Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fresh Pasta and Sauteed Fennel with Crispy Fried Lime

Spring has made me not only crave better reading material, but crave vegetables as well. I try to eat seasonally, and even in Texas winter means mostly potatoes, onions, leeks and hardy greens. In a fit of spring-fever menu planning Friday, I flipped through Mollie Katzen's The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without to find inspiration, and came across a recipe for sauteed fennel with fried lemon slices.

During our trip to Italy this winter, we had dinner two nights in a row at the Trattoria del Pallaro in Rome. This little restaurant is run by a classic Italian grandmotherly woman and serves a set menu each night. Both nights, one of the dishes was fennel and I fell in love with this crunchy, tender vegetable that's kind of like celery, kind of like an onion (in texture only), kind of cabbagey and has a faint licorice flavor (the fronds and stems have a stronger licorice taste). So tonight I made fresh linguine and fennel with fried lime slices (I didn't have any lemon).

Fresh pasta is not as difficult as it sounds. It's time consuming, but fairly straightforward. The main thing to watch for is the consistency of the dough. If it's too sticky, you'll have an awful time working with it, especially if you're using a pasta machine. You don't need a machine for lasagne, tagliatelle and I suppose you could cut fettucini by hand (but it'd be a real pain). I use a manual Atlas pasta maker -- it gets the pasta much thinner than I could ever get it rolling it out by hand.

You'll have to adjust the amount of flour you use depending on the temperature, the humidity, the position of the stars and the whim of the gods, so make sure you have tons.

Fresh Pasta Dough
From The Silver Spoon
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00, plus extra for dusting (I have no idea what Italian type 00 is, but I use white wheat 100% whole wheat flour)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a mound on a counter (or in your mixing bowl if you're using a stand mixer -- highly recommended). Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using your fingers, gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is too soft, add a little extra flour; if it is too firm, add a little water (you may need to add water to get the dough to form into a ball if you're using a mixture; just be aware if you do this you'll definitely need to add more flour or your dough will be way too sticky). Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes.

To work with your machine, shape the dough into a brick and cut it into 5 equal pieces. Run each piece through the rollers, starting with the biggest setting and working up to the smallest one that gives you the thickness you want (I usually go to 6 or 7). If the dough is coming out rippled or wavy, it's too wet and needs more flour.

Lay your sheets out on a floured surface. Letting them dry for a few minutes makes them easier to work with.

After you've rolled out all the dough, run each sheet through your cutter blades, holding it with one hand while you turn the crank with the other. Don't let it puddle -- it'll stick together and make a mess. If you do end up with a bird's nest of pasta squiggles, just smoosh it back together and start over.

I don't have a pasta drying rack, so I just hang it on the mixing bowl. Again, letting it dry a little bit makes it easy to work with. If you plan to freeze some of the pasta, let it dry enough so it's not sticking together, then lay it on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer for an hour or two. Take it out while it's still pliable and put it in a freezer bag. This recipe serves 4, but it doubles easily and you might as well make enough to freeze so you can have fresh pasta next time without all the mess.

Boil for 2-3 minutes; fresh pasta is so flavorful it doesn't even need sauce. Just drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle grated cheese and black pepper and enjoy.

Sauteed Fennel with Crispy Fried Lemon
from The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen

2 large fennel bulbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt (seriously? Does anyone actually measure 1/8 teaspoon?)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large Meyer lemon or 2 smaller ones (regular lemons will work too; I used limes successfully but I think lemons would be better)

Remove the stalks, stems and fronds from the fennel. Cut the bulbs into 1/8- to 1/4-inch slices. From there, cut the slices into thin batons.
Preheat the oven to 275 F. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add some olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the fennel batons and saute, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown and tender to your liking. Transfer to an ovenproof serving platter and keep warm in the preheated oven while you prepare the lemon slices.
In a small, shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
Slice the lemons paper thin. Return the skillet to the stove to medium-high heat. Pour in enough olive oil to make a pool 1/8 inch deep.
While the oil is heating, drag the lemon slices through the flour mixture on one side, then back on the other, shaking off any excess, as you'll want a very thin coating.
When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a bread crumb, slide each coated lemon slice into the hot oil, fitting in as many slices as you can without their overlapping. Cook until golden brown, about 1 minute, then turn. Drain, and serve with fennel.

1 comment:

  1. This looks so amazing! I'll definitely have to give the fresh pasta a try, it's something I've been wanting to do for a long time!


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