mushroom pasta handkerchiefs

Jordan and I have some really wonderful friends. Our friend Ralph, who occasionally walks Miss Willow and knows how much we love to cook, gave us one of those nifty hand-crank pasta makers! A friend of his was moving, her nearly-new pasta maker was unable to make the trip and Ralph set it aside for us. Isn’t that grand!

Mushroom Pasta Handkerchiefs, adapted from the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

I noticed this recipe in the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook a few weeks ago and I added it to my list. I thought it would be a long while before I could make it (sadly, I am not a hardcore Italian grandmother who rolls her pasta with a sawed-off broom handle), but when fate brought a pasta maker into our lives, I knew it was meant to be. The pasta turned out beautifully. While it is not the easiest dish since you make the pasta from scratch, it is well worth the effort. The dish is balanced, showcases the few ingredients that make it up and is supremely comforting – everything you expect from an Alice Waters recipe.

For the egg pasta dough (makes 1 pound of pasta) 
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t salt
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 T olive oil
1 T water

Mix the flour and salt together.  In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, olive oil and water. On a work surface, pour out the flour mixture and make a well in the center. Pour the eggs into the well. With a fork, stir the eggs in a circular motion slowly bringing more flour into the eggs.

Once the flour has soaked up the eggs and it is not in danger of running all over or when you accidentally break through the well and egg is rushing towards the edge of your counter, use a bench scraper to mix the flour and eggs together. It will be crumbly. Knead the dough into a ball using a squeezing motion. Once it has combined, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

Divide the dough into two balls. Dust one with flour and roll it out into a flat pancake. Open your pasta maker to the largest setting and pass the dough through. Double the dough on itself and pass it though again. Continue to pass the dough through at the largest setting, until it is smooth. Cut the kneaded dough into several smaller pieces. Wrap the pieces you aren’t currently stretching with plastic wrap.

Gradually stretch the dough, passing it though progressively thinner settings. You want pieces that are about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long- you’ll cut these into 4 inch by 4 inch squares. Don’t worry if your dough is not uniform in width or length – this is a rustic pasta dish! When it has reached your desired thickness, put it onto a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a damp towel. Take care to put parchment paper in between the layers of the dough, it will stick to itself like crazy. Continue this method with the rest of dough. You’ll get a decent arm workout and feel quite accomplished. After you’ve rolled out all of the dough, cut the dough into 4 inch squares and put a pot of salted water on to boil.

For the pasta (serves 4, we doubled this recipe to serve 6 as a main course)
1/2 lb mixed mushrooms (we used creminis, shitakes and morels)
4 T butter
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, diced fine
1/2 t thyme, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced fine
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 lb pasta dough
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
a few handfuls of arrugula
lemon juice
olive oil

Clean the mushrooms of their grit. Cut them into quarters. Dice the onion, thyme and garlic. In a saute pan, melt 1 T butter. Add the mushrooms and saute over medium heat until lightly browned. The mushrooms will lose a lot of their liquid; you should wait for this to evaporate before setting them aside. Set the mushrooms aside. Melt another tablespoon of butter and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another two minutes. Add the mushrooms, creme fraiche and chicken stock. Turn the heat to high and reduce until it is a thick saucy consistency.  Check for seasoning, turn of the heat, and set the filling aside.

Preheat an oven to 500 degrees. Butter a large baking dish. In the pot of boiling water, cook the pasta sheets several at a time for about 3 minutes each.  Put the pasta sheets side by side in the baking dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of the mushroom mixture into the center of each pasta sheet and fold the corners up around the filling. Alice makes this step seem really simple, but it is a bit trickier than she makes it out to be. The pasta will flop all over the place and doesn’t really stick to itself like you’d hope. Just try your best to seal the little pasta pouches – they will taste amazing regardless of how they look.

Cover the entire dish with the grated parmesan cheese. Put in the oven and bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the parmesan is melted and browned. Meanwhile, toss the arrugula with lemon juice and olive oil.  Using a spatula, place several pasta pouches on each plate and tuck the dressed arrugula around the pasta. Enjoy and bask the fruits of your hard work!