I am not a big fan of fast food but it's been an exhausting week. Double cheeseburger with bacon and fries? I'll do that. Slice of cheese pizza with extra hot pepper? That is right in my wheelhouse. Iranian Osetra caviar with creme fraiche on blini? OK, not fast food in the typical sense but I love caviar - and, well, you can eat it quickly while sipping the right champagne. Mind you, I am not talking about traditional fast food now. That's fine and it has its place. What I don't care for is ready prepared or pre-made "gourmet" food that masquerades as something delicious. Why? Because more often than not it doesn't come close to tasting good.
Walk into any supermarket, gourmet, or otherwise and you'll see what I mean. Refrigerated cases loaded with beautiful looking and bland tasting pre-made food. And it's pricey. If you are going for "gourmet" fast food and the value to deliciousness ratio is out of whack that's a culinary sin.
We can take this a step further and look at "freshly made" items you can find at the grocery store. You know what I mean. "Fresh" pasta. Refrigerated sauces. Pre-shredded cheeses. One word. Say it with me...Flavorless. You know I am right. Frankly, I'd rather have a cheeseburger.
I've been working 12 to 14 hour days the last two weeks on a big deal and I have been pretty tired - hardly a beautiful life for me. Oddly, several of my friends seem to be galavanting off to Europe right now. That's what I need. A break from the drudgery. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid with memories of tapas and sangria. That could work. Lobster grilled over coconut husks at a warung in Bali. I am on that beach mentally right now. Or perhaps the best of the lot. Eating at Ristorante Sibilla in the hills of Tivoli outside Rome. Popes have summered here for centuries. When the Gods on Mt. Olympus got tired of ordering takeout pizza they went to Sibilla for the most amazing pasta you have ever eaten.
When I work hard food becomes even more important to me. And it needs to taste good. So imagine how I rolled my eyes when I got home the other day and a package was waiting for me from the nice people at Foodbuzz, the blog advertising network I belong to. Intrigued, I opened the 16 inch box. It seemed unusually sizable, given the fact that I couldn't recall ordering anything. I opened it curiously pulling out Styrofoam, and then paper, and finally several blocks of dry ice. And what treasure was awaiting me when I got to the end of this culinary rainbow? A package of freshly made Wild Italian Mushroom Agnolotti from Buitoni. Yeah, you are reading that right. Buitoni. The people that make fresh pasta and sell it mass market.
I haven't blogged much lately but felt the need to inject some creativity into my life given the blood sucking world of corporate IT that I work in. A gourmet pasta that Foodbuzz was offering to some of their publishers presented a challenge. I was tired and hungry but I told myself I could whip something up based on what was in the fridge with the agnolotti. I peered into my refrigerator to see what I could work with. Cremini mushrooms? That was obvious. Further in the vegetable drawer I located some fresh thyme. I always have thyme on my hands (cute, considering how hard I have been working lately). An unused shallot lay threadbare, looking sorry for itself. He was in.
I got busy chopping the shallots and caramelizing them with olive oil over a medium heat. I sliced some mushrooms and sauteed them with shallots to a golden brown. Setting aside some of the shallot mixture I deglazed the plan with some Ferrari-Carrano Fume Blanc in the fridge door. Not exactly drinkable as it had been open for about a week but perfect for cooking. A couple of cups of vegetable stock and some chopped thyme went into and got boiled down for 15 minutes while I tossed the agnolotti in to cook. Buitoni recommends 4-6 minutes, gently boiled. I went with four minutes figuring that no self respecting Italian chef would cook pasta and then pour sauce over it. Certainly not the ones that cook at Sibilla. Why not finish cooking the Wild Mushroom Agnolotti in the thyme and mushroom broth to take advantage of flavor infusing and thickening? When the broth reduced, I strained it into a bowl and then added it back in the pan on a low heat with the reserved shallot and mushroom mixture I had sauteed. I finished cooking the pasta on a low heat for another few minutes. Gently placing the al dente pasta into warmed bowl, the broth with slices of mushroom and caramelized shallots was ladled over. A few shavings of fresh Parmesan and some fresh thyme on top finished this little fast food challenge off.
And the result? I am pretty confident the Pope that summered in Tivoli where Sibilla now stands would have genuflected with pleasure. The finished product was exceptional. I must say while I don't typically buy fresh pasta in a store, Buitoni has done an excellent job creating a very high quality product. The pasta has a toothsome but flavorful density. The well seasoned mushroom mixture included cremini and portobello mushrooms and grana padano and Parmesan cheeses. I served this with a Sparkling Rose from Chandon from Napa Valley. I love sparkling wine and champagne with food and this completely worked. A taste of Caramel Fleur de Sel gelato at the end made this experience la bella vita.
I don't typically review products in my blog and would not have gone out of my way to have bought this product if it hadn't been sent to me. Grazie to Foodbuzz and Buitoni. We really enjoyed this. I guess I need to re-visit the original premise of this post. I think I am beginning to like fast food.
Recipe for Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Caramelized
Shallots, Thyme and Mushroom Broth
1 package Buitoni Riserva Brand Wild Mushroom Agnolotti
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
8-10 cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2-3 T olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 T thyme, finely chopped (divided use)
2 cups vegetable broth or stock*
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for grating
Crusty French or Italian Bread
In a medium saute pan heat two TBSP of olive oil. Add shallots and cook until soft and beginning to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add mushrooms and saute until slightly golden about 5 minutes. Add additional TBSP of olive oil if the pan is to dry while the mushrooms first start to cook. When mushroom are nearly done season with salt and pepper. Remove 2/3's of the shallot and mushroom mixture to a small bowl.
Raise the saute pan to a high heat. Add wine and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine has evaporated. Add 2 cups of vegetable broth and 1/2 of the chopped thyme. Bring the broth to a boil and reduce to 1 cup. Taste for seasoning and adjust with additional salt and pepper if necessary. While the broth is cooking down heat a separate 3 quart saucepan with water and bring to a bowl. When water is boiling add in agnolotti and cook gently for four minutes. Meanwhile strain the broth into a bowl pressing the solids with the back of a spoon to extra out any remaining liquid. Discard the solids. Wipe out the saute pan and add the strained broth back in over a low heat. When the pasta has finished cooking for four minutes transfer it to the saute pan with a slotted spoon. It's OK if a little of the pasta water makes it into the broth, that only adds to the finished product. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes.
Using the slotted spoon, place the ravioli in two warmed bowls. Ladle the sliced mushrooms and shallots over the top and pour any remaining broth into the bowls. Grate the Parmesan cheese over the top and sprinkle with the remaining fresh chopped thyme. Serve with bread on the side to dip into the broth.
* The type of vegetable broth or stock you use will change the outcome of this dish as there are so many different types. I used Pacific Garden Organic Vegetable Stock for this. They use tomatoes as part if the broth base giving it a richer texture and a darker color. A lighter stock, such as Swansons will provide a somewhat different outcome, more "en brodo" style the way tortellini is served in Italy. No less delicious, just different.