I’m beginning to think that there’s some literal truth to this March Madness thing. After a month of family bulls%&t, food failures, photography failures and fights with The Husband I’m really ready to throw in the towel on the month of March. And to think, the month started with so much promise!
The weather has been perfect. Absolutely beautiful. It hasn’t even been windy, which is really weird. For once, I had written out a calendar of ideas and recipes to post. And then, as if on cue by a Soothsayer, the Ides of March brought with it a firestorm of crazy. I’ve had quite enough, thank you. Last year in March it was the same thing. Are any of you having a rough month as well or is it just me?
This recipe is probably the one good thing that came out of this lousy month.
I was driving to work one day, listening to The Splendid Table podcast, completely engrossed by Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s soothing voice as she coached violinist Joshua Bell through this recipe for Tagliatelle with Caramelized Orange and Almonds. By the way, if you are prone to March Madness, you should give The Splendid Table a listen–audial Prozac, that.
I was struck by the complete strangeness of the recipe–an Italian pasta dish that didn’t contain a single tomato and featured one odd central ingredient: sugar. She began by melting a stick of butter in a saucepan, then added sugar(!) and orange juice, reducing it until it became am amber syrup, then tossed this “sauce” with an egg pasta, blanched almonds, cinnamon, more sugar and orange zest. I couldn’t believe that this combination of ingredients could ever taste right, but the thought of the dish kept nagging at me until I finally decided to give it a try.
The history of the dish is as fascinating as the recipe itself. As Lynn Rosetto Kasper explained, the dish hails from 17th century Italy, before the tomato was even introduced to the country from the New World. The wealthy would have used sugar, a very expensive commodity at the time, as well as butter, which signified wealth as the person who had butter would have had enough land to raise cows. Fortunately, sugar and butter and oranges are relatively inexpensive these days, and I had just enough money in my bank account to eat like a rich, Italian land-owner (update: not anymore. My car key broke and the replacement cost $268. Thank you, March).
Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s recipe simply calls for dried tagliatelle pasta, but, this particular day I was in need of some stress-relieving food therapy and I thought pasta-making would be just what the doctor ordered.
Tagliatelle is an egg pasta and I used Mario Battali’s recipe that required five whole eggs and three and a half cups of flour. I substituted 1/2 cup of Tipo 00 flour in an attempt for a more tender pasta; however, because it is March, even the pasta would not behave. Once I started to incorporate the eggs into the flour, the dough became so tough that I could barely knead it! It’s not often that I feel that I lack the necessary upper body strength to make dinner. Note to self: must get back to the gym.
Pasta is supposed to be easy. For crying out loud, it’s just flour and water, or flour and eggs or a combination of those three things. What began as a stress-relieving exercise became a recipe for frustration as I tried and tried to get the dough to come together. Finally, I gave up and put the dough, the extra flour and an additional egg into the Kitchenaid mixer and let it knead for a few minutes. Then I wrapped the ball of dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
That little rest period did help the dough to hydrate and soften and I was able to knead it and roll it out without breaking too much of a sweat (or having a melt-down).
The Husband is the designated pasta maker in the household, for no other reason than he is part Italian and it just seemed like he was a natural for the task. I usually just watch and offer general assistance and moral support. It took a few failed attempts to roll the pasta out into the nice sheet you see above, but I thought I did pretty well for my first time! I’m obviously no expert on homemade pasta, but this video is a good resource if you want to try it yourself. It sure makes that pasta attachment for the Kitchenaid look like a very good investment!
Thankfully, the sauce was relatively easy and didn’t require much upper body strength, unless you count zesting and squeezing three large navel oranges. The duck breast was also a first for me. I’ve always been a little afraid to make it at home because it’s a bit of a splurge–$12 for two duck breasts. The duck breast ended up being the easiest component of the dish. Salt, pepper and a frying pan was all it took to end up with salty, crispy skin and a juicy meaty interior. Cook it just as you would a steak, which is what I did–medium-rare.
I hope you all have a wonderful week and a great Easter holiday! I’m happy to bid adieu to March. April, I greet you with open arms.
Tagliatelle with Caramelized Orange and Almonds
The sauce is gorgeously silky and sinfully rich and when tossed with the tender egg pasta and garnished with orange zest, almonds, parmiggiano-reggiano and more sugar, it is definitely a show-stopping dish that should be served for a party…in April. This might even be a good choice as an Easter side dish!
- Shredded zest from 3 large oranges
- 1 stick of butter
- 2/3 cup sugar, plus additional sugar to garnish
- 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
- 1/2 pound tagliatelle pasta (dried or fresh)
- 4 duck breasts
- For the sauce: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and 1/4 cup of the orange juice and stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue to add the orange juice one tablespoon at a time, stirring frequently to keep the sugar from crystallizing. Reserve 1/3 cup of the orange juice to finish the sauce.
- When the sugar is completely dissolved, increase the head to medium-high and cook until the sauce is a deep amber color. Stir in the pepper and 2/3 of the orange zest and cook for just a few seconds, then add the remaining orange juice. The sauce will bubble up and the consistency will thin. Remove from the heat.
- Generously salt a large pot of water and heat to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the sauce until bubbly. Strain the pasta in a colander and add to the skillet with the sauce. Toss to coat with the sauce.
- For the duck breasts: Salt and pepper the duck breasts and allow them to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Score the fat in a criss-cross pattern being careful not to cut all the way down to the meat. This will help the fat to render. Place the duck breasts skin side down in a cold stainless steel or cast iron frying pan and cook on medium-high heat until the fat renders and the skin is crispy, about 6 minutes. Flip the ducks breasts over and cook on the skinless side for a few minutes more until well-browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and place on a plate to rest, covered for 5 minutes. Cut into 1/2 inch slices. By the way, save that fat and use it for roasting potatoes–divine!
- Pour the pasta onto a serving dish. Sprinkle with the remaining orange zest, the cheese, cinnamon and almonds and sugar. Serve with the sliced duck breast.