Cavatelli with Bacon, Corn, Mushrooms, and Parmesan, a la the Red Hen

 

After a particularly good (i.e. busy/lucrative) weekend behind the bar, often I like to treat myself to a Sunday-evening dinner at the Red Hen, a low-key, Italian-influenced contemporary American restaurant in Washington, D.C.'s Bloomingdale neighborhood. With its excellent cocktails and well-curated wine list, super-knowledgeable bartenders, and--oh, yeah--the FOOD (Charred Beef Tongue with Root Vegetable Slaw, Mint & Tonnato Sauce WHAT), I've never had a bad meal there, ever. If I can, I like to snag the corner seat at the bar, nearest the open kitchen, adjacent to the pass. My face is familiar enough now that the chef de cuisine will occasionally send over a bonus dish or stop to chat in one of the exceedingly rare moments in which the kitchen isn't cranking. Although the restaurant is justly renowned in the area for its signature Mezze Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu, but it's the summertime variation on the seasonally-rotating cavatelli dish that is the perennial object of my obsession, when corn comes in season. Last summer, I sat in my favorite seat and paid close attention as the line cook assembled the dish. I could identify every component except one, which was graciously clarified for me: corn brodo. The secret ingredient? A parmesan stock as its base. Blanks roughly filled in, I set out to recreate the dish at home. While I was working on this, I was reminded a lot of the part in Bill Buford's "Heat" where he talks about the differences between restaurant and home cooking, and how the recipes in the Babbo cookbook don't necessarily accurately represent the way in which a dish is actually cooked in the restaurant. When the line cook was preparing my cavatelli as I sat watching from the bar, he wasn't measuring out ingredients by the teaspoon or tablespoonful, but in pinches, handfuls, and ladlefuls. It's a template--a plate for one, not many. The challenge in recreating the dish at home comes from trying to scale up and approximate the quantities of ingredients necessary to feed more than just oneself. This represents my attempt to do that. I amalgamated the parmesan broth from several source recipes, including the Cowgirl Creamery one posted here at Food52, which I love for the addition of dried mushrooms, which works particularly well here given the finished dish's mushroom component.

What you will need

1 pound shiitake mushrooms

olive oil, for roasting

salt, pepper, and chopped fresh thyme to taste

6 ears sweet corn, husked and de-silked (or 4 cups frozen sweet corn kernels, defrosted)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 head garlic, halved, plus 1 garlic clove, halved

1 medium-large onion, chopped

2 or 3 carrots and celery stalks (each), chopped (combined, they should roughly equal the quantity of onion)

1/4 ounce dried mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, mixed wild...go nuts)

1 bay leaf

1 pinch black peppercorns

a few (each) parsley and thyme sprigs

1 pound parmesan cheese rinds

1 cup dry white wine

2 quarts water, brought to a simmer

1/2 cup yellow onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

creme fraiche, to taste

1/2-1 pounds cavatelli (the Red Hen uses housemade whole wheat cavatelli, but regular pasta is fine, too; use the lesser amount of pasta if you want a more equitable ratio of pasta to the rest of the components, otherwise use the whole box)

olive oil, for sauteing

4 ounces bacon, preferably double-smoked, diced

8 green onions, thinly sliced

roasted shiitakes, reserved corn kernels, and corn brodo (see above)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for finishing

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

chopped fresh parsley and thyme, for garnish

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