The one where we trick the spring.

On my flight to Nashville last week, I stopped in the Hudson Booksellers to get my requisite trashy travel reads, namely: the newest issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet. What with the sexy centerfold on ramps and Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) recipe for leek confit, I decided it was high time the seasons incline toward my desires.

Saturday morning, back in Chicago, I marched resolute to the Green City Winter Market. I had no time for the warnings that it had been yielding little more than potatoes and mushrooms.

I have no time for such warnings!
It is time for kale!
Time for fresh from the ground leeks!
Time for anise-y drinks and sunsets and cool breezes on rooftops!
Time for the Velvet Underground wafting through windows wide open late into the night!

In other words: time for spring!

But the market would not yield to my unseasonal demands. A canvas bag of mushrooms, eggs, apples and half and half later, I half-heartedly eyed the vast array of microgreens. Pea shoots are lovely. Lovely. But pea shoots are not kale, and kale, my friends, is not yet in season.

(An aside about why I'm not so disappointed, after all: I never thought I'd need to spend time in these pages telling you about half and half. However. That is simply because I'd never had Blue Marble Family Farms half and half. It's cream line, and comes in a pleasing and rotund glass jar fresh from a local cow. It really, really costs more than I should ever think about spending on a coffee condiment [although apparently the farmer gave me a "stimulus plan discount"]; but it's actually so good that I gasped at my first sip, and then sat down to write Lauren an email about it. It would be absurd to consider home delivery of half and half, right?)

Later, having acquired desired kale and leeks from a certain notorious grocery store, we got down to the business of preparing a proper spring feast. And maybe kale is not in season, and maybe Saturday's sixty degrees was just a coy late-winter bluff; but I think we got the last word: because spring was in my kitchen, and on our plates, and in our bellies.

Fresh Egg Fettuccine with Garlic and Kale; Leek Confit

(for the pasta)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 eggs
a pinch of salt

(for the kale)
1 bunch lacinato kale, cut into thin strips
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
good olive oil
a shake of red chile flakes

(to finish)
leek confit
a splash of the dry white wine you are drinking
parmigiano reggiano

NOTE: A few months ago, Amber and I took the pasta 101 class from Chef Theo at Terragusto. To no one's surprise, I sort of fell in love with him, as he waxed about the relationships he built with farmers, his vehemently locally-sourced menu, and his involvement with the food advocacy scene in Illinois. The best thing that Chef Theo taught me, however, was not to be scared of making your own pasta. You can't really ruin it, which means it doesn't need to be a laborious or delicate process, but really can be something you make on an ordinary evening.

This recipe Chef Theo's; it calls for more eggs than recipes I've made in the past, and no olive oil at all. The dough came out bright sunshine yellow, and the market eggs I used were perfectly imperfect: all different sizes and shades.

(for the pasta)
Gather all your ingredients. On a clean counter, mound the flour, then make a large and fortified well in the center. Add the eggs to the center of the well and break the yolks. Tracing your fingers around the edge of the well in small circles, gradually pull more and more flour into the center of the raw eggs (ew, ew, ew, ew) until all is incorporated. Pick up the dough and knead for 2 or 3 minutes, then let rest, covered, for about 15 minutes. Your dough should be stiff and not at all sticky.

Break off about a fourth of your dough and stretch into a rectangle narrow enough to fit through the widest setting of your pasta machine; spend enough time running the dough through this setting so that you feel like any of the kneading you were too impatient to do by hand happens by virtue of the machine. Gradually roll the dough thinner and thinner, and then cut into strips. Toss the noodles carelessly and effortlessly with a bit of flour to keep them from sticking to each other, and set aside.

(If you're a bit lazy like Chef Yum Yum, the preceding paragraph would have been where you handed off the real work to your adept and confident companion chef, the one who insisted that it was, in fact, a good idea, to make homemade pasta at 7:45pm [he was right], while you took time to prepare the kale.)

Meanwhile, bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil.

(for the kale)
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium high-heat. Add the garlic and a generous shake of red pepper flakes, and stir until just fragrant. Add the kale in handfuls, and stir until it wilts enough that you can add more to the pan; if your kale is fairly dry, you may need to add a little water. Season with salt and pepper, and saute the kale til it is tender-crisp.

Just as the confit is finished confit-ing, add a generous splash of white wine, raise the heat, and let the wine evaporate off. Keep warm.

Add the pasta to the boiling water for just a minute or two, and then remove to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Toss with the kale, a drizzle of olive oil, and lots and lots of grated parmigano reggiano.

Layer each plate with a few spoonfuls of confit, and then a generous heap of pasta. Garnish with more cheese, and marvel that there is something very similar in the taste of leeks and kale, even as they still taste quite different. Maybe that's the taste of spring?


LEO said...

oh it looks like you're gonna have to add "homemade pasta" to your list of pretty things in which eggs are acceptable!

And in the name of all things seasonal - CHECK IT OUT! Morels came to Hyde Park!

HA are first I wrote "morals." We still don't have any of those, fyi. But at least we have good mushrooms.

Humingway said...

Wow, that sounds delicious! But while chef Theo may be right that one can't really ruin pasta, one CAN ruin one's pasta maker by leaning on it with one's entire body weight because that's what it takes to turn the crank. And then one can take almost a year to go to the post office and return the machine to the company.

Amber Jean said...

That pasta class was SO much fun. The mushroom sauce that went with that recipe was also very good. I just made that pasta last night and it's sitting in my fridge, I now have something to put with it!!!

joeyshapiro said...

lovely posting. demand kale and mean it. home delivery of milk/cream products is not absurd but might be considered eccentric, i am sad to say. when do i get to partake, chef yum yum?

Tiffani Jones said...

UH, Cassie, this is awesome! Thinking back on the rice-and-tomato-in-a-cup you once brought to the div school cafe, I somehow always knew I'd be stealing recipes from you someday. My other friend who loves Kale is Candace, over at http://delveandspin.com/. Go go magic foodies.

chef yum yum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chef yum yum said...

oh! hello friends! it's so nice to hear from you all!

leo: gosh, i miss hp produce. up with morels, down with morals, as i always say.

humingway: so, do you have the new machine? i've actually had my pasta machine since i was about eight...and never once had to hoist my entire weight on it to turn the crank...

amber jean: remember drinking wine and eating theo's pasta at that long wooden table at 11am? we should actually go to terragusto sometime, for a meal, no?

joeyshapiro: yes to kale and yes to eccentricity. a dinner date is in the works.

tiffani: always nice to hear from you! i totally don't remember said rice + tomatoes! i will check out candace's good work...hope all is well in my lovely home state!

Humingway said...

Ha! No, I said "almost a year" in the hope that I'll get off my butt and send it before the year is up.
I'm not sure what went wrong that time. It was only my first batch of pasta with the machine, but I had made the same recipe (Jimmy Schmidt's dandelion ravioli) once before with a rolling pin and it came out fine. Or at least the dough was not rock-hard.
I've generally lost my touch in the kitchen, though. Monday night's Raison d'ĂȘtre ice cream was a complete disaster (wouldn't freeze), and we learned can't make cookies with butter that inexplicably smells like Gorgonzola. Sorry if that made you gag.

ER said...

What with the sexy centerfold on ramps and Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) recipe for leek confit, I decided it was high time the seasons incline toward my desires. I imagined you reading this in a low, sultry voice, and I started to giggle. You're an inspiration to us all, Chef Yumyum.

chef yum yum said...

humingway: what kind of cookies? i'm not convinced gorgonzola cookies are *necessarily* a bad thing. how 'bout gorgonzola and rosemary shortbread?

er: now you made me giggle. and blush.

Humingway said...

Fair enough, Chef! These were meant to be sesame seed lace cookies, and I don't see anything wrong with the sesame-Gorgonzola combo per se. Your rosemary idea sounds delicious! The Flavor Bible suggests thyme -- which seems analogous to rosemary -- and some richly sweet stuff: apple, cherry, corn, dulce de leche (!!), figs, grapes, honey, mint, pears, pomegranate, and sweet wine. Haha, and the science geeks at khymos.org suggest "pineapple, blue cheese, and white wine." Can't really picture that one.

So maybe if I told the guests they were sesame Gorgonzola cookies, they would have been edible. But I would have known they were sesame moldy butter cookies and wouldn't have eaten any, so the guests might have suspected something. Also, they were supposed to accompany the beer ice cream, which had its own fermenty taste, and it would have been too much. Barforama.