Ok, first of all let me get this part out of the way. The reason I’m posting a big savory pasta recipe the first day of summer (instead of the first day of Fall) is this: We just got back from three weeks in Italy. I know, I hate me too…but understand, we’ve been planning this trip, putting it aside for other (also cool, but not Italy) vacations, and then planning it again. We shelved it again last year the NIGHT before we were to leave, due to a doggie cancer scare and 19 weeks of chemo (she reacted well to the treatment and is still doing ok), and then patiently planned it again. Did I mention we've been doing this for for ten years? Ten. Fucking. Years.
So by the time we finally went, we did it up right. Two Michelin 3-Stars and a host of little mama and papa-owned restaurants, each with a handful of tables. We played in the north and spent more time in the South, seeing the requisite museums, ruins, and scenery that just didn’t seem real. The Michelin over-the-top restaurants made us swoon. So did the inexpensive trattorias. Equal swoonage, different experiences.
Our favorite small, local find was Vini e Vecchi Sapori in Florence. I had made reservations in advance through our hotel, because the Trip Advisor reviews on this restaurant gushed about how amazing it was, and they warned there were only 6-8 tables and that it filled up quickly. We were planning to meet some friends with whom I’d reconnected (after 20 years) through Twitter, since they were going to be in town at the same time. We had a complete blast. The place filled up quickly, the waiter (the owners’ son) came out and explained the menu to us in English, and we ordered as much as we thought we could handle. And then more. With four of us, all connected by food and snark, it was easy. We took a lot of pictures of the food, because when you’re on vacation, if you don’t…you won't remember what you had, or what the nuances were. Fortunately, there’s an app on the ipad which allows you to write on photos (DrawCast), so I could scrawl notes to myself.
There were two dishes that night that especially blew me away. Everything was good. Everything. But the osso bucco was the best I’ve ever tasted, and they did a duck sauce with pappardelle I knew I’d never stop thinking about. Armed with a lot of red wine, I asked the waiter if there was any chance the chef would share the recipe. “Of COURSE”, he replied.
Mama had come out of the kitchen (reluctantly) earlier in the evening when someone wanted to take a photo. She was obviously uncomfortable with doing that. We could tell she was shy. Not so much when it came to talking about food. She came out, we went on and on about how amazing that duck sauce was, and she started explaining what she had done (in Italian). She lit up while talking about the food. Her son tried to translate as quickly as possible. I typed notes into my iPad as fast as I could while our friends Rob and Michelle recorded her instructions on their phone. The recipe wasn’t fussy or complicated. Just delicious. I’ll tell you how to make the sauce, but first there’s one more part of the story to tell: The Pasta.
The biggest highlight of our time in Florence was meeting up with my friend Judy Witts Francini. I met Judy when she came to Seattle in person a couple of years ago to give an Italian cooking class, but had been following her on Twitter for some time as well, and was an avid follower of her blog for years before that. (Her blog was where I learned how to make one of my favorite italian condiments, Mostarda. That’s worth its own blog post, though, because it took me four damned years to get my hands on the right mustard oil to make it and it’s a pain in the ass.) Judy was very generous with her time, took us out to Chianti to meet Dario Cecchini, who I’d read about and who was on my bucket list, and showed us all over the markets in Florence. Judy knows EVERYONE in town. There’s their regular prices for tourists, and then there’s “Judy-Price”. We stopped at one shop for prosecco and little black truffle sandwiches, went to another for some local pastries, stopped to meet one of her friends who sold us incredible olive oil and aged balsamico, then to the butcher to see all the things they do with wild boar. Then there was the big market with the hottest Italian butchers you’ve ever seen. Hot men working with big meat. Pinch me.
One of our stops was to a specialty kitchen store, where Judy promised me I could find croxetti stamps. These pasta stamps are native to Liguria and if you’re lucky enough to go there, you can have them hand-carved to your specifications. In this shop there were a few different pre-made decorations available, so I chose one with a fleur de lis on one side, and a spiral on the other. Basically, you roll out fresh pasta dough, cut out circles with one side of stamp, and press them on the other side such that the design goes into the dough. This seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the pasta sauce mama told me how to make.
Now, because the sauce was a translation and she was speaking in very broad terms, mine will likely not be the exact dish we had in Italy. This in mind, the dish I tried to recreate for us was delicious and to my taste-memory of that night, was very close. This is one of those recipes meant to be shared, so here you go. I’ve paired it with the croxetti but any pasta will do.
This recipe was my favorite rustic dish we tried on our trip. Next time, I’ll share the recipe for my favorite three-star dish. Thank god for chefs who share!
Croxetti al Sugo D’Anatra
(Croxetti with Duck Sugo)
For the pasta:
2 cups 00 flour
2 large duck eggs + 1 duck egg yolk
Salt (just a pinch)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
For the duck sauce:
1 young duck (Wild, if you can get one), cut into pieces
¼ cup duck fat or olive oil
1 celery rib, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 medium onion, diced
¼ lb. prosciutto, diced
Salt and pepper
Sage, chopped (I used two bunches—probably about 18 leaves)
1 bottle Red Wine
Fresh tomato puree in season, or 1 28-oz can pureed Italian tomatoes
Making the pasta:
I cheat with the kitchen aid when I make pasta. Pour the flour into the work bowl, put the eggs, oil and salt in a little well in the center, attach the dough hook and let it go until it forms a slightly soft, pliable mound of dough. You might need to add some water if it isn’t coming together, but don’t add too much or you will have to flour the shit out of your dough when you roll it through a pasta machine. Let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or so and then roll it out using whatever pasta maker you use. I use the kitchen aid attachment for lasagna sheets for this one.
To make croxetti, put the pasta through your machine until it’s about the same thickness as a lasagna dough. (I tried rolling this down to setting 4 on the kitchen aid attachment, which was too thin and it wouldn’t hold the stamp pattern. Setting 6 was too thick, and made too much bite on the finished pasta. Call me Goldilocks…I finally settled onto setting 5 which was just right. I’d guess it was about 1/8” thick).
Using a corzetti stamp, cut out pasta coins and imprint with the stamp Place coins on lightly floured, parchment or clean towel-lined trays. Cover coins with a clean dry towel as you work with the rest.
To make the duck sauce:
Clean the duck, putting aside the heart, gizzard and liver.
Heat duck fat or olive oil in a hot pan and brown the duck for a few minutes, turning to ensure a good sear on each piece. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add celery, carrot, onion, prosciutto and the reserved duck offal. Sautee this mixture until the onion is translucent and the prosciutto slightly browned.
Add the wine to the pan and reduce by about 1/3. Add the tomato sauce and place the duck back into the mixture. The wine/tomato mixture should just about cover the duck pieces. If it doesn’t, add a bit more wine or chicken stock.
Simmer the duck, covered, for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender and ready to fall off the bone. Remove from heat. Once cool enough to handle, remove the duck meat from the bone and add back into the sauce. Add the sage, and salt and pepper to taste. There should be enough acid in the sauce from the wine and tomatoes, but tweak with additional tomato sauce as you see fit. The sauce should have a bite of gaminess from the duck, a very rich flavor from the long cook time, and a herby note on the front of your tongue from the sage. It should also be fairly thick by this point. If not, reduce it down a bit more, uncovered.
To serve, drop the croxetti into boiling, salted water and cook 3-4 minutes until tender. Drain and toss with duck sauce and top with grated fresh pecorino-romano or your favorite parmesan.
You will eat the shit out of this dish.