Pros: easy to follow instructions, wonderful results
Cons: some unusual ingredients
Written by Sandra Bowens
Definition: sfoglia, noun, 1) an uncut sheet of pasta, 2) a popular restaurant with locations in Manhattan and Nantucket.
Reservations may be hard to come by at Sfoglia, the New York City location is currently booked out for six weeks, but you can still enjoy 100 of their delicious dishes. All you have to do is pick up a copy of Pasta Sfoglia and head for the kitchen.
I guarantee that you will want to start cooking after about five minutes of thumbing through the pages of this cookbook. The recipe titles are straightforward and self-explanatory. Consider "rock shrimp, spinach, ROTOLO, almonds" or "TAGLIATELLE, sea urchins, sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, parsley" (this is the recipe pictured on the cover that sets your mouth to watering before you even open the book). The pasta is always in capital letters so you know what you're getting into.
Pasta Sfoglia is written by the chef-owners of the restaurant, Ron and Colleen Suhansosky, along with Susan Simon. The narration, so to speak, is all Chef Ron. That's fine by me because I decided I like this guy just from reading the acknowledgements. He's all about family, tradition and the food, or more specifically, the pasta.
I've made seven recipes from this book and I'm not finished. I have yet to try any of the lasagna or filled pastas. Sweet potato gnocchi still beckons as do the polentas and risottos.
Right off, I made the potato gnocchi because I wanted to try the Gnocchi, sausage, tomato, peas, smoked mozzarella recipe. Gnocchi has a reputation for being difficult to do properly so I went in ready for a challenge. Aside from learning that putting potatoes through a food mill is hard work, the rest was easy, and the little pillows of dough came out like a dream. Fluffy and full of potato flavor, these gnocchi rated an OMG! in my notebook. Tossing the gnocchi with the sausage, tomato, peas and smoked mozzarella only made a good thing even better.
Pasta Sfoglia's chapters are devoted to a type of pasta such as dried or filled. Polenta, gnocchi, and risotto each have a chapter of their own. The first section is called "master recipes," covering the basics of making pasta.
I like the way that chapter is laid out. We get five different pasta recipes, including duck egg, buckwheat and farro, followed by a thorough explanation of how to roll and cut various shapes. Also included are four gnocchi recipes, one for orecchiette, one for crespelle, and others for brodo and the restaurant's signature cuscinetti.
My first attempt at the fresh egg pasta didn't go as well as I expected. The dough seemed dry and was really hard to roll. It worked better once I adjusted the settings on the machine down a notch from what the recipe specified. The second time I made the recipe it came out much easier to handle so I suspect it may have been a difference in flours or the humidity.
As I moved on to a few of the fresh and dried pasta recipes, a pattern began to emerge. Three of the recipes I had chosen called for first roasting something, doing a bit of prep before putting the pasta water on to boil, and then it all falls together in a skillet. Couldn't be easier, and yet the resulting dishes were completely different.
The Farro Spaghetti, beets, brown butter, poppy seed dish was visually stunning as the jewel-like color of the roasted beets made the quenelle of goat cheese on top stand out even more. While barely perceptible, but so delicious and toasty, the poppy seeds were a magnificent accent.
For the Spaghetti, crema melanzane, ricotta salata it was roasted eggplant. My two eggplants didn't yield the two cups as the recipe suggested they would so I just cut the rest of the ingredients in half with excellent results. The sauce was creamy without the addition of cream and the al dente pasta just right.
The aroma of roasting lemons with thyme for the Fettuccine, lemon cream, toasted almonds, gave a hint of what was to come in this somewhat heavy preparation. Chef Ron calls it a "…substantial dish, perfect for the cold weather." I may have made it clunky by cutting the fettuccine too wide and the almonds too coarsely. It did serve as a wonderful side dish to a halibut fillet.
One point to make is that a number of these dishes would be served as the pasta course in the Italian kitchen. I'm more accustomed to the American way of eating pasta as an entrée so it's important to consider how each recipe might play into your overall menu.
The recipe for Spaghetti, winter seafood, saffron, parsley was certainly ready to take center stage on the dinner table. Abundant shellfish in the golden broth made for a spectacular presentation and it tasted rich enough to prompt one guest to ask how much butter was in the sauce. He was shocked to learn that the answer was none.
It is a joy to cook from Pasta Sfoglia. The recipes are simple, yet delicious, with exciting flavors and wonderful variety. Never confusing, the directions are logical as they give way to impeccable timing for pulling all the ingredients together.
I don't know when I will find myself in New York City next, but I hope I find out six weeks in advance so that I can make a reservation at Sfoglia.
GNOCCHI, sausage, tomato, peas, smoked mozzarella
1 recipe Potato Gnocchi (page 10) (recipe makes 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 cup water
1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1. Heat the grape seed oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage. Use a wooden spoon to break it up. Move the sausage around and cook until the pink disappears and it's browned, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, water, peas, salt and pepper.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water (see page 29) to a boil. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they float to the top. Cook for 1 more minute.
3. While the gnocchi are cooking, evenly distribute the mozzarella over the sauce.
4. Use a wire-mesh skimmer to remove the gnocchi from the pot and place them directly into the skillet. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to carefully fold together the gnocchi and sauce.
5. Serve immediately.