Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt (Artisan Books, 2009) is a 2010 IACP Cookbook awards finalist in the Chefs and Restaurants category. For a list of all the finalists check out the Project Foodie IACP Finalists' Guide.
I have to be honest with you, when I think of great Italian cooking, Birmingham Alabama is not the first city that comes to mind. But one thing I’ve learned in my travels is that great meals can be found just about everywhere; even in places where you’d least expect it.
Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer
In his latest cookbook, Bottega Favorita, named after his Birmingham Alabama restaurant, James Beard award winning Chef and cookbook author Frank Stitt has managed to do something pretty darn great. He combines the soulfulness of American Southern cuisine with Italian tradition to create a new style of food. If you don’t get where I’m coming from just imagine Lima Bean and Orzo soup or pork scaloppini with collard greens and polenta. Two cuisines that ordinarily would be an unlikely pair have come together in the most surprising and delicious way.
In addition to his love of Italian Cuisine, Chef Stitt was also one of the first restaurateurs in the city to focus on products produced locally and showcases them in many in his restaurants. Fresh ingredients and simplicity are the key.
Looking through Bottega Favorita there are so many dishes that will have you wanting to invite a few friends over just so you can show them off. The Crespelle (see recipe below) is definitely one of those dishes. Fresh pasta dough wrapped around a flavorful filling of mushrooms, herbs, and spinach. A masterpiece of simplicity just the way Chef Stitt intended.
Excerpted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt (Artisan Books). Copyright 2009. Christopher Hirsheimer photographer.
Serves 6 as an appetizer
Crespelle means "crepe," and the thin pasta dough and filling in this dish are similar in spirit to that traditional Italian preparation. Don't rush home from work and try to pull this recipe off; time and practice are required to get the pasta rolled just right (homemade pasta is mandatory unless you have a source for pasta rolled to request). But this special dish is stunning and certain to dazzle your guests. Imagine a jelly roll, but with cake and jelly replaced by a thin sheet of pasta dough and a delicious filling of ricotta, herbs, and mushrooms. To strengthen the crespelle's structure, we wrap it in a kitchen towel and secure it with twine before gently poaching it. Once it's cooked, the towel comes off, and we're ready to slice and sauce for serving.
2 cups ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 portobello mushroom caps or 8 cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 thyme sprig
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 cups chopped blanched spinach (about 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 recipe Pasta Dough (see below), chilled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small marjoram sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon marjoram leaves for garnish
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
Line a sieve with dampened cheesecloth or a damp paper towel and set it over a deep bowl. Put the ricotta in the sieve and let drain for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and heat until hot, then add the mushrooms, shallot, and thyme and sauté for
3 minutes, or until the mushrooms are golden but still firm (they will continue to cook once removed from the heat).
Transfer to a plate to cool.
Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat for a moment over medium-high heat, then add the onion.
Cook until it becomes translucent, about 6 minutes.
Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool.
Add the spinach and ricotta to the onion, season with a few scrapes of nutmeg and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and mix well.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
Lightly flour a work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the pasta dough very thin into a 12-by-18-inch sheet. Transfer it to a baking sheet covered with a clean damp kitchen towel. Spread the spinach filling evenly over the pasta sheet, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Place the mushrooms lengthwise in a line down the center. Fold over the short ends by 2 inches. Using the towel to help you, roll up the dough, starting from a long side, to make a log 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Wrap the towel around the log and tie with kitchen string to secure. Add the crespelle to the boiling water, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pasta is thoroughly cooked and the roll feels firm. Carefully remove the crespelle and let cool so that the filing can firm up. Carefully unwrap the crespelle. Using a chef's knife, slice it into 12 slices. Divide the butter between two large skillets, add a marjoram sprig to each one, and heat. When the butter is foamy, add the crespelle slices, turning to coat on both sides with butter, and warm through. Place 2 slices on each serving plate. Garnish with a pinch of fresh marjoram leaves and some grated Parmigiano.
Makes 12 ounces dough
Making pasta forces you to rely on your senses, especially touch. The goal is a smooth, elastic, slightly tacky dough. Factors like humidity and egg size are variable, so you may get a different result each time. As with anything else, with practice you'll learn to make the necessary adjustments, such as adding more or less flour, to yield perfect results. Here I provide both a hand and mixer method for making the dough.
Fresh pasta keeps from 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator covered with a damp towel; after that, it oxidizes, darkening in color, and gets tough. If you don't plan to cook it right away, freeze it on a baking sheet in a single layer until firm, then transfer to freezer bags. When ready to cook, drop it into boiling salted water right from the freezer-do not defrost.
- 1 3/4 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
9 extra-large egg yolks
To make the dough by hand, mix the flour and salt and mound on a work surface. Make a well in the center, like the crater of a volcano. Place the egg yolks in the well and, using a fork, mix them together. Start gradually bringing in a little flour from the sides, then continue adding the flour bit by bit until the dough comes together and all the flour has been incorporated. Knead the dough, flouring the work surface as necessary, until it is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes; it will be a bit sticky. Shape it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
To make the dough in a mixer, combine the eggs and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook and beat to break up the eggs. Gradually add the flour and mix until the dough just pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It should still be a bit tacky to the touch. Do not over mix the dough, or it will become tough. Press the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the remaining dough covered with a towel or plastic wrap. Sprinkle a portion of dough with a light dusting of flour, then pass it through a pasta machine at its widest setting. Lay the ribbon of dough on your floured surface and fold it in half, so that the ends meet, and pass it through the same setting a second time. Adjust your pasta machine down a setting and pass the sheet of pasta through. Fold it in half again and pass it through the same setting a second time. Continue in the same fashion until you have passed the sheet of pasta through the thinnest setting twice. When the dough sheet becomes too long to handle, cut it into manageable lengths. Transfer each finished sheet to a lightly dusted work surface and keep covered with a slightly dampened towel to keep the pasta from drying out while you roll out the remaining dough.
The pasta is ready to use.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.