Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cavatelli with Wild Mushroom & Brandy Cream Sauce

Watching an episode of L'Arte di Cucinare with Chef Gianni Ceschia on Italian TV one evening, I was spellbound as he prepared homemade cavatelli using Fante's 'Cousin Elisa's' Cavatelli Maker, a small device with wooden rollers that clamps easily to a tabletop, and makes perfectly formed cavatelli every time. I was so captivated by the machine that I immediately ordered it online, and have been using it with great delight ever since. A foolproof pasta dough recipe that I learned from Chef Massimo Bruno which uses just three simple ingredients, is also key to making perfect cavatelli. The kneading of the pasta dough takes about 15 minutes, but making the cavatelli takes just seconds using the machine — it's so easy, it makes no sense to buy store-bought pasta ever again. 

The next step is preparing the Wild Mushroom Brandy Cream Sauce. Simple and delicious, the sauce can be prepared in about half and hour, by simply sautéeing the shallots and mushrooms until they're lovely and soft, followed with a splash of brandy and cream, some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a jar of salsa tartufata — a dark, flavourful and decadent mushroom and truffle sauce sold throughout Italy. Tossed with the cooked cavatelli and served in warm dinner bowls, the pasta is perfect garnished with a few drops of white truffle oil, fresh thyme or parsley, a little black pepper and some Maldon salt, with a bowl of grated cheese on the side for guests to help themselves. Absolute heaven!

Cavatelli with Wild Mushrooms & Brandy Cream Sauce
Serves 2

1 cup Semola Di Grano Duro Rimaninata (remilled durum wheat semolina)

1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, for adding to boiling the pasta

Wild Mushrooms & Brandy Cream Sauce:

3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 french shallot, peeled and minced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 oz shiitake mushroom, thinly sliced
5 oz brown beech mushrooms, ends trimmed
5 oz oyster mushrooms, ends trimmed and cut in half if large
1 1/2 oz Salsa Tartufata 
2/3 cup 10% cream
1/4 cup Brandy, or to taste
1 tsp white truffle oil
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino
1 tbsp fresh thyme sprigs or chopped parsley
Kosher salt and black pepper
Maldon salt for garnish

Place the flour in a large bowl and make a hole in the centre. Pour in some warm water and olive oil and mix together slowly with a fork until the dough comes together, is no longer sticky and becomes hard to mix with the fork. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean surface. Massage the dough by pulling and stretching it out until it becomes soft, smooth and elastic, about 10-20 minutes. Slice into 6 pieces and using your hands, roll each piece into long snake-like cylinders about the thickness of a cigarette. Once all the dough has been rolled out, sprinkle some semolina onto a clean surface, and slowly feed one end into the cavatelli maker rollers and turn the crank. It will grab the dough, and cut it while simultaneously making impressions on the outside. Repeat until all pasta is formed, and place on a semolina floured baking sheet. 

In a large frying pan, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the shallot and sauté for about 8-10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms and sauté 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are lightly browned. Then add the beech and oyster mushrooms and sauté for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/4 cup of brandy and cook for 3-4 minutes allowing the mixture to reduce. Then stir in the cream and salsa tartufata. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce for another 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

While the sauce is cooking, add the fresh pasta a pot of boiling water and cook for only about 5 minutes — the pasta will be done when it float to the top. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the pasta, along with any pasta water that's attached, to the sauce. Using a wooden spoon, gently toss the pasta and sauce so the mixture becomes well incorporated. Add a handful of Parmigiano to the sauce and stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add some additional hot pasta water. Serve the cavatelli in warmed dinner bowls and garnish with a few drops of white truffle oil, sprigs of fresh thyme or chopped parsley, a grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of Maldon salt, with some extra grated cheese on the side for guests to serve themselves, as desired. One of my favourite all-time pastas!

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