Since I was fortunate enough to have been invited to dine at the home of a family member for Thanksgiving, I didn’t make Thanksgiving dinner. Therefore, no leftovers to recycle or write about. Instead, we’re having pasta for dinner tonight.
Whole wheat pasta is very much in demand right now, and I’m finding it in a greater variety of shapes at my local markets.
I found the pappardelle that I’m using today at a Food Emporium in Manhattan (brand name: “Garofalo”). They looked so thick and substantial, I knew they’d be great with some sort of game and wild mushrooms.
I considered buying a whole duck, but for ragu, the legs are all that are needed. The sauce is simmered for a couple of hours, therefore breasts get too dry and stringy. Since my butcher doesn’t sell duck legs by themselves, I decided on duck confit. Duck confit is sold as a salty, spicy fully cooked duck leg which has been slow-cooked with herbs in duck fat. Each leg is vacuum-packed and sold with a small amount of skin and fat still attached.
This, in itself, is a wonderful dinner, simply crisped in the oven with some potatoes or other root vegetables. But since the meat is so flavorful and redolent of salt and spices, it is equally wonderful as a base for a pasta sauce.
For my ragu, I sauteed carrots, celery and shallots in olive oil, butter and bay leaf. The duck legs were added and browned a bit. White wine, broth and a touch of tomato paste were added as well. The whole sauce was simmered for about an hour-and-a-half. The duck meat was then removed from the bone, shredded, and returned to the sauce, to simmer for an additional half-hour.
Meanwhile, as the pasta cooked, (these noodles take much longer than the recommended cooking time of 8 minutes), I sauteed some shiitake mushrooms in oil until golden and slightly crispy. The mushroms got tossed with the duck ragu and pasta at the last moment.
The reason for cooking the mushrooms separately from the sauce, was to preserve their moisture and freshly-cooked flavor. The longer mushrooms are cooked, the more they shrink, lose moisture, and harden. They also intensify in flavor, so the delicacy of the duck sauce would have been overtaken by the mushrooms if I had simmered them in the ragu for two hours. Today, I wanted the two distinctly separate but compatible earthy flavors to marry at the last moment–the moist, crispy mushroom-and the slow-cooked duck sauce.
This ragu would be excellent over white pappardelle as well, but the whole wheat adds an even deeper dimension of texture and flavor.
Whole Wheat Pappardelle with Duck Ragu and Shiitakes
1 lb whole wheat (or white) pappardelle
2 duck confit legs
1 stalk celery
1 large bay leaf
4 tbls butter
2 tbls olive oil
1 c white wine
3 c chicken broth
1 tbl + 1 tsp tomato paste
1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean with damp paper towel, sliced into 1/2″ wide strips
1 tbl fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmigiano for serving
In a dutch oven, combine 2 tablespoons of the butter, plus the oil, carrots, shallot, celery and bay leaf. Saute on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
Add duck legs and continue browning lightly on both sides for another 8 minutes.
Turn up heat and add wine. Reduce for about 2 minutes. Add broth and tomato paste and lower heat to a bare simmer. Cover, with lid slighty askew for an hour-and-a-half.
Remove duck legs, shred meat, and discard any skin. Return the duck meat to the ragu; simmer, uncovered for the last half-hour.
While the pasta cooks, heat a broad skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until oil is hot. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute mushrooms for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden and slightly crispy. Sprinkle with half the parsley. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.
In a large skillet, combine ragu, mushrooms and cooked pasta. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and add the last 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir and toss to combine, adding a half-cup of pasta water if the sauce has gotten too tight. Serve with plenty of grated parmigiano cheese on top.