This week a very special piece of culinary literature landed on the porch mat. The French Laundry cookbook has been out a few years now but has thus far remained on the ‘oh I’ll get it some other time’ list. Christ knows why as flicking through the book produced nod’s of ‘yes I’ll make that, oh and that, don’t even like that but that too…’ you get the picture.
The book has the potential to become a favourite amongst the mountain of books that I own. The recipes are user friendly, not too complex in ingredients or method and unlike such publications as The Fat Duck cookbook or A day at El Bulli you won’t need to raid the internet for equipment and hard to find ingredients. Keller comes across as a man with a simple method of cooking, take decent ingredients and make them into something simple but mind blowing. A fantastic blog from Carol Blymire details her journey cooking every dish from the cook in an amazing display of commitment, it’s well worth a read.
For the first attempt at replicating a dish from the book I chose a favourite of Carol’s, the Sweet Potato Agnolotti dish, a filled pasta with sweet potato, spices and bacon served with a sauce of crème fraiche and sage garnished with prosciutto and sage crisps, right up my street.
I began by making the filling for the Agnolotti by baking sweet potatoes in foil with a touch of butter. Once softened the skins are removed and the flesh is put through a potato ricer, in the absence of that I used a sieve. Crispy bacon is then added along with mixed spice, the flavours at this point were just incredible kind of a maple/bacon type taste with a festive spice kick from the mixed spice.
Next up, the pasta dough, which is made unusually with all purpose flour, or in our case being from the UK, plain flour. I normally use 00 pasta flour when making pasta from scratch but never again, this was the best dough in terms of texture and later on in the taste. Save yourself some money that’s what I say.
The sauce was a new one on me as I’ve never made a buerre monte, effectively an emulsion of water and butter whisked together which features a great deal in the book. Crème fraiche and blanched sage was then added to the buerre monte and blitzed in a blender before sieving. The buerre monte brought the richness down a touch, possibly due to the water, which resulted in a perfectly textured sauce with the sage having the harshness taken away by blanching. Incredible sauce.
Finishing off the dish isn’t too tricky however the Agnolotti isn’t too easy on the first try. Pipe a line of the chilled filling onto a long length of pasta (now rolled out) and fold half the pasta over to form a cannelloni or sausage shape. One tip before you take the step of pressing down with your hands an inch apart is to ensure that the surface under the pasta is well floured, otherwise you end up with a sticky mess. I got the hang of it in the end.
The pasta poached for 3-4 minutes and was served simply with the sage cream on the top, thin slices of prosciutto and a little buerre noisette (browned butter made by heating butter in a pan until hazelnut brown in colour). I did my little trick of placing the sage leaves on oiled cling film stretched over a bowl and blasted in the microwave on high for 3-5 minutes until dehydrated, saves washing a pan.
The end result was a delicious dish, the flavours work perfectly together and are more pronounced than a lot of dishes I’ve made from books. Sweet potato isn’t a favourite of mine as a vegetable but the pairings with it on the plate make it incredible. I’m looking to take on the Egg custards with Truffle next week so stay tuned for more Thomas Keller magic.