Sunday, February 19, 2006

“If on a winter's night a traveler …”

What better way to warm up an unseasonably cold and rainy winter day than by invading someone else's gourmet kitchen, firing up their 65 million BTU stove and making a heap o' vittles? Mmmmmm.

Last night we trekked up to the North Country to make dinnner at the charming house of the Cowgirls from the Creamery -- a Northern Italian extravaganza that stretched from about 4:30 in the afternoon to past midnight.

We are so entirely spoiled in the Bay Area, where people make crazy, extravagant meals in their 5-foot efficiency kitchenettes, but everyone is a great cook, and your next door neighbors are wine aficionados. The best part is eating with people who just love food. No gluten-free, sugar-free, low-sodium, lactose-intolerant, "Oh-I'm allergic to anchovies...," types in this group.

Pancetta? Sure, throw it in.
Garlic? Love it.
More cheese? Hand it over.

Among the guests, our wine stewards Ms. Five-and-a Half and Mr. Thirteen brought some lovely classic Pinot Noir and Champagne from Domaine Carneros. Also trekking up from SF with us were Ms. Goat-Envy and her partner Ms. Jet-Set, who made the gorgeous Sweet Grape and Rosemary Calzones seen here (before I could even get the camera out, half of them were gone), as well as the polenta squares with rabe and pancetta and some EXTRAORDINARILY yummy Marsala ice cream.

Our hosts -- besides allowing us to destroy their gorgeous kitchen, made some beautiful broccoli and crispy potatoes, but also brought *begin heavenly choir* the Cheese *end heavenly choir*.

Here's the menu, which we titled after Italo Calvino's novel:

"If on a winter's night a traveler"

Shepherd’s Way Friesago (sheep)
Little Sweet Grape & Rosemary Calzones
Chestnut Agnolotti with Fontina & Celery Root Purée
Secondo e contorni
Osso Buco alla Milanese
Braised Rapini & Crispy Potatoes
Carchiola with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe & Pancetta
Endive with Lemon-Braised Fennel & Gorgonzola Dolce
Marsala Ice Cream
Chèvre de St. Vrain (goat)
Willem Family’s Coolea (cow)
Jasper Hill Dairy’s Bayley Hazen Blue

The cheeses especially were intriguing. I had never even heard of some of them, but apparently the nutty Friesago (from Minnesota's Shepherd's Way Farms) is a rather new entrant in American cheese. Although it was hard, it also had buttery creamy textures and a delicious, clean sheep-iness. (The Shepherd's Way people suffered a tragic fire a year ago that devastated their flock -- so support them, buy their cheese!) The Coolea, made by the Dutch Willems family in Ireland, was rich and deep. Actually, the Coolea, St. Vrain (a salty French goat cheese) and Jasper Hill Farm's creamy Bayley Hazen Blue made a lovely little triumvirate .

The agnolotti recipe comes courtesy of Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook, which already tells you that it's a two day process. Here we are beginning on Friday....

Chestnut Agnolotti
with Fontina & Celery Root Purée

For the chestnut filling
1 cup roasted fresh or vacuum-packed unsweetened chestnuts
2 bay leaves
½ cup vegetable stock
½ cup water
¼ cup mascarpone
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. white truffle oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

For the pasta dough
1 ¾ cups AP flour (8 oz.) 6 egg yolks
1 large egg
1 ½ tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp milk

For the sauce
½ cup sliced onions
1 ½ tsp chopped garlic
1 ½ tsp. unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup peeled quartered and sliced celery root
½ cup peeled quartered and sliced Yukon Gold potato
2-3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup lightly packed shredded creamy Italian Fontina (2.5 oz.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
½ cup Beurre Monté
1 tsp white truffle oil

Place the chestnuts, bay leaves, vegetable stock and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes to reduce the liquid by half and soften the chestnuts. Strain and reserve the liquid, but discard the bay leaves.

Purée the chestnuts in a food processor. With the motor running, pour in enough of the reserved liquid through the feed tube to form a thick purée.

Scrape the puree through a tamis and place it in a bowl. Mix in the mascarpone, butter and white truffle oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You should have 1 to 1 ¼ cups of filling (enough for 48 agnolotti). Cover and refrigerate the filling until cold or for up to 2 days before using.

For the pasta dough, mound the flour on a board and create a well in the center, pushing the flour to all sides to make a ring. Pour the egg yolks, egg, olive oil and milk into the well. Use your fingers to break the eggs up and begin turning the eggs in a circular motion, keeping them in the well. You don’t want the flour to be incorporated too quickly or it will be lumpy. Push the flour toward the eggs as you continue.

As the dough thickens and begins to lift off the board, incorporate the rest of the flour by scraping it up with a bench scraper and lifting it over the dough then cutting it into the dough. The dough will look shaggy, but form it into a ball with the palms of your hand.

Knead and press the dough till it is moist but not sticky, then let it rest a few minutes. Dust the work surface with a little more flour, then knead the dough until it becomes silky smooth. It’s ready when you can pull your finger through it and the dough wants to snap back into place. You cannot overknead this dough, so go longer rather than shorter on kneading times. Double wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before rolling through a pasta machine. It can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temp before using.

Cut the dough in half and roll out a portion using a pasta machine. This dough should be thin enough to see your fingers through it, but not translucent. Form the agnolotti to preference and cover with plastic.

For the sauce, cook the onions and garlic in butter in a medium saucepan for 3-4 minutes. Add the celery root, potatoes and enough vegetable stock to cover them completely. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, then drain, reserving the liquid.

Scrape the vegetables through a tamis and place the puree in a medium saucepan. Add the cream and simmer 10 minutes. Whisk in the cheese, Sauce can be made up to a day ahead and stored in the fridge, but do not add the cheese until right before it is ready to serve. Pass the sauce through a chinois into a large skillet. Add salt and pepper.

Cook agnolotti 4-5 minutes in lightly salted boiling water. Meanwhile, add the Beurre Monté and truffle oil to the sauce.

Arrange agnolotti on plates, spoon sauce around.

On the pictures above I'd like to draw your attention to the difference between our stove -- where the chestnuts are cooking -- and their stove -- on which the sauces and fennel are happily simmering. We like to use other people's kitchens. They have fun toys.

Their stove: 17,500 BTUs.
Our stove: 17 BTUs

Of course, it can be difficult for cooks to tell if the food is really all that until an appreciative audience validates it.

The ever vigilant Tater Tot inquires, "Care to drop anything else on the floor?"

While Hazel asks after the Osso Buco.

"Weren't you going to put that bone in your lap right here beside the napkin?"

Miscellaneous links for the evening:
The Cowgirl Cheese Library
Shepherd's Way
Kashrut-Jewish Dietary Law
Dancing with the Stars
"She was on his head..." (Click on "Scene from Swan Lake")


Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmm pork with pork on the side and a pork appetizer. Mmmmmmm pork. Yes, I do have goat envy. I want a goat. A goat named Hooper who I will love and feed and allow to eat my pants on occasion.

Thanks to Mary Ellen for extending the invite to Jodi and I and thanks to the cowgirls for inviting us into and touring us around their lovely landmark and home.

We had a wonderful time. (burp)

Chris said...

Just found your blog on the map at

You said " The best part is eating with people who just love food. No gluten-free, sugar-free, low-sodium, lactose-intolerant, "Oh-I'm allergic to anchovies...," types in this group."

Are you sure we live in the same city? I'm just a few blocks away geographically but must know a very different set of people. So far as I can tell, most of them are afraid to eat much of anything!

ME said...

LOL, I can only agree with you, Chris -- I have a lot of "special" recipes for dinner parties for restricted diets. What I meant is that we were feeling pretty fortunate that we were even able to gather a group of people who would dig into crazy food experiments!