Chef Brook Harlan with Mushroom & Asparagus Rotolo
Spring to early summer is prime time for asparagus and mushrooms. There are so many different preparations, but one you may not have tried before is rotolo pasta. Rotolo translates to roll or scroll in Italian, but made as a pasta it is a delicious dish that easily can be made over a few days to wow your friends and family.
There are several ways to make rotolo pasta. If you are ambitious, you can make your own pasta sheets and boil them. Or, you can roll the filling into fresh rolled pasta and simmer as a large roll. The method that follows allows you to use dry lasagna sheets; you don’t have to have a pasta roller. You can boil the sheets a day or two before, then cool, oil and save them until you are ready to assemble.
The filling can be just about anything you have on hand or whatever is in season at the market. Adding cream or stock helps add moisture to the filling and soften the vegetables. Depending on your filling selection, you may have to thicken it somewhat, either by cooking the filling slowly to evaporate some of the moisture (for example, winter squash) or by using a thickening agent — cornstarch or a roux (add a small amount of flour to the fat with the vegetables, called the Singer method). The end product should be spreadable, but not runny, and close to the consistency of apple sauce. Once you have the consistency and seasoning you want, allow the filling to cool slightly, then spread it onto the cooked pasta, leaving the last half-inch bare to help the roll stick. Let the roll cool for 5 to 10 minutes or up to a few days, wrapped, in the refrigerator.
You can assemble the rotolo in a baking dish and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to finish. The pasta should be baked in the oven for 8 to 15 minutes (depending on size and if you are starting with cold or warm pasta). The end result should be pasta that is slightly crisp around the edges, cheese melted, sauce warm and egg yolks slightly set.
Mushroom & Asparagus Rotolo
8 ounces mushrooms, assorted types (rough-chopped)
2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups cream
6 to 8 lasagna sheets (size varies with brand; I like short, wide sheets)
1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
5 egg yolks
2 to 4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper as needed
Over medium heat, cook rough-chopped mushrooms in butter for 5 to 8 minutes until they are soft and reduced to about half their size. Using a food processor, hand blender or cutting board and knife, chop the cooked mushrooms until pieces are about the size of peas or smaller and they start to resemble a paste. Put mushrooms back into the pan and create a roux by stirring flour into mixture until fully incorporated. Slowly stir ½ cup cream into the mixture and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until mixture becomes a thick paste, add a little more cream if mixture becomes too thick. Stir about 2 ounces of diced or grated cheese into the sauce until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to desired taste; reserve mixture. If stuffing pasta soon, allow to cool slightly; filling may also be cooled completely and saved for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Cook the lasagna sheets in salted boiling water until almost fully cooked. Drain pasta sheets into strainer and lay flat to cool slightly. Place pasta on a flat surface and spread filling evenly over pasta, leaving the last ½-inch of pasta bare to seal after rolling. Once all pasta is rolled, place into the refrigerator and cool for 5 to 10 minutes to allow to set (you can store the rolls up to 2 days, wrapped, if cooking at a later time). Slice rolls into ½-inch to 1-inch sections and arrange in an oiled sauté pan or small casserole dish.
Snap asparagus, holding just below the tip and just above the base. The asparagus will snap where the woody section ends. The woody end can be discarded or saved to puree for asparagus soup. Cut the remaining asparagus at an angle into 1-inch pieces. Heat sauté pan over medium-high heat, add butter and sauté asparagus. Cook the asparagus spears until they are about 75 percent cooked. Distribute asparagus spears evenly over the rolled pasta, leaving 5 spaces (or more if desired) to place egg yolks.
Crack 5 eggs into a bowl and, using your hand, carefully scoop out the yolks. Place yolks atop the pasta. Grate remaining cheese over yolks, asparagus and pasta. Drizzle the remaining cream over the pasta, season lightly with salt and pepper, and place into a 400-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until yolks are set slightly, cheese melts and pasta edges become slightly crisp. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.