Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Radicchio, and Bagna Cauda
3.5.11 § 5 Comments
“When do you stop being just someone who cooks and start being someone who is more like a chef or who has the know-how to write your own recipes?” This was the question of the hour at my latest dinner party. *Note: Didn’t realize my camera lens was dirty. Sorry for the smudgy pictures!*
Last Thursday, I met up with Sofia for our first cooking date. You see, she and I are cyber friends. We met over the internet when she started commenting on my blog, and after about 8 months of reciprocal comments, tweets, etc., we decided we should be friends in real life. This is how the world works now I guess…welcome to the future.
Anyway, this is the question we were pondering as we finally sat down to dinner, and thankfully, it was very appropriate for the evening’s meal. You see, I’ve made (and even posted about) a version of this pasta before: Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Radicchio. And I’ve also made a slightly different pasta that I found over on The Wednesday Chef: Egg Pappardelle With Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg.
Unfortunately, I never posted about the version from Luisa’s website, because despite her proclamations of love for the dish, I wasn’t sold. I attribute this to a couple of things. First, I don’t really know how to fry an egg. I know, *eye roll.* Second, I really hated the bagna cauda that I made. For anyone who doesn’t know what bagna cauda is, the New York Times says:
Bagna cauda, also spelled bagna caôda, means “hot bath.” The bath — olive oil — is gently warmed with garlic cloves and anchovies until the oil is scented, the garlic is softened, the anchovies are dissolved and tamed. Essentially, it’s Italian dip.
The first time I made bagna cauda was the first time I had ever touched an anchovy. It was a big step for me because, like many people in my age group, I was taught at a young age by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that anchovies are gross. And it’s kind of true. They have these tiny little bones sticking out of them that are thin enough they look like hairs. It’s totally fine to eat them, but I was not prepared for this and got really skeeved out during the cooking process. Combine that with my inability to make a good fried egg, and by the time dinner was ready, I was not all that excited.
However, I had a chance to try bagna cauda again in a restaurant kitchen, and it was delicious! So, when I was attempting to pick a recipe for Thursday night’s shindig, I considered making Luisa’s recipe once more, but eventually chickened out and went with my old standard pasta. Then I thought, “That’s dumb! You’ll have nothing new to write about.”
Ever so hesitantly, I decided to try combining the two – adding bagna cauda to a recipe I already knew I loved. This time around I bought slightly pricier anchovies ($12 as opposed to $3) hoping that higher quality would mean less bones. I was right about this. Believe me, that extra money was worth it.
When I told Sofia what we were making, I could tell she’d probably also watched Ninja Turtles as a child, because she did not look excited about an anchovy sauce. I promised that I’d make the bagna cauda and that we could both taste it before putting it anywhere near the pasta. Rather than relying solely on the recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I did a bit of research about how to make bagna cauda. I eventually found a description in La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, which said:
This is the traditional process: in a large earthenware pot, over a low flame and stirring constantly for at least 30 minutes, slowly dissolve thinly sliced garlic cloves in extra-virgin olive oil and butter. Once they have become a creamy homogenous sauce, add the Spanish red anchovies and more oil and cook slowly until the anchovies dissolve, blending with the garlic and oil to create a light brown sauce…Firm traditionalists insist on a full head of garlic per person…[and] two to three anchovies per person.
In the end, I kind of made it up. I minced a full head of garlic and did heat it in oil over a low flame for about half an hour. Then I used ten anchovies, mashing everything a little with a wooden spoon because it didn’t really “dissolve.” And you know what? The end result was delicious. We began by putting only half the bagna cauda on the pasta, but when I went back for my second helping, I dumped in the rest. It really made the dish, which surprised me because the pasta was pretty stellar to begin with.
And so, in a very roundabout way, I think the difference between someone who cooks solely from recipes and someone who begins to command a bit more authority in the kitchen is this: the latter is a person who becomes comfortable enough that they are able to draw from many sources, synthesizing information and taking inspiration from previous experiences to create amazing meals. Does that mean I’m getting somewhere? I don’t usually think so, but as I grated extra ricotta salata cheese over top of the pasta that I just couldn’t stop eating, I have to say, I was a little bit impressed with myself.
For the bagna cauda:
1 head of garlic, minced or if you want to try it the traditional way, very thinly sliced
10 anchovy fillets in olive oil (they come in a tin or the pricier ones are in a glass jar)
For the pasta:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 heads of radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
8 – 9 oz of egg pappardelle
1/3 cup of pine nuts
1 cup grated ricotta salata (you can substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can’t find ricotta salata – I got mine at Whole Foods)
Start the bagna cauda while you prepare the ingredients for the pasta. Heat oil over low flame (I eyeballed the amount but Luisa uses 1/4 cup), and then let the garlic go over the lowest heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for the pasta. When you’re ready, put water on to boil, and heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and wait while it turns golden brown, this will take about two minutes, then add the pine nuts. Move the nuts around so they get toasted, this should take only two or three minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan with a slotted spoon – place in a bowl and set aside.
Now add the butternut squash to the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and just tender (not mushy!), 6 to 8 minutes. Add the radicchio and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until wilted and just tender, about 3 minutes. (You may have to add a little bit of the radicchio at a time, as it will take up less room as it wilts, allowing you to add more.)
Meanwhile, cook pappardelle in boiling salted water until al dente. Keep in mind that egg pasta cooks much more quickly than regular pasta!
When you put the pasta in to cook, add your anchovies to the garlic mixture. Allow them to rest over low heat while the pasta cooks.
When the pasta is done, reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Combine pasta with radicchio-squash mixture and ½ cup cooking water. Toss together over low heat until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add more cooking water to moisten as necessary.
If your bagna cauda isn’t a uniform sauce, mash it a little with the end of a wooden spoon. Then add it to the pasta. If you’re hesitant, add just a little, then taste before adding more.
Transfer pasta to bowls, top with toasted pine nuts, and finish with a generous amount of grated ricotta salata.