Flounder and Fennel filled Mezzelune with Salsa di Pistacchi
After giving Agnolotti with a braised beef filling a go, I thought that I would return to a recipe that I had created about a year ago and never had the opportunity to taste. These were beautiful little mezzelune that I had made that fell apart because I had made the sheets of pasta too thin and not used enough flour after having prepared them. It was devastating and I didn’t return to them until now, with the help of my husband as well as the occasion of having people over for dinner.
I had come up with the idea of a salsa di pistacchi, a pistachio pesto, like the walnut pesto from Liguria, but with a Sicilian flare and a nut that my husband wasn’t allergic to. Anytime I have had salsa di noci (walnut pesto) it has always been served over pansotti, which are ricotta and chard filled pastas, delicate and delicious. I thought that I would make a filled pasta with the same delicacy as Ligurian pansotti, but again, with ingredients that spoke to a more Sicilian cuisine than chard does. Fennel came to mind as well as swordfish, which was used in my original recipe. I decided to use flounder for this one because I could buy a local fish and it was safer than swordfish is for my daughter to eat, as well as the rest of us. I also think that it offered a much more delicate flavor than the swordfish would have.
They were delicious, absolutely delicious. The pasta was light and delicate to the tongue and the pistachio pesto was the perfect sauce to serve these mezzelune with. Though fresh pasta takes a lot of work, the end result makes it worth every minute spent making them.
Flounder & Fennel filled Mezzelune with Salsa di Pistacchi
- 6 oz. of flounder, cut into small pieces
- 1 medium sized fennel bulb, minced in a food processor and frond set aside
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and left whole
- 2 tbsp extra-virgina olive oil
Heat oil in a small sauce pan and add garlic, when it starts to sizzle and the flounder pieces and sauté until opaque. Add minced fennel and let steam for a few minutes, absorbing all of the moisture. You want to be careful not to brown the flounder and the fennel, that will give the filling a more distinct flavor than what you will be looking for. Let the mixture cool.
In the meantime clean the fennel fronds. Add all of the ingredients, including the garlic, to a food processor and chop until it is all well blended.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can either mix it up in a blender or chop it all up with an enormous amount of patience, make sure that the mixture is consistent before filling the pasta.
Salsa di Pistacchi
- 1 cup of shelled pistachios
- breadcrumbs from 2 slices of white bread
- ¼ cup of pine nuts
- 1 small clove of garlic, peeled
- 1 tbsp fresh mint, plus a few sprigs for garnish
- ½ cup of grated ricotta salata, and extra to sprinkle on the pasta
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for a few minutes.
Blanch the shelled pistachios in salted water for one minute, then crush them in a mortar and pestle or in a food processor with the pine nuts, garlic and the bread crumbs which have been soaked and strained. Set the milk aside to add to the sauce as needed.
Add the mint leaves and when everything has become a consistent paste add the ricotta salata, the oil and add the milk a little at a time until the sauce has a creamy consistency.
Fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water starts to boil for the pasta add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Ladle some of the pasta water into a large serving bowl and stir in the salsa di pistacchi, add the drained pasta and toss to coat. Add the extra sprigs of mint and toss, serve immediately with grated ricotta salata.
*I don’t recommend substituting ricotta salata with parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano because both cheeses have very strong, definite flavors. If you don’t want to use ricotta salata, you could replace the cheese blended into the sauce with fresh ricotta, it will add to the creamy texture.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for working
- 9 large egg yolks
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp ice water, plus more as needed
Put the 2 cups of flour in the food processor, fitted with the metal blade, and process for a few seconds to aerate. Mix together the egg yolks, olive oil and 3 tbsp of the water in a spouted container. Start the food processor and pour in the liquids through the feed tube (scrape in all the drippings). Process for 30 to 40 seconds, until a dough forms and gathers on the blade. If the dough does not gather on the blade or process easily, it is too wet or too dry. Feel the dough, then work in either more flour or ice water, in small amounts, using the machine or kneading by hand.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for a minute, until it’s smooth, soft, and stretchy. Press it into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate the dough for up to a day, or freeze it for a month or more. Defrost in the refrigerator and return to room temperature before rolling.)
Cut the dough into 4 pieces, and wrap 3 of them again in plastic or just cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel. Flatten the piece of dough in a burger shape that is somewhat thicker in the middle and about ¼ inch thick at the edges. Set the rollers of the pasta machine to the widest setting. Dust the rollers with a bit of flour to be sure they are completely dry, and make sure there aren’t any bits of dried dough from last time. Using one hand, crank the handle to start the rollers, and feed the dough in with your other hand. As the flattened piece of dough emerges, catch it gently with a flat palm so as not to tear it. Fold the dough into thirds, flatten it slightly with your palms, and roll it out again. Repeat this process 5 times, then set the rollers to the next-thinnest setting and repeat the folding and process 6 times. At the third setting, repeat the process only 3 times, since the dough will be becoming more delicate. If the pasta sheet becomes too long to work with easily, cut it into 2 pieces and continue. As you work, dust the pasta sheet with a tiny pinch of flour only if it seems to be sticking – too much flour will dry out the dough. Roll the dough out through the progressively thinner settings, without folding it again, until you have reached the the thinnest that you desire (we went to the 4 setting on our pasta machine, you don’t want it to be too thin or the pasta will break). Do not pull the sheets of pasta out of the machine; rather, support each one lightly underneath as it emerges from the machine.
I created the shape of the pasta with a biscuit cutter, creating lovely little half moons. This is a simple way to make them if you don’t have many gadgets. In each circle place about 1 tsp of the filling in the middle, dip your finger in water and brush on the edge of the form. Fold the dough in half and seal together by pinching the two sides together with your fingers. Lay them spaced apart, in a single layer on a floured tray. Repeat the entire process with the remaining dough.
Cook the mezzelune right away, or refrigerate for a few hours, on the tray, sealed with plastic wrap. For longer storage, freeze them solid on the tray, then pack in freezer bags.
Fill a big pot with at least 6 quarts of water, 1 tbsp salt, and bring to a boil. Heat the leftover braising liquid in the meantime.
Cook only two dozen mezzelune at a time. When the water is at a rolling boil, shake the excess flour from the mezzelune and drop them into the pot. Stir well, and return to a boil rapidly. The mezzelune will drop to the bottom, then rise to the surface; keep moving and stirring them so they cook evenly and don’t stick. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, and check for doneness, biting into the thickest edge of the dough.
When they are fully cooked, lift the mezzelune with a spider, drain briefly, and spill them into the salsa di pistacchi, gently stirring and tumbling until they are well coated. Serve immediately.