23 February 2010

Fresh for the first time

I have a confession to make: I just made fresh pasta for the first time.  Yes, you are understanding me correctly.  I have never made pasta from scratch before.

With my passion for cooking and my Italian roots, you might be astonished that it's taken me so long to break into the Realm of Fresh Noodles.  I, for one, certainly am!  What's worse is that I've definitely participated in conversations about the glories of luscious fresh pasta and how making your own is really the thing to do, all the while guiltily hoping it wouldn't come out that...gasp...I'd never done it before.  But today I decided to take the plunge and face the unknown, pasta maker or no.
My decision was bolstered, in large part, by a hunger for something tender and fresh for dinner, something that would mirror the spring weather that is bursting forth in Santa Barbara.  Yes, there are seasons in Santa Barbara, and with the recent warm weather and gentle rain showers we've been having, spring is in the air.  In Italy, eggs, fresh greens, sweet yeast breads, and tender beans are the foods of spring.  These inspired me to start thinking of delicately poached eggs, basil pesto, edamame, and garden-picked parsley; and some fresh fettucine would be just the thing to bring it all together!

As the aromas of garlic and basil started filling the air, my mom started gushing about how this was just the kind of food her Grandma Mary used to make.  Mary was the third wife of my Great-grandfather Domenico (the family tree is a little complicated), and she was the "northern Italian" in the family.  While most of my Italian relatives came from the Napoli region, Grandma Mary was from Carrara, and her cooking included things like homemade pesto and pasta.

Well, this is not Grandma Mary's pesto, even if it looks and smells like it!  Instead of using the traditional pine nuts, I decided to use edamame.  The soybeans provide their own lightly nutty flavor, the idea of green-on-green was alluring, and I was in the mood for something a little more light-hearted than the pesto recipe of tradition.  But my sauce doesn't stop with just the pesto.  Wouldn't it be so much more delightful if I topped this with a poached egg that, when cut into, would release a creamy sauce of golden joy over the pesto-coated noodles?  And why not add some salty bits of crispy pancetta, and complete this homage to pasta carbonara?

Fettucine with Basil-Edamame Pesto, Poached Eggs, and Pancetta
Serves 4

For the pesto:
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
4 oz. fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shelled edamame beans
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

For the pasta:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
(or use 3/4 lb. dried fettucine, if you don't have time to make your own pasta)

4 oz. diced pancetta
4 large eggs
handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

To make the pesto, place garlic and olive oil in a small pan and warm over medium-low heat.  As the mixture warms, smash garlic with the back of a spoon to help release more flavor.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Place the basil and salt in the bowl of a large food processor and drizzle olive and garlic over.  Pulse until smooth, then add edamame beans and pulse until beans are roughly chopped.  Transfer pesto to a bowl and stir in grated cheese and freshly-ground black pepper.  (Can be made ahead; cover and chill until ready to use.  Bring to room temperature before adding to pasta.)

To make the pasta, place flour, salt, and eggs in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well blended and dough starts to hold together.  Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead for about five minutes.  Divide dough into thirds and shape into balls.
Cover with plastic wrap, to prevent the pasta dough from drying out, and let rest (this allows the gluten, which was developed during kneading, to relax--which will make rolling the dough out much easier!).  Roll out the dough as thin as possible (the pasta will plump up during cooking), then slice into strips using a pizza cutter.  Separate pasta strands to prevent them from sticking.  This part took me longer than I thought it would.  I think a pasta machine would not be a bad thing, though getting to exercise my rock-climbing muscles wasn't a bad thing either!

Once the pesto and the pasta have been prepared, set a large pot of salted water to boil (for the pasta) and saute the pancetta in another pan, over medium heat, until crispy.  Transfer pancetta to paper toweling to drain fat.  While pancetta cooks, poach each of the four eggs in a small pot of gently boiling water.

Here are a few tips that I use for great poached eggs:  Crack the egg into a small bowl first (not directly into the water).  This will make it easier to keep the yolk and white together when transferring it into the water.  Next, you have to decide if you want a smooth, compactly poached egg, or a poached egg with a feathery edge to it.  If you want the egg white to come out smooth, create a vortex in the water by swirling a spoon in the water and then lower the egg into the vortex.  (Some of the loose egg white will be dispersed by the moving water, but the rest of the white will be wrapped around the yolk with a smooth finish.)  If you want to keep more of the white intact and don't mind a ragged edge to your egg whites, you can simply slip them into the gently boiling water without creating a vortex.  The egg might settle onto the bottom of the pot, but after it's had a chance to cook up a bit, gently check with a spoon that it is not sticking to the bottom.  Let eggs cook for 3 minutes, then transfer to a warm plate and keep covered.

When the pasta water comes to a full boil, add the fettucine and stir to ensure that the strands are submerged and not stuck together.  Let cook for about 5 minutes, until al dente, then transfer to a large warm bowl and toss with the pesto sauce, adding pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce.  Divide pasta among warm dishes, topping each with a poached egg, crispy pancetta, and a sprinkling of parsley.  Now you can serve it up and let your adoring guests take over for the final step.

I think this is the fun part: cut open the egg and let all the gooey, yummy yolk spill over your pasta, add on a dash of salt, and you've got one fantastic sauce!  Mangia mangia!


Yummm, isn't that yolk gorgeous?!

1 comment:

ph said...

This looks amazing! Can't wait to try it.

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