Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dear journal

Whew! What a week that was. So I had to give my fifth-year talk at department colloquium last Wednesday. It's kind of like a cross between a celebration and a thesis defense. Except it's not really a celebration, because you have several months of grad school left to go. And you're not really defending anything, because tough questions from the audience are verboten. Berkeley doesn't really have a thesis defense. The best defense is a good offense. I would say that my dissertation is going to be pretty offensive. Anyway, giving colloquium was still pretty stressful. I gave a special thanks to "food" on my acknowledgment slide. Then I ate the most amazing hamburger.

I made this porkchop last Monday night to help get me through the week. What to say about it? Well, there is this one episode of Doug that I watched when I was a kid where Doug's loyal mutt Porkchop inadvertently creates a piece of art by traipsing through some paint and then chasing a cat across a blank canvas. Through a series of misunderstandings, the painting, now entitled "Porkchop", ends up being entered into the local art competition, much to the consternation of Doug's hipster sister Judy, who currently lives at 20th and Guerrero and sells artisan Skip-its constructed out of scavenged car parts in Mission Dolores Park every Sunday. Anyway, Doug is subsequently required to explain the conception of his painting to a mass of assembled critics, at which point he mumbles something about "the essential porkchoppiness of the porkchop." And that's about all could think about when I was eating this porkchop. It was just a plain old high-quality porkchop, fried in a pan until it was just the right temperature. Somehow in this one I had coaxed out the essential porkchoppiness that so many other porkchops have lacked. It was wonderful.

Unlike Doug's painting, it probably would not have lost to Patti Mayonnaise's creation at the end of the episode. Not to by confused with St. Paddy's Mayonnaise, which is flavored with Guinness and brown bread.

On Friday I was really in the mood to spend a lot of time doing something that was not chemical-engineering-related, so I worked from home in the morning and then spent most of the afternoon making some cappelletti, little pope-hat pasta that I filled with kale and hazelnuts. You know what? Making filled pasta is almost as difficult as presenting at department colloquium. I had intended to make the cappelletti and then let them dry out for a while, and in the meantime head over to Trader Joe's to pick up some eggs, sugar, bread, and other staples. Instead I was still folding pasta when Jeff got home at 6:30. "Dinner isn't going to be ready for an hour and it's not going to be filling at all." Let me just say that I now understand why you go to restaurants that make their own pasta and you order cheese ravioli and it costs $18 and you get like four of them, and each one is a one-inch circle. Because after folding this pasta for the better part of three hours, rolling it and rolling it and re-rolling it, getting flour all over my counter and on my floor and all the way up my arm including on my shoulder--if you had asked me after all that, "Sam, for how much would you sell me just one of those cappelletti?", I might say that six or seven bucks sounds pretty fair. I also understand why pappardelle exist. All the dough that you can successfully cut into two-inch squares becomes cappelletti. The rest is pappardelle.

Somebody told me that cappelletti are traditionally served in a broth--or if you are Salty Seattle or Kel Mitchell, in orange soda--so I decided to float these in some parmesan-mushroom broth that I'd made a few weeks ago to use up the scraps and rinds of hard cheese that we'd been hoarding in our fridge. I also shaved a few multicolored carrot "noodles" around them (get it?). It was all pretty tasty, but would have done even better if I had made it out of the house that afternoon to get some bread, which would have made for a heartier meal and sopped up a bit of that delicious broth.

Well, it's good that I had eaten for lunch all of the cookies in the CARE package that Sam's Mom sent me.


Recipe roundup...

I used Michael Ruhlman's
egg yolk pasta dough recipe from Ratio (which itself is inspired by Michael Symon) for the cappelletti. I love it! You don't really have to knead it; instead you just dust it with flour and pass it through the pasta maker 3-4 times.

To make the filling for the cappelletti, remove the stems from a bunch of kale and blanch the leaves in heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes. Once they're tender and green, shock them in a bowl of ice water to cool them off and squeeze off most of the water. Chop them into tiny pieces, then mix them with a handful of hazelnuts (chopped fine), a drizzle of olive oil, lots of black pepper, and the zest of half a lemon. Some hazelnut oil would be even better, if you happen to have it.

To make the ravioli, roll out the pasta dough in your pasta maker, about 1-2 yolks' worth at a time, to the second-thinnest setting. Unless you make pasta a lot, use way more flour than you think is prudent. Slice the sheets of pasta into shapes that approximate 2" squares, then in the middle of each square place half a teaspoon of kale filling. I'm serious; there is no way you will ever fold this pasta if you add more than half a teaspoon of filling. Fold each pasta square over the filling into an isosceles triangle, trimming off any that's leftover. Now take the folded, filled edge of each pasta triangle and fold it over once, maybe twice--the pasta will now look like a trapezoid with a little triangle sitting on top of it. Finally, place the back of one finger on top of the filling-roll and with your other hand, fold the two pasta "wings" around your finger and press them together with your thumb. Now do this 120 more times. Maybe you should google "fold cappelletti" first to get a better explanation. Maybe you should do this all with a square piece of paper first just so you know what's going on.

For the parmesan broth, I used the rinds from 3 or 4 blocks of parmesan cheese that I'd been saving in the freezer together with some onions, a head of garlic, maybe a bay leaf and some thyme, and the stems from a bunch of button mushrooms. I covered that with water, boiled it for about an hour, strained, passed it through a cloth, chilled it, removed the coagulated fat, strained again, and then froze the finished stock. Broth don't come easy. When it's time to eat, I heated up the broth to boiling and adjusted the salt and acidity. Some caramelized onions would go also work really well as a flavoring for this broth, just to balance the intense savory flavor with a little sweetness.

For the carrot noodles, I just took some carrots of a few different colors, peeled them, and then shaved off noodly shapes. Shave the length of the carrot twice, rotate a quarter turn, shave shave rotate, shave shave rotate, shave shave rotate, shave rotate, shave rotate, shave rotate, shave rotate... okay, you should be out of carrot now.

I froze all the folded cappelletti until it was time to eat. Then I boiled about 30 of them in some heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes. To serve, I placed a handful of carrot noodles in each bowl, nestled a few cappelletti among them, and poured on some hot parmesan broth. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and--whew! Your Friday was not a waste.

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed you made your own cappelletti! I would definitely have gotten tired half way and given up...