Monday, January 22, 2007

Toasted Pasta with Duck Leg Guazzetto

Sometimes I just want to hunker down and spend some quality time in the kitchen. Occasionally this means baking or setting up a big pot of something wonderful to simmer away on my stove top all afternoon. Sometimes it means I’m up for a challenge; it means I want to tackle something I have never tried before or a recipe with multiple steps that can span a whole weekend. If you are in this kind of mood, make this duck guazzetto, created by Lidia Bastianich. Rich duck, dried porcinis, tomato paste and aromatic spices create an intensely flavorful, silky sauce as the long, slow braise transforms the meat to fall-off-the-bone tender.

A close-up of the finished guazzetto.

Luckily, I have been fawning over the Italy-themed January issue of Gourmet for a couple weeks now, and I decided by Thursday that we (it’s always nicer to face a challenge as “we” instead of “I”) were going to make our own Istrian feast complete with aforementioned duck legs and homemade toasted pasta. Mike was whole-heartedly on board with the toasted pasta, but thought the duck guazzetto (the Istrian term for a braise) might pose a challenge. I was certain that the guazzetto would be utterly glorious, and the recipe did come off without a hitch. Planning ahead was a factor, however, as I had to visit the butcher a day ahead to buy some beautiful frozen duck legs. These folks are not open on Sundays, and I needed the extra day to let the meat defrost in the refrigerator.

To make it easy on ourselves, we made and toasted the pasta one day ahead, as well. It truly came together easily, with rolling out the dough being the only mildly tedious part (that’s where the “we” came in).

Everything about this meal was heavenly. If we paid a lot for this dish in an Italian restaurant, we would have been more than happy. I wouldn’t recommend trying to put it all together in a single day, but if you want to spend a weekend making something really special, you will not be sorry with this one. Toasting the pasta in the oven gives it a nutty flavor, but the real treat is the rustic texture of these noodles. Hand-rolling, baking and breaking the dried dough into pieces creates uneven shapes that make every bite delicious in a slightly different way.

Do not forget to top the guazzetto with some good cheese. We also added our own special touch with some Bahamian sea salt that a friend gave me. Like the pasta, this very freshly harvested salt has an uneven grain and tastes like the warm ocean water of the Bahamas, only sweeter. As the pasta and guazzetto were not too heavily salted, we decided to try this salt, adding yet another incredible flavor note in the dish. If you don’t have a lovely person to bring you salt from the Bahamas, there are lots of different sea salts to experiment with.

Sometimes weekend projects don’t live up to expectations, but this one paid back our efforts in every bite. We gave ourselves all the time we needed to actually enjoy the cooking process, and none of it was terribly challenging after all.

Roll each piece of dough into a thin rectangle...

bake until golden...

and break into pieces before boiling.
Duck Leg Guazzetto
Adapted from Gourmet; Originally published in Lidia’s Family Table by Lidia Bastianich
As in the magazine, we made the rustic toasted pasta to serve with this richly flavored braised duck. If you are not up for doing homemade pasta, I think this would be wonderful over polenta; a large, flat noodle like tagliatelle; or lasagna noodles broken into smaller pieces before boiling.

Serves 4 generously

2 c. boiling water
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 to 2 1/2 lb. fresh or frozen duck legs (not confit; about 4 legs)
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 c. dry white wine
2 c. chicken broth
1 ½ California bay leaves, or 3 Turkish
1 (5-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
5 whole cloves
toasted pasta (see recipe below)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Pour boiling water over dried porcini in a bowl and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes, or until softened. Pour the contents of the bowl through a fine mesh sieve lined with a slightly dampened paper towel into another bowl, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any grit, chop into small pieces and set aside.

Trim the duck. Remove any excess fat and about 2/3 of the skin from each thigh leaving a two inch strip of skin down the center. Leave the drumstick skin intact. Pat duck dry with a paper towel.

Heat 2 tbs. oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Sear the duck, in two batches if necessary, so you do not overcrowd the pot. Cook until lightly browned on both sides. If the oil starts to splatter, partially cover the pot and use tongs to carefully turn the legs. Remove legs to a plate, sprinkle with coarse salt and set aside.

Add onion to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season lightly with a pinch of salt and ground pepper. Add the porcini mushrooms and tomato paste, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and return all the duck legs to the pot along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes to reduce the wine. Add chicken broth, reserved mushroom-soaking liquid, bay leaves rosemary and cloves and bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Gently simmer, covered, 1 hour, turned duck legs once halfway through.
Reposition lide to partially cover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Turn duck legs again, remove lid and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, until meat is very tender and sauce is thickened. Remove duck legs from pot and set on a cutting board. Allow sauce to continue simmering for 15 to 30 minutes or until you are left with about 3 cups of rich, slightly thick sauce. Remove rosemary sprig, bay leaves and cloves from the sauce and skim off any fat. Cover and keep warm over low heat. When duck is cool enough to handle, remove skin and fat and tear the meat into bite size pieces. Discard the skin and fat and return the meat to the pot. Keep covered over low heat until pasta is ready.

Toasted Pasta
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 4 generously

2 to 2 ½ c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ½ tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 ½ tbs. ice water, plus more if needed

Add 2 c. flour to a food processor and process for a few seconds to aerate. Whisk the eggs, oil and ice water together in a liquid measuring cup or bowl that pours easily. With the processor running pour the egg mixture through the feed tube and process until a slightly sticky dough forms and gather on the blade, about 30 to 40 seconds. Feel the dough. If it is a bit too sticky to handle, add more flour, a scant tbs. at a time and process until you can handle it. If dough is hard and dry, add more ice water. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperture for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line 2 large (about 17 x 13) baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough and cut into four equal pieces. Put one piece on a lightly floured surface and cover the rest. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out as thinly and evenly as possible into a large rectangle about the size of your baking sheet--You want the dough to be VERY, very thin. Keep the dough moving as you roll and add more flour to your work surface so dough does not stick. Transfer dough to lined baking sheet and repeat with the next piece of dough. Bake the first two sheets, rotating their positions occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Turn the baked pasta sheets over and continue baking until completely dry and golden, about 15 minutes more. Bubbles may form on the pasta during baking, but don’t worry; they add to the textural variation that makes this so delicious. Transfer pasta to cooling racks and let them sit out to continue drying for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Roll the next two pieces of dough, bake, and cool in the same manner.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil over high heat. Season with salt. Break the sheets of pasta into large, irregular pieces, about 2 to 3 inches each. Add to pot and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness, until al dente. Drain in a colander and serve immediately topped with duck guazzetto and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sea salt, if desired.

We also made this easy Italian salad from Gourmet. It is thinly sliced celery hearts and mushrooms, dressed with lemon and olive oil, and topped with salt, pepper and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Slicing the mushrooms as thinly as possible and adding the dressing transforms them.

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Kristen said...

You are so ambitious! This looks like a fantastic meal... well worth the effort!

peabody said...

This looks very hearty and yummy.

Lis said...

Looks fabulous. I don't know if I could find duck legs easily around here.. would chicken work as well? I love that toasted pasta you made.. I'd bet it would be really good with a lil butter and cheese. :D

Julie said...

Thanks Kristen and Peabody--this dish was so good, it was practically a culinary epiphany.
Lis: You could definitely cook chicken this way and it would be great. Turkey legs might also be a good idea. The duck does lend a little gamey exoticism to the meal, though. And yes, this pasta would be amazing with butter and parm!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Isn't it wonderful to decide to spend some quality time in the kitchen - I love doing that - and come up to something as marvelous as this?

What a great dish!!

I imagine sprikling the rolled pasta with curry, salt and a bit of black pepper before taking it to the oven. Then eat the pieces as a snack... I think I should try it! :D

Christine said...

What an undertaking!! I'm very, very impressed. I took one look at the recipe in Gourmet and turned the page, thinking it way too involved for me. You've proved me wrong and I thank you for it!

Fredric Koeppel said...

We did the whole menu for a dinner party for eight last Saturday, including the cheese and potato crisp with the apple and cabbage slaw, the duck and toasted pasta, the mushroom and celery salad and the roasted pears and candied celery and lemon zest for dessert. The only part we did on Friday was making the pasta. I ordered the duck legs online from D'Artagnan, two-day delivery; they were bigger than the duck legs (and thighs) I have seen elsewhere. a package of six weighed 5 to 5-and-a-half pounds. It's a terrific dinner, with a great sequence of flavors and textures, with nothing being too heavy (though the duck is rich) and with the servings being nicely proportioned. We're going to make this menu our standard dinner party fare, at least for a while.

LyB said...

I know you've posted this a while ago, but I just had to tell you I made it just last week and absolutely loved it! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

The Walsh Family said...

I used this recipe but modified it a bit. Instead of using duck leg, I used chicken thighs. It was amazing! I also cooked my toasted pasta for about three minutes instead of two. I am a huge fan of Lidia Bastianich and loved her feature in Gourmet magazine. Thanks for posting this!

Anonymous said...

I had this guazzetto with gnocchi at her K.C. restaurant the other night. It was wonderful.