a visual, but the gist is that it's gentler, less manhandling than I usually do.

Barbara was also completely responsible for shaping these. Of course, I made her do them according to Martha's instructions, which you know secretly drove her crazy. But she humored me, and the result was fantastic.

These are nice, chunky pieces of pasta, with a good amount of filling. The filling only lasted for 18 pieces, but let me tell you, 4-5 pieces per serving was plenty, especially if you're serving these as a first course. There was something really satisfying about the scale of them. Unlike some pastas, you really felt like you were getting a meal, without feeling like you were being bombarded by a bunch of dough.

Barbara's idea for serving these was to put them in a chicken stock with some escarole and parmagiano, which was amazing. That said, I think we got the two sauces backwards. These tortelloni would have been great in the marinara, and the duck agnolotti could have shone in the broth.

Ah well, we'll know for next time....

Barbara: A
Martha: A

By the way, Barbara made a great first course: Shaved brussels sprouts tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and zest, with walnuts and pecorino-romano. Great taste and texture, really delicious.

In honor of Kevin's birthday, I made One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with this peanut butter frosting. Here's a good tip: All the measurements in this cupcake recipe are divisible by five (except for the eggs) which makes it really easy to reduce. I only wanted cupcakes for tonight, so I divided everything by five and put in one egg, and they came out beautifully. I got five, well-sized cupcakes. Four for tonight and one for the chef to taste. :-)

Until we eat again...


  1. Jeff, so glad we got to see the assembly process. I think Im finally over my homemade pasta making fears! The broth was a lovely surprise... so delicate. The Martha recipie for basic Marinara rivals my mom's (shhhh) so I'll be making that soon. We had a blast and Kevin LOVED sharing the wishes on his cupcakes which we both agree were DIVINE !

  2. Hey Dawn- Yes, you definitely need to let those fears go. You are so ready to make your own pasta. It was great to see you two, as ever- thanks for yet another sweet post!