Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Mushrooms

Among viewers of Top Chef, Mike Isabella is best known for his pepperoni sauce. For patrons of his first D.C. restaurant, Graffiato, pepperoni sauce has to play second fiddle to sweet corn agnolotti, a dish the restaurant offers only during the summer when local sweet corn is available.

Graffiato's sweet corn agnolotti.
Isabella's cookbook Crazy Good Italian includes the recipe for the popular dish (the book's cover photo is of the chef cutting out the little pasta packets). So I decided to try making it myself.

First, I did a little research by enjoying the dish for lunch at Graffiato. The intensity of the smooth corn filling is what makes the dish so surprising. The pasta packets also had just the right texture. "It's all the butter and salt that makes it so good," surmised my friend. Perhaps, but I was surprised to find that, while present, the recipe isn't exactly loaded with those things, at least as written.

Form the pasta dough in a food processor, then knead lightly with flour.

What it is loaded with is corn--10 ears. The technique involves extracting the juice from raw corn kernels and then concentrating their flavor. The juice is then mixed with mascarpone, which gives it its silky texture. I had some leftover corn filling and wanted desperately to come up with a clever way to use it. In the end, I think we swiped a few pieces of bread through it. It's really good.

Corn juice, extracted from fresh sweet corn, and mascarpone combine to make the agnolotti filling.

The challenging part of this recipe is the shaping of the agnolotti. Ravioli, the umbrella term for these types of pasta packets, can be tricky and certainly time-consuming. Allow yourself plenty of time to make and chill the dough, as well as to roll it out, fill it and cut it. When professionals do it, it looks so easy. Unless you make ravioli all the time, don't expect this dish to come together quickly. Also, be sure to use plenty of flour on your work surface. I ended up botching about a fourth of my agnolotti because they stuck to work surface and when I tried to remove them they disintegrated. So sad to see that delicious corn filling squirt out all over my counter all because I didn't dust my surface enough first.

The recipe calls for piping the corn filling with a pastry bag. I tried this at first, but found it to be overly complicated and messy, so instead I just spooned the filling onto the dough. Make sure the filling has had time to cool before using it, since it's easier to deal with when it's thicker.

Forming the agnolotti is the hardest part of this recipe. Be sure to use enough flour so they do not stick to your work surface.
There are a few differences between the agnolotti at the restaurant and what I made at home. At Graffiato and in the recipe, the dish is served with chanterelle mushrooms, an ingredient chefs are able to procure much more easily than average consumers. Unless you're a lucky forager or a know a market that sells them, you may need to substitute something more common. I used sliced portobello mushrooms.

The restaurant version also had noticeably more sauce than what I made at home or even, I suspect, as written in the recipe. I think they found another use for the corn juice by adding it to the sauce, which isn't a bad idea. If you want to experiment with it, I heartily encourage you. The concentrated corn juice is what makes the dish really amazing and I could see other uses for it. Ice cream perhaps? Mmm...

Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Mushrooms
Adapted from a recipe by Mike Isabella, Graffiato and Crazy Good Italian

Pasta dough:
1 1/4 cups flour (Isabella recommends "00" flour, but says you can use all-purpose, which is what I did)
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

10 ears of fresh sweet corn (may use yellow or white)
1/3 cup mascarpone
1/4 tsp. plus 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
10 oz. pasta dough (full recipe from above)
Additional flour for dusting dough, baking sheet and work surface
3 tbsp. pine nuts
1 tbsp. canola oil
3 cups mushrooms (recipe calls for chanterelle; I used portobello, cleaned and sliced)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp. snipped fresh chives

Make the pasta dough:

1. Add the 1 1/4 cups flour to a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, water and olive oil. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in the combined liquid through the feed tube. Eventually the dough will form tiny balls and then come together as one mass. Add a little flour if it is too wet (i.e. really sticky and more amorphous than ball-like) or a little water if it's too dry (i.e. not coming together--in my experience I needed to add a little water, but just a few spoonfuls).

2. Place the dough ball on a floured surface, dust with flour and knead for 1 minute. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (up to 2 days). Remove from refrigerator 10 minutes before using.

Make the agnolotti:

1. Slice the corn kernels off the cobs. Scrape the cobs with the back of the knife to extract any remaining bits of corn and juice. Transfer kernels and scrapings to a food processor (fitted with the standard blade) and process for 1 1/2 minutes until pureed and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process another 20 seconds or so to incorporate. Discard the cobs or keep them for another use (like making corn stock).

2. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a mixing bowl and strain the corn mixture, pressing on the solids to push through as much juice as possible (I did this in batches of about 1/3 cup, using the measuring cup to push on the solids, which worked really well). This should yield between 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice. Discard the solids.

3. Heat the corn juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat. As it begins to bubble, whisk frequently and cook until reduced and thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes (cook longer if your juice yield was higher). Remove from heat and whisk in mascarpone and 1/4 tsp. of kosher salt. The sauce should have a pudding-like texture (Isabella's recipe says that if it's too thin, whisk in a paste of 1 tbsp. water and 2 tbsp. cornstarch while it's still simmering. I didn't find this necessary, but you may). Transfer cooked corn mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour (I recommend longer since the mixture is easier to use when firmer) up to 2 days.

4. Remove pasta dough from refrigerator and allow to warm a bit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two or more pieces as appropriate for your pasta roller (I use a KitchenAid stand mixer attachment, and find that smaller pieces are easier to work with, so I divided my dough into four pieces). Flatten a dough piece with your hand and pass through the pasta machine on the widest setting twice. Fold the dough lengthwise and roll through again. Adjust rollers to next setting and roll through again, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. Continue adjusting and rolling until the dough has passed through the fifth-widest setting. Carefully lay rolled dough sheet on a flat, floured surface (the original recipe said a lightly floured surface, but I recommend using more flour to prevent the agnolotti from sticking, which can be a serious problem resulting in their ruin). Repeat with the other dough pieces.

5. Dust a baking sheet with flour. Spoon (or pipe if using a pastry bag, but I found it to be too much trouble) corn filling onto pasta sheet in a straight line about 1/2 inch from one long edge (see photos above). Fold the dough over lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch of space above the filling for it to move into. Press along the dough with your fingers to seal, making a long filled tube. Starting at one end, use your fingers to pinch the tube into 1-inch increments, creating filled segments at a regular interval (be sure to press firmly to completely seal). Use a crimped pastry wheel to trim off excess dough along the long sealed edge (be sure not to cut too close to the filling) and then to divide the individual agnolotti where you pinched the dough. If any edges don't look sufficiently sealed, press them closed with your fingers. Transfer the formed agnolotti to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough sheets. How many you end up with depends on how big you make the agnolotti (and whether, unlike me, you mess any up--Isabella's recipe says you should end up with about 45 to 50; I had about 20). Refrigerate for about 20 minutes while you make the mushroom sauce.

6. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast about 5 minutes, shaking frequently to turn and prevent burning. Remove nuts from pan and set aside. Add canola oil and, when hot, add the mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms under tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with remaining 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Remove from heat, stir in the butter, half the parmesan and the toasted pine nuts.

7. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the agnolotti in batches for about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon or wok skimmer, transfer cooked pasta to the sauté pan with the mushrooms. Carefully stir the pasta to coat with butter and combine with the mushrooms. Serve in shallow bowls topped with fresh chives and additional parmesan.

1 comment:

  1. This was really good. Mr. Isabella would be proud, I'm sure.