Saturday afternoon I was in the mood to make a big dinner – something homey and warm since it was all of a sudden Fall. I invited my friend Michaela over and decided to try two recipes from one of my new cookbooks, Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, from Barbara Lynch. She is one of my favorite chefs (who I would love to work for) and she has several fantastic restaurants in Boston.
I’d be elated to serve any of the dishes in this book for the most important dinner party – or dinner for just Jason and I on a weeknight – they’re all versatile and delicious. I decided on a dinner menu of Chicken Liver Pate with traditional accompaniments, Tomato Mozzarella Salad and Butcher Shop Bolognese with Homemade Fettuccine.
To start things off, I had to do some grocery shopping to pick up a few things that we needed – specifically meat and cheese! I conveniently (read: dangerously) live close to The Wine and Cheese Cask and Savenor’s Market. The Wine and Cheese Cask is pretty self explanatory and Savenor’s is an amazing butcher shop with local produce and other specialty items. They have three retail locations around Boston and sell to many Boston restaurants. I bet I’ll be BFF with these guys in no time!
Besides in school, I had never made chicken liver pate, but it turned out to be pretty easy and damn tasty! I can’t speak for Jason and Michaela, but I loved it. Again, fancy enough for a large group of VIP dinner guests but easy enough for dinner for two. Plus, I had to get chicken livers for my bolognese (the secret ingredient) and had extra that I couldn’t let go to waste! Here are my chicken livers being sauteed with the shallots.
This recipe is super easy and starts off by sauteing the livers in shallots that were sweated in grapeseed oil.
After the livers are cooked to rare/medium-rare, they are mixed with a port reduction, salt, pepper and a little cream cheese for complexity and texture. Everything is blended to delicious spreadable perfection!
Here's my finished pate with sides of cornichons and whole grain mustard. I served grilled bread on the side as well.
The bolognese starts with a mirepoix of vegetables. To that, the chicken livers are added (diced small – a brunoise as well) and then the ground meats are added. I used ground veal and lamb though the recipe calls for veal, lamb and pork.
Here is my mirepoix of veggies to start my bolognese - carrots, celery and onion, all cut in a small (brunoise) dice.
All the meat has been added to this dish - now all it needs are the liquids and time to simmer ever so slightly.
Once the meats are browned, chicken stock (I used my homemade stock), wine and chopped tomatoes are added – easy as that! I simmered my sauce for almost 3 hours on very low to concentrate the flavors, texture and color.
Here's my sauce right before I plated it. The color and flavors are more richer and darker.
While my sauce was brewing, I started on my pasta dough. I started making my own pasta a while ago and it’s one of those things where once you make your own by hand, see how easy it is and how much better it tastes – you’ll never go back to the boxed stuff (if you have a choice that is)! I don’t use a recipe either – it’s all about the feel of the dough. I start with eggs. A note about the eggs: I used 3 whole eggs this time. I typically use just egg yolks to get a richer pasta but wanted something a little lighter so I used the whites as well. To that, I add some extra virgin olive oil and salt. Once that’s mixed together with a fork, I start adding my flour gradually. Most people do this the opposite way and add their wet ingredients to their dry, but I do it the other way around. How much flour you use depends on several things – the humidity, the freshness of the eggs, the type/freshness of the flour, the temperature, etc., which is why it’s hard to give a measurement. I knead it all together until I have the elasticity and feel I’m after, then wrap in plastic and let rest for at least 30 minutes. I used All Purpose flour for this dough, but I’d suggest using “00” (double zero) flour if you can find it. 00 refers to the how fine the flour is ground – the most highly refined in this case. You’d have to go to an Italian specialty store to get it or King Arthur has an Italian-style flour similar to 00.
While the dough was resting, Michaela and I prepared the Tomato Mozzarella Salad. All our ingredients were so fresh – it was a perfect first course! We alternated layers of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, placed a chiffonade of basil on top, seasoned with salt and fresh ground black pepper and then topped it all with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil. It takes 5 minutes and makes for a beautiful presentation.
Now that our salad was done, it was time to roll out the pasta and get it cookin’. I have a small manual pasta machine my friend Amy gave me a long time ago. It’s been the gift that has kept on giving ever since! I learned from one of the chefs at school how she rolls out pasta and have used her technique ever since. Each piece of dough goes through the machine at it’s thickest setting several times to ensure all the dough is cohesive and smooth – folding it like an envelope each time. Then, you decrease the settings and roll the dough through to get the thickness desired. I typically go to the second to last setting so that I can see my fingers through the dough, but it’s not paper thin. Finally we cut the dough – I used the medium-sized cutter which made fettuccine.
My fettuccine right before going in the water.
Cooking fresh pasta is faster than you can imagine. 2-4 minutes is all you need until it is al dente. To plate this dish, I sauteed the cooked pasta in a pan with some of my bolognese, then topped it all with a generous portion of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a few basil leaves to garnish.
It was a delicious dinner – great food, wine and friends. I can’t wait to have more people over for dinner! 🙂