White Corn Agnolotti
Want to start a lively discussion among food-loving friends? Ask whether white sweet corn or yellow sweet corn is better. You may be surprised by how emotional some people get in defending their preferences.
What is summer cooking without fresh sweet corn? Whether you boil, steam, or grill it and then slather it with butter to eat right off the cob, or cut off the kernels to include in a summer salad, the vegetable's sweetness and juiciness capture the very essence of the season's sunshine.
Both white and yellow corn are among the countless hybrids that have evolved from the ancient Latin American grain -- and, indeed, there are many different varieties within each color. You'll hear lots of opinions comparing their flavors and textures, stating that white kernels are sweeter and juicier, while yellow has more texture and robust "corny" flavor. Experts will tell you that people in the American South tend to prefer white corn, while Northerners gravitate toward yellow. And from that information, I draw the conclusion that the very best sweet corn is the kind you grew up eating.
The sweet corn I love best is whatever is freshest in my farmers' market. Right now, that means white corn, which is beginning to reach its peak of season in many areas. And one of the reasons I love it is that it enables me to prepare one of my all-time favorite filled pastas: White Corn Agnolotti.
Typical of the Italian habit of giving pasta shapes fanciful names ("agnolotti" means priests' caps), these little bite-sized ravioli cousins feature a filling of white corn freshly grated from the cob, mixed with cream, cheeses, and seasonings, tossed in a quick broth-and-butter sauce. They literally burst with summertime flavor. (At Spago, we typically also top them with freshly shaved white truffles, a wonderful luxury that you can skip at home.)
I also include here a basic recipe for homemade fresh pasta dough. But nowadays you can sometimes find sheets of ready-to-use fresh pasta in gourmet markets and Italian delis. (If you see the market or deli sells its own house-made fresh pastas but doesn't have ready-to-purchase sheets of pasta dough on display, ask if they have any in back that they could sell you. You'll often get a positive answer.)
My recipe yields about 240 little filled pastas, enough to serve 10 to 12 people generously. If you want to save some uncooked agnolotti for another meal, spread them out on a lightly floured baking sheet and freeze until solid, then pack in freezer storage bags. Add an extra minute or two to their boiling time.
One final tip: If you prefer yellow corn, or it's the only type available, by all means make Yellow Corn Agnolotti!
White Corn Agnolotti Pasta Recipe
Serves 10 to 12
WHITE CORN FILLING:
1 cup heavy cream
4 ears white organic sweet corn, grated with the medium holes of a box grater
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 ounce goat cheese
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
10 thin sheets Basic Pasta Dough, each about 6 by 12 inches, either store-bought or homemade (recipe follows)
Semolina or all-purpose flour, for dusting
1 large cage-free egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup organic chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh sage
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces
For the filling, put the cream in a small skillet and boil over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Stir in the corn, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook at a slow boil, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the spoon heavily.
Transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the cheeses and thyme. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Rest the bowl inside a larger bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until cooled.
For the agnolotti, place a sheet of pasta on a lightly floured work surface. Mound heaping teaspoons of filling in two rows along the sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush the egg on the pasta in between the mounds. With a knife or pastry wheel, cut the pasta lengthwise between the rows. With one strip, lift a lengthwise edge over the filling mounds, pressing it down firmly all along the opposite edge to seal. Press down firmly between the mounds to seal in each mound. With a pasta wheel, cut between each mound and trim to form a rim about 1/4 inch all around each mound. Pinch the edges again to seal.
Repeat with the remaining filling and pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, combine the broth, sage, and butter, stirring until a thick emulsion forms. Remove the sage. Keep the sauce warm.
When the water boils, carefully slide in the pasta and boil until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, draining well. Add to the sage butter.
To serve, spoon the agnolotti and sauce into soup plates.
BASIC PASTA DOUGH
Makes about 1-1/2 pounds
3 cups all-purpose flour
8 large cage-free egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Semolina or all-purpose flour, for dusting
In a food processor, combine the flour, yolks, salt, oil, and 2 tablespoons water. Process until the dough holds together. Stop and pinch the dough; if it feels too dry, process in up to 1 tablespoon more water. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until smooth. Loosely wrap in plastic and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Keep the others covered with plastic while rolling one piece at a time, by hand with a rolling pin or using a pasta machine.
For a pasta machine, set the rollers to the widest opening. Flatten the dough into a thick strip no wider than the rollers. Dust very lightly with flour. Run the dough through the rollers. Fold in thirds, crosswise, and run through again. Repeat 2 or more times, until the dough feels smooth and somewhat elastic. Set the rollers to the next smaller opening and run the dough through. Continue, using a smaller opening each time, until you reach the desired thinness. (The strip will be long. If your workspace is small, cut the dough in half halfway through the process, keeping the unused half covered.)
Pasta Recipe, Italian
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White Corn Agnolotti
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