Corn in the summertime. The two just go hand in hand. It makes me think of summertime cookouts, birthday parties and Fourth of July picnics. Growing up, it was always boiled corn on the cob, slathered in butter, sprinkled with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Skewer each ear with those oh-so-cute corn holders that are shaped like little ears of corn, and you're ready to eat. So simple, but so delicious. My grandfather had the habit/ability of eating each row of kernels separately. This always amazed me when I was younger, as I could never replicate the feat, evidently not possessing adequate mouth-to-cob coordination.
My grandmother always preferred the white corn; she is a big advocate of it's superior flavor and sweetness. I'm not one to argue with 70+ years of cooking experience, and evidently neither is Thomas Keller, as this recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook calls exclusively for white corn.
This is only one of a handful of recipes that I have attempted out of The French Laundry Cookbook. I would love to cook each and every recipe in this masterpiece (as others have done), but it's just so hard to find the time. Each one of The French Laundry's recipes seemingly has no fewer than 100 steps, and frequently involve multiple techniques that I am, at worst, wholly unfamiliar with, or at best, less than experienced in. I have previously made Chef Keller's agnolotti (the Piedmont version of ravioli), but never with this filling, which was extremely labor intensive.
White Corn Agnolotti with Crab
adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook
¾ cup vegetable stock
¾ cup water
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons polenta
1 cup vegetable stock
About 1½ cups water
¾ cup Arborio rice
½ cup mascarpone, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups corn juice (from about 8 ears of corn)
8 oz all-purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups corn juice (from about 12 ears of corn)
4 tablepoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup corn kernels, blanched until tender, chilled in ice water, drained, and dried
2 tablespoons finely minced chives
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
To make the filling for the agnolotti, first you make the polenta in the traditional method. The stock and water are combined and brought to a boil, the polenta is whisked in, then the heat is reduced to low and the polenta simmered for about 20 minutes, until it forms a ball as it is stirred.
Next, you make risotto, also in the classic method. The stock and water are combined and brought to a simmer in a saucepan. The Arborio rice is heated in a sauté pan over medium heat, and the stock/water is added ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly unil all the liquid is absorbed. However, for this recipe, the rice is fully cooked and the liquid is evaporated until the risotto forms a sticky ball. The risotto is then run twice through a meat grinder with a fine dye, then mixed with the polenta, mascarpone and butter.
Next comes the corn juice. The corn juice is the star of this recipe, it's responsible for the intense corn flavor in both the pasta sauce and filling. Tom Collichio also uses this ingredient in both Think Like a Chef and Craft of Cooking, so I did have experience with how to prepare it. Basically, you cut the kernels from the ears of corn, puree them in batches (it took me four) in a blender, and then strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. What you're left with is a liquid that is rich in corn flavor, and slighty viscous due to all the natural starches. After being reduced gently it will have the consistency of cream. Corn juice.
1¼ cups of the corn juice are placed in a saucepan and heated over medium heat until it reaches 180 degrees. This is then whisked into the risotto/polenta mixture to complete the pasta filling.
The pasta is made using the classic well method, and rolled out into sheets. The pasta sheet should be thin enough so that you can see your hand through it. Chef Keller recommends the penultimate thickness on most home pasta machines. The filling is then placed into a piping bag, and piped into a ½-inch tube of filling across the bottom of the pasta sheet, leaving a ¾-inch border of pasta along the left, right, and bottom edges.
First, let me say that my piping bag experience went a lot better than last time. Second, the concept of sealing and forming the agnolotti was a difficult one for me to grasp at first, despite Chef Keller's directions. There are photos of the final product in the book and more than adequate step-by-step directions of how to make these lovely little filled pockets of pasta, but it wasn't until I watched a few videos on youtube did my understanding of the process finally come together. I guess I'm a visual learner. Nonetheless, once I got the technique down, I could churn these little guys out at a surprising rate. At least I was surprised.
The corn sauce was brought together simply by heating the corn juice over medium heat until it reached 180 degrees, blending it with butter, straining it through a fine-mesh sieve, and mixing it with the corn kernels, chives, and white truffle oil. In addition to the truffle oil, Chef Keller's recipe calls for minced summer truffle here. However, I was unable to obtain any, so I omitted them. Also, I added lump crab meat to the final dish to make it more substantial.
The pasta was boiled for 4 to 5 minutes, topped with some crab meat, and then topped with the sauce and a few shavings of Parmesan (not pictured).
Altogether, a wonderful dish. Intensely flavored with sweet corn, the pasta could not have been better. And if I do say so myself, the crab was a lovely compliment. But it's not like I reinvented the wheel here, corn and crab are a classic pairing. Although, I am left with the question of why polenta AND risotto? Running the risotto through the meat grinder was probably the biggest time consumer of the recipe, both in cooking and cleanup. I wonder if there would be a significant difference in flavor and texture if the recipe used only polenta, instead of polenta and risotto.
At any rate, I was left with about 50 extra agnolotti, which I froze for later enjoyment. I also made corn stock from the leftover cobs, which I will likely detail in a later post.