Tajarin with Truffle/Sage Butter Sauce
The other day I got a comment from Helen, who has a facinating new blog called Beyond Salmon. It's about fish (Helen teaches a course on fish cookery at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts) but she has broader interests. She was insprired by my Braised Beef Short Ribs and had this to say: "I've been really nostalgic about our trip to Piedmont last fall (and their pasta with braised rabbit). I was not even a big fan of pasta before we went, but Piedmont pasta has ruined me for life...after reading your post, I really got in the mood for braising a rabbit and making some homemade tajarin (all egg yolk -- ton of cholesterol, but oh so good :)"
I've travelled in Italy but never in Piedmont, and until Helen's message had never heard of tajarin, which, I soon found, is a rich egg noodle made with egg yolks. Lots of egg yolks! (I've also never cooked rabbit, but that's a story for another post.)
It just goes to show that the next culinary adventure is always just around the corner. I asked Helen to fill me in on tajarin, and she mentioned that Jeffery Steingarten had written about it in his book The Man Who Ate Everything. Okay, I once had a copy of that book around here somewhere, but I never read the part about tajarin. (I bought it in an airport bookstall at the beginning of a business trip to Europe, read about a third of it and found it annoying for reasons I can't now recall. I never picked it up after I returned from the trip. E says that since I said I didn't like it she may have given it to the thrift shop.)
Helen kindly sent me the cliff notes for Steingarten's tajarin:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 Tbsp salt
20 yolks from extra-large eggs
I bridled at a recipe which called for 20 egg yolks so cruised the internet for other tajarin recipes and found that there's a range of opinion, as is usual with traditional recipes.
I considered several versions and then went into the kitchen to see how my ingredients stock stacked up against the recipes I'd read. I found that I only had 9 eggs. I decided to use 3 of them whole -- since whole eggs are usually part of egg noodle pasta, I knew that would be okay - to extend the liquid component a little beyond what would be available with just 9 yolks.* But since I didn't know how much flour to use for that amount of eggs, I did it by feel: I mounded about 2 cups of flour on my board, made a well in the mound, tossed in two teaspoons of salt, added the eggs and yolks and started mixing them together. This process is always rather comical, with the eggs breaking through the dyke and making a run for the edge of the board, and me trying to contain it by means of forkloads of flour and frantic finger maneuvers. Even when I'm alone in the kitchen doing this I whoop and holler and laugh out loud in the thirty seconds it takes to regain control over my ingredients.
I added flour to the mix by one-third cups until it felt like pasta dough (total flour used: about 2-2/3 C) and then followed the usual fresh-pasta routine: knead ten minutes, wrap and rest for half an hour, stretch with the pasta machine, progressively through narrower and narrower gaps, until it reaches the correct thinness (I had read somewhere that tajarin is very thin so I took it to notch 8, the next to last), dry on towels for 15-20 minutes on a side and then cut into strands with the pasta machine (I used the tagliatelle cutter, about 3/16" wide, since one of the 'net recipes I read suggested 1/8" width).
Helen had also sent me the Steingarten suggestion for a sage butter sauce for tajarin, which I adapted as follows:
8 T butter
12 large sage leaves, rough chop
Salt and hot sauce, to taste
1 T grated Permeggiano Reggiano
2 T strained gravy from the braised lamb shanks I made the same day
1 T white truffle oil
Melt butter, add sage and simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes until butter is nut brown, 10 - 20 minutes. Strain and mix in cheese and broth. Toss pasta in the sauce, drizzle with truffle oil and turn into warmed serving platter. Garnish with fresh sage leaves.
The tajarin was served alongside the braised lamb shanks, which seemed to be a perfect Fall pairing, though I'm eager to try Helen's suggestion of braised rabbit soon. As promised, the pasta was a warm yellow, and the texture was extremely light and springy in the mouth. Thanks Helen, for inspiration and guidance to a wonderful treat!
* At the American Egg Board's very useful and informative site, Learn More About Eggs, I learned that the yolk is about 1/3 the volume of an egg. That means that by using 3 whole eggs and 6 yolks I used the equivalent, by volume, of 15 yolks. Why my flour component turned out to be about the same as Steingarten's, in spite of the fact that I was using less egg, I can't explain. As mentioned, my version seemed light and springy, but perhaps Steingarten's are even lighter. I guess I'd have to make his to find out, but I'm still balking at the idea of twenty yolks! (How many meringues can you make before your family starts plotting an intervention? One recipe I have says you can make six meringue nests with one white, so twenty whites would yield 120 of them! Or I could make macaroons, which yield 8 cookies from one white, or 160 from the 20 yolks. Yikes!)