Sunday, September 22, 2013

A 16th Century Italian Dinner

I had the opportunity to cook for some friends. I looked through some of the recipes from a renaissance Italian cookbook by Bartolomeo Scappi for inspiration. His Opera dell'arte del cucinare was the Joy of Cooking of the time, with over a thousand recipes, plus general cooking advice. Looking through it, one can see the start of the transition from medieval to modern cuisine.

I was surprised to find some very modern style cookery. Barbecued rack of beef ribs, with dry rub and a vinegar based sauce (no tomatoes, though) appears in Scappi. Like medieval cookbooks, he doesn't trust vegetables, and boils them to mush. He has very modern pastas, but they are served dusted with sugar and cinnamon, rather than with a cream or tomato sauce.

For the entrée, I was inspired to find a pork fat wrapped beef tenderloin in his cookbook. I found asparagus with sour orange sauce that looked interesting, and I wanted to try my hand at making pasta, and found a recipe with chard, spinach, and cheese that sounded good.

The fillet Mignon was first brushed with a mix of white wine, white wine vinegar, and rosewater. It was then seasoned with a rub of kosher salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and coriander. I wrapped them in thick cut bacon. They were pan seared, then finished to medium rare in a hot oven. I removed the fillets from the pan to rest, and reduced the pan juices with a little white wine and white wine vinegar. That made a very nice dipping sauce for the fillet.

For the asparagus, I lightly steamed them in a pan with some homemade vegetable stock. Sour oranges have only a limited growing season in the winter, so I used regular oranges with lime juice, salt, and a little cane sugar. Scappi recommends cooking wild asparagus with raisins. Instead, I added some currants (small, intensely flavored, raisins) to the sauce. I reduced the juice to about one quarter the original volume. This produced an intensely acidic sauce, which the currants helped mellow. I think it was the best thing on the plate.

The pasta were tortetelli; tortellini on steroids. The pasta dough was based on this recipe by Tyler Flores. I've had a pasta roller for years, this was the first time I've actually played with it. For the filling, I sautéed spinach and Swiss chard in olive oil with fresh parsley, oregano, and thyme. I allowed that to cool, then drained the liquid off. The greens were then mixed with ricotta and a healthy amount of Parmesan. To make tortetelli, roll the dough very thin, and cut about a five inch diameter circle. Place about a tablespoon of filling in the center. Brush the edge with beaten egg, and fold in half, pressing to seal. Bring the two corners of the half circle together and overlap, using the egg wash to stick them together. Fold the excess rim of the half circle down, forming a ring. Dust with flour, and allow to dry a little. To serve, I simmered them in vegetable stock, then fished them out, dusted with a little cinnamon sugar, and topped them with grated Parmesan.

For dessert, I made a strawberry custard tart. I sautéed strawberries in butter until they were tender. I forced the strawberries through a strainer, to remove the seeds and fibrous material. The resulting puree was placed in a food processor with ricotta, biscotti crumbs, sugar, eggs, and Parmesan, and processed until smooth. The pastry is a dough of flour, butter, sugar, and rosewater, which Scappi calls 'royal dough'. I needed a garnish for the plate, so made a basil syrup. It worked really well with the strawberry, and brought out the rose in the pastry.

Overall, I think this was one of my best meals yet. The fillet was really good quality, and I think I enhanced it well with the spices, bacon, and sauce. I thought the sauce for the asparagus came out great. I think I under cooked the pasta a trifle, but I really liked the flavor of the filling. The tart filling had a wonderfully smooth and rich mouth feel, and the pastry was light and flaky. Then basil syrup added a nice note, though I had hoped to get a more intense green color. Will have to work on that.


Bacon Wrapped Fillet Mignon

for the brushing liquid:

2 Tbsp. white wine
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. rosewater

for the rub:

2 Tbsp. Kosher salt
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

for the sauce:

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

6 fillet Mignon's
6 strips thick cut bacon

Mix together brushing liquid ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together rub spices.

Brush lightly all surfaces of the fillets with the brushing liquid. Lightly coat all surfaces of the fillet with the rub. Wrap a bacon strip around of each fillet, overlapping, and securing to fillet with a toothpick of skewer. Refrigerate, covered, for three to six hours.

Pre-heat oven to 425 F. In a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, sear top and bottom of fillets. Transfer to oven, cook to medium rare, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, transfer fillets to a cutting board to rest.

Place pan with juices over medium high heat. Add wine and vinegar. Boil vigorously until volume is reduced by half. Transfer sauce to small cups for dipping.

Steamed Asparagus with Sour Orange Currant Sauce

1 bunch asparagus
2 oranges
2 limes
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup currants
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable stock

Wash asparagus, remove woody ends of the stems (keep and freeze to use for future stock). Juice oranges and limes. Place juice in a small saucepan with sugar, salt, and currants. Cook over medium to medium high heat until volume is reduce by 3/4.

Heat a non-stick heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add stock and asparagus, cooking until asparagus is al dente.

Plate sauce, place asparagus on top.

Chard, Spinach, and Cheese Tortetelli

for the filling:

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and rough chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and rough chopped
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh oregano
1/4 cup minced fresh
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

for the pasta:

2 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
3 eggs, plus one for wash
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 quarts vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. While mixer is running, add three eggs, one at a time, allowing a little time between each addition. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, until dough forms a ball.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured board. Knead for ten minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

In a large pot, heat three tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add spinach, chard, and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Remove from heat, allow to cool. Strain off excess liquid.

Place greens in a bowl. Add ricotta and Parmesan, mix thoroughly.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Beat an egg to use as a wash for the pasta. Using a pasta machine, roll out a thin dough, keeping it well dusted with flour to prevent sticking. Cut out five inch diameter circles. Place about one tablespoon of filling on each circle. Wet edges with egg, fold circles in half and press to seal. Bring corners of the half circles together, overlapping and using the egg to stick together. Fold down top of half circle to form a ring with a bulge on one side.

Dust tortetelli with flour, place on a baking sheet to dry.

Mix together cinnamon and sugar, set aside.

Bring vegetable stock to a simmer. Add tortetelli, cook until tender, about 4 to 8 minutes.

Remove pasta from stock. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Plate, top with Parmesan cheese.

Strawberry Custard Tart

for the crust:

9 oz. by wt. all purpose flour
6 oz. by wt. cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 oz. by wt. sugar
3 oz. by volume ice cold rosewater
1 tsp. kosher salt.

for the filling:

1 lb. fresh strawberries
2 oz. by wt. butter
2 oz. by wt. biscotti crumbs
5 oz. by wt. ricotta
1 1/2 oz. by wt. Parmesan
3 oz. by wt. cane sugar, plus 1/4 cup for dusting
5 egg yolks
1 egg white

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until it resembles course crumbs. Slowly add rosewater one tablespoon at a time, mixing by hand, until dough just sticks together.

Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill.

Wash, hull, and rough chop strawberries.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt two ounces of butter. Add strawberries, sautee until tender.

Remove from heat, cool. Force strawberries through a strainer to remove seeds and fibrous pulp.

Place strawberry puree in the bowl of a food processor with crumbs, ricotta, sugar, egg yolks, and Parmesan. Process until smooth.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Lightly grease six small ceramic ramekins. Roll out dough thin, line ramekins. Cut out circles just big enough to cover. Cut out vent holes in top crusts.

Fill ramekins with custard mix. lightly wet lip of crust with water. Place top crusts on, pinch crusts together to seal. Dust top of tarts with egg white, and sprinkle with sugar.

Place in oven. bake 20 minutes. Turn oven temperature up to 425 F.  Cook another 5 - 8 minutes, until top is brown and custard is set.

Remove to a rack to cool.

Basil Syrup

3/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup whole fresh basil leaves

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until sugar is dissolve and basil leaves are soft, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to a blender. Blend until basil is finely chopped. Strain, place in a squeeze bottle, and chill until time to plate.

Happy Eating!



1 comment:

  1. We certainly loved this dinner the other night. It was, in a word, perfect! We feel privileged to have such a talented chef as a friend. We'll be having you over to cook again for us very soon!