Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tordelli di Lucchesi

Nearly every restaurant in Lucca, where I vacationed last summer, serves a version of this traditional Lucchesan dish. Tordelli look like ravioli, but that's where the resemblance ends. The filling is savory rather than cheesy, and the cinnamon- and sage-infused ragú with which the tordelli are served is distinctively Tuscan. I learned how to make this dish from Chef Paolo Monti, who runs a fabulous cooking school in Lucca. Worth a trip!

(serves six)

The Filling
¾ lb Swiss chard, stems removed
3 c day-old Italian bread, cubed
2 Tbs pine nuts
2 Tbs raisins
1 oz Parmagiano-Reggiano, grated
1 large egg, beaten
½ whole nutmeg, grated
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

The Pasta
500 g flour (about 3¾ c)
5 eggs (plus an additional egg for the wash)
1 Tbs olive oil

To make the filling:

1. Add a quarter-inch of cold water to a large skillet and place over medium heat. Add the chard and braise until wilted. Drain and rinse with cold water. Squeeze dry.

2. Place the squeezed chard in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the bread, pine nuts, raisins, and cheese. Process until puréed.

3. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl. Add the egg and nutmeg, along with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.

To make the pasta:

1. Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until the dough forms a ball. (If the dough is too dry to come together, add water, a teaspoon at a time, until it does.)

2. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

To make the tordelli:

1. Cut the dough ball into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, roll out using a pasta machine to setting 7 (the thinnest setting on a standard machine). Dust with flour and transfer to a large pasta board.

2. Place small balls of filling (about the size of large grapes) along the strip of pasta. The balls should be the width of two fingers apart and centered on the bottom half of the pasta strip.

3. Beat an egg with a little water (about a tablespoon) to create an egg wash.. Using a quick, light stroke, paint a little egg wash around each ball of filling. This will help seal the tordelli.

4. Fold the top half of the pasta strip over the bottom half. Press to seal, squeeing out any air bubbles that form.

5. Use a ravioli cutter to separate the individual tordelli. Flour well to prevent sticking.

To complete the dish:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Cook the tordelli until done, about 7 minutes.

3. Serve topped with ragù alla Lucchese (see accompanying recipe).

Ragù alla Lucchese

I use store-bought chicken stock all the time—but not for this recipe. It's going to take you the better part of an afternoon, anyway; so you might as well be a purist and make your own stock, too. It's much easier than you think (see accompanying recipe).

1 large onion, (to make 1 c chopped)
1 large carrot, (to make ½ c chopped)
1 stalk celery (with leaves), (to make ½ c chopped)
4 cloves garlic
2 oz pancetta
6 leaves fresh sage
4 Tbs olive oil
¾ lb ground beef
¼ lb ground pork
1 tsp kosher salt
1 stick cinnamon
1 while nutmeg
4 cloves
1 c red wine
homemade chicken stock, warm
3 Tbs tomato paste

1. Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and pancetta. Coarsely chop the sage.

2. In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven. heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the ground meat. Break up large clumps with a wooden spoon and turn occasionally but do not overstir. Instead, let the heat rise up from the bottom of the pan to cook the meat. When the meat is well browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain the fat from the pan and wipe clean with a paper towel.

3. Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the pancetta and sauté  until some fat is rendered, about 2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and salt. Cook until the onions become translucent, about 10-12 minutes.

4. Return the meat to the pan. Stir in the sage and spices. Add the wine and enough stock to cover the meat. Stir in the tomato paste.

5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least an hour. As the liquid evaporates, add more warm stock. Reduce the sauce to a pleasing consistency.

• Like all mirepoix, the aromatics in this sauce should be proportionally ½ onion, ¼ carrot, and ¼ celery—and as finely chopped as possible.

• As the sauce reduces, Chef Paolo  sometimes adds bouillon powder (with MSG) to enhance the flavor.

Homemade Chicken Stock

1 tomato
½ onion
1 carrot
2 stalks celery (with leaves)
2 bony chicken parts (such as necks, wings, and backs)
4 c cold water

1. Prepare the vegetables as follows: Cut a cross in the top of the tomato. Cut off the root end of the onion but leave on the skin. Peel the carrot and trim its ends. Halve the celery to fit into the pot.

2. Place the vegetables and chicken in a large sauce pan. Cover with the cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until flavorful.

• I keep an assortment of scrap chicken parts (such as necks and backs) in my freezer specifically for stock making. You don't need to defrost frozen parts in order to use them. The water will do that for you as it heats. But  you should wrap the pieces individually in wax paper before freezing them so that you can separate what you need when you need it.

• Chef Paolo advises purchasing celery stalks with the leaves still attached. He says the leaves hold much of the celery's flavor.

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