Sunday, March 15, 2009

The best liver dumplings with buckwheat pasta and braised cabbage you will never make

These dudes will not win any beauty contests, but they are delectable. I must apologize for the fact that this posting is of the most labor-intensive recipe I have shared to date. You can go out and find buckwheat noodles (if you can), but if you have a pasta machine they are satisfying to make.
My inspiration came from finding a nearly 1-pound package of beef liver in the "Manager's Specials" bin at the Safeway. The meats you find there on at their last date (or 1 day away) for "best by." I have a confession to make. If there is something I want I pick up the package and poke a small hole in it and have a sniff. Never had to put a package back yet!
Chris Cosentino wrote a recipe for malfatti as a companion to a decades-old formulation which appeared in the NY Times Sunday magazine a few months ago. I didn’t care for his idea much, but a concept began its evolution in my culinary cranium. A second source of motivation came from one of Ming Tsai’s cooking shows in which he cooked Italian-style dishes using buckwheat soba noodles.

We bought a several-pound bag of buckwheat flour a while back. It was incredibly inexpensive. Using my favorite recent purchase, a Markato hand-cranked pasta machine, I made buckwheat ravioli with a squash filling. We loved it. This first attempt at making pasta was not an unqualified success. I really had to tinker in order to get a reasonable texture with the dough.

To make a long story shorter, I cobbled together these ideas into a plan for buckwheat linguini with liver dumplings in a sage sauce with braised cabbage and mustard greens. Sounds strange, don’t it? Well, my life-partner, Peter, and I nearly wet ourselves over the result. (At my age that is an imminent danger in the best of times…just kidding.)

I researched buckwheat dough recipes and dumpling recipes and came up with what I will call my very own plan for an unusual and extraordinary meal. Of all the recipes I have submitted to this blog, I consider this my best to date.

The most efficient sequence is to make the dough first. While it rests, assemble the dumpling mixture. While this is in the fridge, prepare the ingredients for the sauce.

When it’s time to cook, get the pasta water and the dumpling water ready on the stove. Start the sauce. When you get to the point where the sauce gets covered, start cooking the dumplings. Then drop in the pasta. Final assembly is to put the pasta and cabbage into heated serving bowls, top with dumplings, pour over the sauce liquid and drizzle with olive oil.
These recipes will serve 4.
Buckwheat linguini
1 ½ cups buckwheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp dough enhancer (wheat gluten)
3 egg yolks
½ cup warm milk
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
a few tablespoons cold water, as needed

In a large bowl, use a whisk to thoroughly incorporate the flours and dough enhancer.

In another bowl, lightly whisk together the egg yolks and warm milk.

Place the flour mix, egg and milk, salt, and olive oil in a food processor. Turn on the motor and wait until the dough gathers together in a quasi ball. If it seems to moist, add a bit more all-purpose flour. If it does not gather, add cold water, one tbsp at a time and pulse.

Put the dough ball on a well-floured surface, mold it firmly together and knead for 8-10 minutes. Reshape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes or several hours according to your timeline for dinner.

When you are ready to make the linguini, cut the dough ball into 8 equal-sized pieces. Set your pasta machine to the widest setting. Roll out each piece of dough to a thickness that will go through that setting on the machine. Using the machine now, process each piece of dough, resetting the thickness to the next thinner setting until you reach the approximate thickness of the linguini cutter on the machine. Use the linguini cutter to slice the dough sheets. Lay the strands on a rack and set aside.

To cook the noodles, heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it well (2 tbsp salt should do it) and drop in the noodles. Stir with a pair of tongs for 15 seconds to assure the noodles don’t stick together. Cook the noodles for 3 minutes and test for doneness. They will be more dense than standard pasta. Remove them to the pan of sauce when you estimate they need 1 more minute to cook completely.
Liver dumplings
3 oz. fresh crusty bread, cubed
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
½ medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp dried thyme
4 sage leaves, torn into pieces
2 tbsp white wine (or red)
1 lb. beef liver, trimmed of fat, gristle or blood vessels and cut into large chunks
3 egg yolks
½ cup dry bread crumbs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive olive for serving

Heat a large pot of water to a simmer and then salt it well.

Place the bread and cream in a bowl and smush together.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan until melted and foam has subsided. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and sage. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent but not colored. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Put the bread, onion mixture, liver, and egg yolks in the food processor. Turn on the motor and process into a paste. Remove to a large bowl and stir in the bread crumbs, flour, and salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon, scoop up a heaping spoonful and drop it into the simmering water. Cook for 7 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Taste for seasonings and adjust the rest of the mixture to taste. The dumpling should still be a bit pink in the center.

Put the liver mixture into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to firm up. Spray a large plate with Pam, form the dumplings and put them on the plate (the mixture should make about 20 pieces). When ready to cook, slide the dumplings into the simmering water. Turn up the heat until it comes back to a simmer but start the timing right away.
Sage and cabbage sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
4 or 5 sage leaves, left whole
½ small head green cabbage, sliced as if for slaw
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp butter

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Drop in the sage leaves and fry for 1 minute. Add the cabbage, thyme, garlic and salt a pepper and toss with tongs. Cook the cabbage for a few minutes, just until it begins to color. Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Mount in the tbsp of butter. At this point the sauce is ready for the addition of the pasta.
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