The seasonal pasta and pizza recipes in Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone (book number 7) are as fresh and vibrant today as they must have seemed when the book was published in 1984. After an opening chapter on making fresh pasta, the bulk of the book is composed of seasonally organized recipes for generally simple pasta dishes that make use of the best ingredients that each season has to offer. Everyone seems to cook this way now, but it really was groundbreaking in 1984 when Chez Panisse was a mere 13 years old.
Kate and I opted to make the first recipe in the Winter chapter: Onion Confit & Winter Greens Pasta since we had everything in the house but the greens. Although the final assembly of the dish was quick, there was a bit of prep time to make onion confit and fresh fettuccine. For the confit, four thinly sliced yellow onions are sautéed briefly in butter, sprinkled with a bit of sugar, and then slowly simmered for about two hours in a mixture of red wine, wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, crème de cassis and thyme until the liquid has reduced to a rich wine-herb syrup coating melt-in-your-mouth onions. Although, making the confit took time, it didn’t require constant attention, so I was able to multi-task. In any case, the time investment was worth it, because, as Alice notes in the recipe, you only use about half of the batch in the pasta (or a quarter in our case since we halved the recipe) so you have a bunch left for other uses such as pizza or sandwich topping. We ended up with about three cups of onion confit, so I divided it into four ¾ cup portions, set one aside for the pasta, and froze the other three for future deliciousness.
While the onions were cooking, I made the pasta dough out of a cup of flour, a pinch of salt, an egg, and a little water. After a 45 minute rest, we rolled the dough and cut it into fettuccine. It was a real treat to make and eat fresh pasta again. It had probably been about a year since the last time in Vallejo.
With the pasta and onion confit made, the rest of the dish came together pretty quickly. We washed a big bunch of red kale, cut it into strips and blanched it briefly in the boiling pasta water. The blanched greens went into a skillet with half a cup of slightly reduced chicken stock and a little more butter to simmer while the pasta cooked. Toss the cooked pasta and onion confit with the greens and voilà! Totally worth the little bit of effort. Fresh pasta is always wonderful, and the finished dish had beautiful layers of flavor with the minerally, slightly bitter greens balancing the sweet onions.
We ended up only eating about two-thirds of the pasta, so, naturally, the rest appeared for breakfast a few days later with a poached egg on top.
Up next: Chez Panisse Fruit.