by Alyssa Joynt
One of the things Mount Julian prides itself on is the freshness of our food. Our philosophy is all about making food from scratch, foraging for freshness, and scouring farmer’s markets. As I learned one evening, this stretches from our wine to our pasta dough. Chef Alexander makes the smoked trout tortellini in our pasta dish from start to finish, and as part of our Mount Julian blog series, I got to help! It all starts with the smoker.
The smoker is a relatively non-descript black box that I had never noticed before, but it makes a world of difference.
To get a nice smoky flavour, you need a lot of smoke, so a bucket of woodchips was soaked in water before being placed into the smoker. Dry wood burns, but wet wood smokes. Above the woodchips, Chef placed a tray of water to help the fish keep some of its moisture during the smoking process. Then, in went the trout!
From this to pasta!
It didn’t take long for the smoker to get nice and smoky, and once it did the fish cooked fairly quickly.
While we waited, I asked Chef more about the process. I learned that you can smoke duck, chicken, and nearly anything else you can think of. Because trout doesn’t take too long to cook – it’s just a question of how much smokey flavour you want – more time spent in the smoker leads to a smokier and drier result. As far as the trout goes, Chef favours a hint of smoke instead of a really intense smokiness, which helps the fish maintain some moisture and also adds a gentle and subtle richness to the overall flavour.
The finished fish was slightly smoky and extremely delicious (the biggest perk of joining the cooking process is the taste-testing!). Chef removed the skins and then we left the fish for a minute to make the pasta dough. As we prepared to make the dough, we both learned that charcoal is a lot harder to remove from skin than one would expect….
As Chef explained, the dough we made was arguably the richest ever, containing 6 egg yolks. To make the dough, the eggs were placed in a well in the flour and Chef stirred them slowly. This allowed the flour to be pulled in slowly but steadily.
Once the dough was mixed, Chef kneaded it with more flour to make the dough “nice and elastic”.
Setting the dough aside, we returned to the trout to make the filling. Using his hands, Chef crumbled the trout until it was nice and fine. Big chunks of trout inside pasta is not nearly as tasty as it sounds.
The next step was to add some flavour. Chef finely chopped green scallions and added them to the trout, along with some salt and pepper.
Once the filling was all mixed together, it was time to roll out the dough and start putting it all together!
After stretching the dough, Chef thinned it out with the pasta maker. He also floured the surface behind the pasta maker so that we could lay the dough out on the counter afterwards.
Once it was suitably skinny, Chef spread some saran wrap on a plate and sprinkled the top with cornmeal. This made no sense to me until he brought out the pasta cutter, which looks a lot like a cookie cutter. He made individual circles out of the dough, and placed each circle on the cornmeal plate. I soon leaned that this contraption existed to make sure the pasta circles didn’t stick to the surface, and I quickly became very grateful for it. Once we had enough circles, the folding process began.
The folding was definitely the coolest part of the process. Chef picked a circle and placed some filling in the middle. He then dipped his fingers and rimmed the circle with water to help the edges stick together.
He began by folding the circle in half and squeezing the edges together to make a little pierogi.
Once the pierogi is shaped, he folded the two ends in front to shape the tortellini.
After demonstrating a few times, Chef surprised me by letting me make a few of my own.
It’s both tricky and easy at the same time, because I really didn’t want to screw up but it also felt like I was working with something remarkably similar to Play-Doh, as the dough was relatively easy to shape and move (just don’t tell Chef I likened his food to Play-Doh).
The whole process from start to finish took a few hours, and we only made enough for a couple of servings. To make enough for a whole meal takes much longer. You can almost taste the care and patience that goes into making the pasta, although don’t take my word for it – come try for yourself!