Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kitchen Mishaps, or, Tortellini With Baccala Cream Sauce and Smoked Caciocavallo Cheese

Fig.1. Right out of the oven

This dish came to fruition through no accord of its own; like the celebrity chef, it evolved from a mistake.  The culinary warpath I was entrenched in involved finding the right balance between clams, fish, and smoked bacon, a combination, New Englanders believe, God created on the 8th day.  What I was trying to do was make a stuffed pasta (in this case tortellini) and stuff it with puréed bacon, then toss the tortellini in a clam and baccala sauce. It sounds better than it tasted: some of the taste adjectives conjured as I chewed upon my tortellini included, fishy, pasty, salty, hot-doggy (pureed bacon tastes like a smoked hot dog, (who knew?) and blah.  I added a variety of different ingredients that I hoped would act as emulsifiers; edible arbitrators that would fuse my original intent into unctuous unison. It was not to be: the parsley, capers, anchovies, tomatoes, chicken stock, wine and breadcrumbs did nothing except plunge me into a phenomena of my own neurotic making known simply as, cookery melancholy. The dish had beaten me and my culinary imagination was pinned to the Silpat.
And so it was, with a container of said tortellini in the fridge, that my frugal mind ventured to find a consumptional solution. My solution to leftovers is often soup, but I decided on adding a cream sauce to the pasta, as I was feeling particularly 'Gigi' deprived owing to my culinary depression.  What happened next can only be surmised by what someone once said to my inner-insecure-chef: there are no mistakes in the kitchen.

Tortellini With Baccala Cream Sauce And Smoked Caciocavallo
Serves 4
The final incarnation of this dish was al forno.  If preparing baccala scares you, ask an Italian or Portuguese grandmother to do it for you. It’s not difficult, you just need to plan ahead. Here's a video on re hydrating baccala that might be helpful.

2 cups (re hydrated) baccala, flaked or chopped

5 tbsp good olive oil
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced.

3 tbsp good olive oil
½ onion, diced
1cup pancetta, diced
2 ½ cups tomato sauce (I used my Sunday sauce for this)
¾ cup heavy cooking cream
red pepper flakes

500 grams fresh meat filled tortellini (cheese can work as well)
Smoked caciocavallo cheese, cut into thin slices.


Fig.2. Lightly poaching Baccala

For the Baccala:

Rinse the baccala well and soak the fish in water for two days prior to making this recipe.  Make sure you change the water AT LEAST three times a day. I like to buy the partially salted baccala that comes vacuum packed; it’s not as salty.  Once the baccala is rehydrated, poach the fish in water until flaky, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove the baccala from the water, pat dry with some paper towels to remove any excess water.  Mash the baccala with the back of a spoon and set aside in the fridge.

For the breadcrumbs:

Add 5 tablespoons of really good olive oil to a pan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the breadcrumbs, stir for 2 minutes and add the garlic. Cook and stir until breadcrumbs are crunchy, set aside. (again, I like to make my own breadcrumbs by throwing some bread into a food processor.) 

For the sauce:

Add 3 tablespoons of good olive oil to a large pan set over medium heat. Once your oil gets hot, add the onion and pancetta and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the flaked baccala, tomato sauce and cream and simmer until your sauce thickens and comes together.  Add the breadcrumbs and the red pepper flakes and stir it all together.

Final assembly:
Cook your tortellini and add the pasta to the sauce, mix well. (it should be heavy on the sauce otherwise the tortellini will dry up slightly in the oven. If it seems dry, add more sauce or less tortellini.)  Add the pasta to any oven proof dish (I like to use small ones) layer a few slices of the smoked caciocavallo cheese on the top of the pasta and bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese becomes golden. Serve immediately.  

Fig.3. Add the chopped baccala to the cream sauce

Fig.4. Add the tortellini

Fig.5. Top with smoked cheese and pop in the oven