A few posts back, I wrote about the flavor of caramelized radicchio and how it made an interesting connection in my mind. It tasted remarkably like the wonderful caramelized bottoms of the Roman-style artichokes that I love to make so much. Radicchio and artichokes are both in the sunflower family, so it makes sense that they would have a few flavor compounds in common, but I had never actually tasted the similarity before–probably because I almost never cook radicchio. So I started to think about using them together in something.
Once I got home with the artichokes, it took a minute to convince myself that I wanted to do something other than make my beloved carciofi alla romana. I prepped them the same way–snapping the leaves off right above the edible base, digging the choke out with a teaspoon–but then I cut them into thin wedges and tossed them in a pan with some olive oil. While they began to brown, I chopped half a head of radicchio and threw it in after, tossing it all together and letting it gently darken and begin to melt. After a while, when all was pretty soft, I added minced garlic and herbs (parsley, marjoram, thyme) and then deglazed with some more of the steak stock. As it reduced, it became more and more jam-like in texture, and the smells augured well.
While all this asteraceous alchemy transpired, I rolled out sheets of pasta from a dough I threw together before running out to the store. I used eggs that I bought at Stone Barns when I was there having a tour and meeting in preparation for an upcoming article. Their eggs are all from pastured hens, and the dark yellow yolks are a wonder to behold. I’m not sure how much you can tell from the photo, but the color of the pasta is a profoundly different hue than it would have been with even decent eggs. The filling is some steamed butternut squash, mashed with one egg yolk and a little salt. I wanted simple sweetness in the filling as a foil for the complex bitterness of the sauce.
I like to dot filling down one side of the sheet and then fold it over rather than laying a second sheet over a double row of filling. I think it’s easier, and it makes for less trimming since each sheet only has to match itself. I brush a little water where the seams will be, and when pressing them together I nudge the filling away from the fold so it ends up roughly centered in each approximate square.
By the time the sauce had reduced and softened further into a dark tangle of unctuous umami, the pasta was ready to go. And a bite of both did yield the balance I had hoped for between sweet and bitter. What surprised me was that there was a pretty strong mushroom flavor in a sauce that contained exactly zero mushroom in any form. The first thing I thought is that if one substituted a good mushroom-vegetable stock for the beef, one could arrive at a pretty incredible vegetarian sauce/condiment. Some walnuts wouldn’t suck, either. There are lots of ways to go with this, and I plan to play with it more in the coming months since both vegetables are available. Contrasting a raw salad with a version of this sauce as a chutney could work, and cooking small, firm heads of radicchio the way one makes the artichokes could also be interesting.
As part of the preparation for the article, I also spoke to Dan Barber, the chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, about winter-grown vegetables. He spoke eloquently on the way winter’s limitations can be liberating for a cook; the narrower range of ingredients forces one to dig deep and pull the sweetness out of the cold-weather roots and greens, exploring subtlety and really listening to the food. It made a lot of sense to me, since I find that constraints are essential in my studio practice: no matter how restricted the options, there’s still room for infinity within them. The austerity of winter food offers the same opportunity in the kitchen, and the same potential for profound pleasure.