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Saffron Dill Cappelletti Stuffed With Leeks

I’m still stuck on that saffron dill tart dough I was playing with when I made those garlic scape tartlets and leek tartlets. I am also temporarily entirely done with making tartlets – spending most of a party in the kitchen making extra batches of them can do that to a person. What to do? With no other recourse immediately apparent, I turned to Italo Calvino for inspiration.

“We got along so well all together, so well that something extraordinary was bound to happen. It was enough for her to say, at a certain moment: ‘Oh, if I only had some room, how I’d like to make some noodles for you boys!’ And in that moment we all thought of the space that her round arms would occupy, moving backward and forward with the rolling pin over the dough, her bosom leaning over the great mound of flour and eggs which cluttered the wide board while her arms kneaded and kneaded, white and shiny with oil up to the elbows; we thought of the space that the flour would occupy, and the wheat for the flour, and the fields to raise the wheat, and the mountains from which the water would flow to irrigate the fields, and the grazing lands for the herds of calves that would give their meat for the sauce; of the space it would take for the Sun to arrive with its rays, to ripen the wheat; of the space for the Sun to condense from the clouds of stellar gases and burn; of the quantities of stars and galaxies and galactic masses in flight through space which would be needed to hold suspended every galaxy, every nebula, every sun, every planet, and at the same time we thought of it, this space was inevitably being formed at the same time that Mrs. Ph(i)nk0 was uttering those words: ‘…ah, what noodles, boys!’ the point that contained her and all of us was expanding in a halo of distance in light-years and light-centuries and billions of light-millennia, and we were being hurled to the four corners of the universe (Mr. Pvert Pverd all the way to Pavia), and she, Mrs. Ph(i)nk0, she who in the midst of our closed, petty world had been capable of a generous impulse, ‘Boys, the noodles I would make for you!,’ dissolved into I don’t know what kind of energy-light-heat, she, a true outburst of general love, initiating at the same moment the concept of space and, properly speaking, space itself, and time, and universal gravitation, and the gravitating universe, making possible billions and billions of suns, and of planets, and fields of wheat, and Mrs. Ph(i)nk0s, scattered through the continents of the planets, kneading with floury, oil-shiny, generous arms, and she lost at that very moment, and we, mourning her loss.”

- Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics

There was nothing for it. I would have to make some noodles.

Saffron Dill Pasta
1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 tsp dill
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp loosely packed saffron

Leek Filling
Fresh Thyme

Make the filling in advance by cutting the leeks into rounds, separating them, and sauteeing them in butter with salt and pepper. Add some fresh thyme at the end. Transfer to a bowl and chill until the pasta is ready for it.

I made the pasta entirely by hand, because making it in the KitchenAid was an exercise in failure. Sometimes the only way to get things done is to forego the heavy machinery.

Set aside a large, clean work surface. Form the flour into a mound in the middle of the work area, and hollow out the center, making sure that the walls of flour around the impression are sturdy. Break the eggs into that central cavity, and throw the remaining ingredients in there with them.

Stir the eggs with a fork, slowly and carefully bringing in flour from the bottoms of the inner walls of the mound, until the fledgling dough is thick enough not to flow away. Keep your other hand close by to shore up the flour if necessary and halt any escapes should your eggs overflow.

Once the dough that is beginning to form in the center has come together enough so that it will not flow away, ditch the fork and dive in with your hands, stirring in the flour until the dough just comes together. Don’t force it to take more flour than it can comfortably absorb; also, don’t try to make those little scraps of flour-covered dough detritus blend into the main dough. They won’t blend in properly and will add bad texture to it in the end if you force the issue.

Put the ball of dough aside. Use a pastry scraper to gather all the dough detritus and flour left behind into a sifter. Sift the the flour back onto a corner of your work space and discard the dough scraps.

Knead the dough for about 6-8 minutes, or until it is smooth. If it is tacky, add some of that sifted flour, but don’t let it get too dry. Once it is kneaded, wrap it in plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature for at least half an hour and no more than two hours. This will give it enough time for the gluten to relax so that the dough becomes soft enough to stretch out.

I don’t have a pasta machine, so I had to stretch the dough out by hand as well. The idea there is as follows:

First, cut your dough into halves or thirds. Take out the piece you will be using first and leave the rest wrapped up and set aside. Gather the dough you will be working with into a sphere, and flatten it into a disk onto your lightly floured work surface. Using your rolling pin, roll it out into a circle about 1/8″ thick. Remember to think of it as an act of stretching, not compressing. If you are used to compressing dough when you roll it out, just focus on the pushing it away from you and be light when it comes to downward pressure.

Once you have that circle, you are ready to begin stretching your dough in earnest.

Stretching out pasta dough goes like like this: Wrap just the top quarter of the dough, the quarter furthest away from you, around the rolling pin. It may not even wrap all the way around, depending on how much dough you are using at a time. Flick it forward so that it slaps against the work surface. Next, wrap more like a third of the dough around the rolling pin, and then flick that forward to hit the surface. Next, a half. Keep going until you have the entire mass of dough wrapped around your rolling pin, then rotate your rolling pin and flick the dough out so that it unwraps in a thwapTHWACK, slapping the work surface forward and back, and begin the process at the far end again. Keep going until your dough is thin enough, and for stuffed pasta, thin enough is as thin as you can possibly get it.

If you are making regular noodles, let your dough dry out on a clean dish towel for 15-20 minutes before cutting it. If you are making stuffed pasta (like mine), cut it immediately into squares. Put a small mound of leek filling in the center of each square, then fold one corner over to the diagonally opposite corner until you have a triangle. Press the edges together, hard, so that they will stick – they will thin and spread out as you squish them together, which is just fine.

Take the two corners at the ends of the hypotenuse and wrap them around your finger, squishing them together where they overlap. Bend the last corner down backwards, away from the ring. Put aside and do the rest the same way.

I have read that cappelletti are named such because they look like little hats.

Put into boiling salty water and boil until done. Serve with a bit of butter, or whatever sauce you desire.

I have never made pasta before, except for nokedli, Hungarian noodles that are formed like the eggs in egg drop soup. Stretching the dough turned out to be remarkably fun, if a bit tough to get the hang of – I didn’t get it quite thin enough, which just means I ought to do this more often so I can get in the practice. There is a very satisfying slap when the dough hits the countertop just right.

I learned a few things in this first attempt: It helps to have a longer rolling pin, and to hold the rolling pin closer to the ends. Don’t clutch it tightly near the center as if you are afraid that it will escape. But also, don’t grip the handles if you have an American-style rolling pin; those things are a travesty. Some downwards pressure is important in addition the forward pressure. Work deftly – this is not much of a work-out, though it does require some endurance and you must not be afraid to push the dough out and away as you slap it down; what it mostly takes are quick flicks of the wrist and a light touch.

I may go on about noodles some more in the near future. Once something gets stuck in my head, it tends to bivouac there a while, and I have a few ideas that I’d like to try out while working on improving my dough-stretching technique.

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3 Responses to “Saffron Dill Cappelletti Stuffed With Leeks”

  1. Ivonne says:

    Only a truly talented cook can mix pasta and Italo Calvino. I bow to you!

  2. Cat says:

    Wow, those look gorgeous!! I love foods like tartlets and other canape style food
    All that flavor in cute little packages!

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June 2006
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