Saturday, February 26, 2011

Roasted red pepper linguini with red pepper sauce, tarragon and jumbo lump crab

Thank goodness for my DVR. I recently sat down to catch up on some programming dating back to November. On the list were 6 or 7 episodes of Iron Chef America. What a great show. They have been producing this program for 9 seasons and I think I’ve seen every episode. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to reproduce a recipe from this show –until now. It was Battle Bell Pepper. Newest Iron Chef Marc Forgione was making his kitchen stadium debut. I’m afraid I don’t recall the challenger’s name but that’s not too important to the story. One of the dishes Forgione prepared caught my attention. He made a roasted red pepper pasta in a roasted pepper cream sauce that not only looked terrific but got accolades from the judges. It had the eye-catching color of sunset and I’m such a sucker for fresh pasta. Forgione went on to win the battle. Combine my intrigue with this dish as well as my recent enthusiasm for my new pasta maker and the die was cast. We’re making some red pasta.

If you use a pasta maker you know 3 things. It’s tricky. It’s messy. It’s worth it. Making the pasta dough is not as easy as the food network celebs make it look. While none of my early attempts were complete duds, it took me few tries to get the texture exactly perfect. In my recipe below, I’ll give some loose measurements but the consistency is paramount to success. I’ve learned that the liquid ingredients will generally accept only so much flour so, depending on your method for mixing, more flour is OK. Too little is disastrous. Early on I used the mixing method that I’ve seen on TV. On my counter top I used a couple of cups of flour and started with a mound. In the center I created a well. The final analysis looked like a little flour stadium or coliseum. In the center I cracked an egg. The tricky part here is to begin gently whisking the egg so that the flour falls into the egg without breaking down a wall of your little volcano allowing the egg to escape. This takes a little practice but it’s not too tough. Next is the kneading. The dough doesn’t come together at first but as the glutens in the flour begin to break down it will all converge under your palm. Unlike bread or pizza dough, pasta dough is never really all that sticky so as long as you continue to dust with flour, it’s much easier to handle than bread. As you can imagine, this process generously spreads flour around your kitchen. I have since taken to using my stand mixer which cuts down on the mess a bit until it comes time to roll out the pasta sheets.

Some pasta recipes I’ve read call for the dough to rest in the fridge for an hour while others go straight to the roller. I find that resting the dough gives a slightly better pasta bite while going right to the roller is a touch more velvety. I don’t see much of a difference though and if you plan on drying it on a rack, it shouldn’t matter at all. Working with well flour-dusted tennis ball sized portions, it’s time to fire up the pasta maker. This is the fun part. Starting at the widest setting, I run the pasta through the rollers. I was a little discouraged at first because my pasta was coming out the bottom of the rollers with a few holes in it. These were not the pristine sheets that I’d seen on TV. I found that the key here is to simply make sure the dough remain floured and fold it in half and run it through again. You really need to run it through each setting a few times following the same folding and dusting. You’ll be amazed at how long these sheets become as you dial in the smaller settings. This also gets flour everywhere and I’ve found no real trick to avoiding it. It’s simply the cost for obtaining something unctuous and heavenly. The last step is attaching the cutter and making the linguine. I repeat these steps until all my little tennis balls are linguine. It takes some time. I’d say just rolling and cutting the pasta eats up about 20-30 minutes. Lastly, make sure to keep the freshly cut pasta floured or it will stick together.

For this dish I added a puree of roasted red peppers to get that bright red color. The sauce was also a puree of roasted pepper with garlic, tarragon, cream and butter. With the pasta and sauce combined on a serving platter, I topped the dish with jumbo lump crab and some more fresh tarragon. The final touch was, of course, some fresh grated parmesan-reggiano and we had dinner. Lisa’s dad and I mowed through this pasta in short order. The taste was bright and fresh with the silky pepper infused pasta and creamy sauce. Not too rich but still with luxurious notes of deep flavor from the cream, this is one of my best pasta-maker experiments thus far. Adding the crab is just such an elegant touch. Of note, jumbo lump crab is crazy expensive but if you figure the low cost of the other ingredients, this is a budget friendly family meal.

Note: If you don’t have a pasta maker, a pound of dried linguini will work or, even better, some grocery stores carry the fresh stuff too. The taste will still be terrific and making with dried will allow this entire dish to come together in about 15 minutes. Also, the amounts below are pretty loose. In the sauce, you can use some of the pasta cooking liquid if needed to beef up the quantity if I’m a little off or if your sauce reduces a bit too much. Never be afraid to add a ladle full of this cooking liquid to the final combination if the pasta looks sticky. This recipe is worth a go even if you need to use store bought pasta.

Roasted red pepper linguini with red pepper sauce, tarragon and jumbo lump crab

For the Pasta:

3 cups flour + a generous amount to keep the pasta dusted and workable
1-2 eggs depending on size
12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, pureed in a food processor or blender
Teaspoon salt

Make the pasta according to the directions on your pasta maker. Know that using the puree of peppers makes the dough a little too moist so be prepared to add a bit more flour if necessary as you knead the dough.

For the sauce:

12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, pureed in a food processor or blender
3 cloves garlic, chopped or put in the food processor with the pepper puree
½ cup chopped fresh tarragon + some fresh tarragon for garnish
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
6 oz jumbo lump crab meat

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the red peppers, garlic, tarragon salt and pepper. Bring to slight boil then reduce heat to medium low for 5 minutes. Add the butter and cream and whisk in. Reduce on low just a few minutes and the sauce is ready.

Meanwhile in a large stock pot bring salted water to a boil for the linguini. Fresh pasta will cook in about 3-4 minutes while dried will take 8-9 minutes. Reserve the cooking liquid in either case.

Add the drained linguini to the pan with the sauce and turn to coat with tongs. Move this to a large platter and top with the crab and tarragon garnish.

After serving, offer some fresh parmesan-reggiano to grate over the dish.

Serves 4-6.