The most interesting part of my day was an afterthought to how this post was supposed to go. To spare those of you that are humoring me by reading this, I’ll cut to the chase. My boss, Dave Arnold, and I were speaking with my blogging professor, Steven Shaw about our upcoming blog on Dave’s food technology adventures at FCI’s restaurant, L’Ecole. (FYI, I like and will refer to Steven as Teach’ from now on. It’s familiar-feeling, like calling him Chef). Well, while we were speaking with Teach and his friend, Mike, FCI Dean and world famous chocolatier Jacques Torres walked in with basically his own paparazzi crew. He was media-blitzing the place, handing out his Champagne Kiss chocolates and asking everyone to “save his kiss.” In case you haven’t heard, Hershey’s is claiming that a chocolate with the word “kiss” in its name is too close to “kisses,” which Hershey’s has trademarked. At one point, Dean Torres looped back towards us and offered me another chocolate, which of course I couldn’t turn down because 1) it’s Jacques Torres and 2) it’s Jacques Torres chocolate. What I didn’t realize is that Dean Torres had a plan to photo-op the moment: “You feed me the chocolate and I will feed you a piece for the camera.” So we linked arms and fed away. I am both superbly embarrassed by the whole situation and at the same time, sublimely happy that I got 2 pieces of free chocolate! Oh, and for the record, I think Hershey’s is being ridiculous and support JT 100% — and not just because he fed me chocolate.
So rewind to this morning, well before I had any intention of going to L’École today. I woke up this morning STARVING – even more than usual. Today’s smoothie-out-of-a-quart-container was peaches and pineapple (and of course my constants, banana and ginger), but after I gulped it down, I craved salt. I usually crave the savory, but today was specific: I wanted the Mushroom Cavatelli from Shorty’s .32… and I wanted it bad.Here’s the problem with being addicted to food and then becoming a cook – it just adds fuel to the fire. It’s like helping a meth addict start their own lab.
Two problems: Shorty’s isn’t open at 8:00 AM in the morning, and the Mushroom Cavatelli is no longer on the menu. Luckily, Antonio, the General Manager at Shorty’s and all-around awesome person, had once given me the recipe for the Mushroom Cavatelli dish because I admire (and crave) it so much! No problem, I’ll just grab it and get to work!
Cut to an hour later – 9:00 AM and I have destroyed my apartment looking for the recipe. It turns out that I had scanned it into my computer and thrown away the paper copy, but true to form, only discovered that much later in the day (well after the “kiss”). Well, I decided that my craving could not be deterred, so I decided to improvise. Not just on the dish, but on the cavatelli as well, which I had never made before.
Chef Haylie is an instructor for Italian program at school, and pretty much a badass at anything she touches. As if holding her own in the all-macho-male kitchens of Napoli for 2 years wasn’t enough, she’s also fluent (as in mistaken for a native) in English, French, Spanish, and of course Italian – did I mention it’s mostly self-taught? One day, while staring longingly at the orecchiete she was hand-making, she demonstrated that you could shape cavatelli with a knife. What??? Yeah, it was that simple. With that in mind, I re-tooled my basic pasta recipe of about 1/2 c flour, 1 egg, and a little olive oil, salt, and milk. Instead, I figured that the ricotta needed for cavatelli would add additional moisture and cover the milk element, so with no real logic behind my calculation, upped the flour to 2 cups, threw in an extra egg, and added 1 cup of milk.
Yes, I know how to make a flour well and do the traditional finger-mixed pasta. The best advice one chef ever gave me was to make a moat around the center of your well as a backup wall so that your eggs never break through your flour wall and spill out everywhere. You know what also works? A food processor. Flour in. Liquids in. Pulse pulse pulse pulse pulse and voila – a little ball of dough formed. I turned it out onto a floured work surface and kneaded it with additional flour until it no longer stuck to my hands, but not so long that it became tough and smooth like with rolled pasta dough. I actually needed to add almost a full cup more of flour, so I’ve adjusted the recipe below to start with an extra half-cup in the food processor. Hopefully that will shave 30 seconds of effort.
I cut chunks off of my HUGE lump of pasta dough (uh, 2 cups makes a significant amount of dough – I have a bunch in my freezer now for another craving attack) and rolled them into logs. I then cut off 1″ pieces, flattened them slightly with my thumb, then dragged a knife across the dough while gently pushing down. This action forces the dough to curl onto itself – think dragging a scissor blade along a ribbon to make it curl. Gentlemen readers, I’m sorry if that analogy is completely useless to you. After using the knife a few times, I figure a pastry scraper would work as well and began using my plastic one when I couldn’t find the pretty metal one that I had gotten as a gift. Eventually I did find the metal one, but messed up the pictures… well, it wouldn’t be me, right? I cooked the cavatelli in boiling, salted water until they floated to the surface, then drained and set them to the side while I tackled the mushrooms.
I love mushrooms and use them all the time. Luckily, I had one of the pre-mixed packages of mushrooms lying around that had like 3 Oyster mushrooms, 2 Shitakes, and mostly plain old Criminis. If you don’t go slow-food, you pay the price, right I sautéed and seasoned them generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then threw in some dried Porcinis that I had rehydrated with hot water before adding chopped shallot and garlic. After my mushrooms had started to caramelize, I tasted, re-seasoned, then deglazed with the Porcini liquid, a little sherry vinegar, and some Chinon rosé that I had started the week before and was keeping vacu-vin’d in the fridge. After the liquid had reduced to a nice sauce (I could see the bottom of the pan when I stirred the mushrooms) I tasted again, added more salt & pepper, then tossed in the cavatelli until they had cooked a bit more (tender but still al dente) and were coated in delicious mushroom sauce. I took another taste and one more round of salt… are you picking up on my salt fixation yet?
Instead of picking from the pan, I transferred the mushroom cavatelli to a bowl and drizzled it with a little truffle oil (yes, I know it’s not real truffles) before topping it with peppery baby arugula dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Shavings of Parmesan finished the dish, adding one more layer of umami goodness to the entire mix (I may just name my first child Umami – I love it that much). A sprinkle of Maldon sea salt would have been nice, but I couldn’t find my box in the cabinet and am STILL having trouble locating it. It’s very unlike me to not know where my Maldon’s is… I think it’s been stolen… In reality, the dish didn’t need it at all and was extremely satisfying – both flavor-wise and pasta-self-sense-of-accomplishment-wise.
That being said, I still prefer the Shorty’s .32 version better because 1) Owner/Exec Chef Josh Eden‘s a freaking culinary badass and his crew rock out on every, single dish that leaves the kitchen and 2) General Manager Antonio and his front of the house posse make you feel both “at-home” and yet insanely pampered for a ridiculously low price. While the Mushroom Cavatelli is no longer on the menu, I take great comfort in the fact that everything else on the menu is pretty much untouchable. Did I mention that they make the best cheeseburger in New York (yeah, I’m putting that out there)? And I never order chicken because unless it’s battered and deep-fried, I usually don’t like it, but I swear that they do something mystical to their dish that makes it addictive… maybe they carve subliminal messages under the chicken wing or something.
Now, for those of you that made it to the end, here’s your reward (even if you cheated — smart — and just scrolled to the bottom). Here’s the tally of all the disasters that happened because of this dish:
1) My camera fell 3 times, once hitting each side of my sink like a skipping stone – luckily it didn’t land in the sink, which was (and is still) filled with water and dirty dishes. I thought everything was fine, but just noticed a dark spot on the viewing screen.
2) My camera is also coated in dough and a little greasy from where I tried to hit the macro button with the tip of my nose, forgetting that I’m Asian and don’t have a tip of my nose, so basically just smacked myself in the face repeatedly with my camera.
3) I pulled numerous binders of recipes off my bookshelves trying to find the Mushroom Cavatelli recipe, which was hiding in plain site on my laptop’s desktop. Now there’s random pieces of paper all over the place.
4) I got so caught up in making this dish that I ended up having to take a $20 cab ride just to make it to work in time. That’s basically what I make, after tax, for 3 hours of labor.
5) I was excitedly showing my husband my cavatelli-making pictures when he asked if I had saved him any… My response: “Huh? What? I can’t seem to hear you? Wow, I’m tired. Good night!”