When I think of Valentines day, I think of sugary pink hearts, stuffed teddy bears, roses and of course tons of chocolate. Dark, sweet, melting, sugar filled chocolates. Maybe with a creamy hazelnut center. I’ve always preferred savory foods to sweet, so I decided to flip a classic truffle on it’s head and try something new for Valentine’s day- savory chocolate pasta with hazelnut chili sauce. This dish brings in bright dashes of lime, bitter, dark and earthy notes of cocoa, aromatic cilantro, and spicy bits of chili. It’s all carried together with a light, creamy hazelnut sauce.
One of my favorite parts of making this dish was getting a chance to use my pasta machine and make homemade pasta. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and it’s not very difficult (although it is a little more time consuming than the dried, 99¢ a package variety). However, unlike the store bought spaghetti, your pasta choices aren’t limited to the less than imaginative options on the shelves- and despite the popular myth, you really don’t need eggs to make fresh pasta. Basic pasta can be made from all purpose flour and water, but can be flavored with just about anything by using a little less or a little more liquid (depending on if your addition is dry or wet). For this dish I chose to use a dutch processed cocoa powder (which is just cocoa powder that has been treated to have a lower level of acidity, and is less bitter) to give my noodles a dark, earthy flavor and a beautiful brown color.
I also used a few tricks in this recipe that I learned from a Coursera class I took on the science of cooking- in my pasta dough I added very small levels of salt (1/4 tsp.) and sugar (1 tsp.). These should be below the threshold of what people can consciously taste, but using sweet and salty flavors at these subthreshold levels will actually make the bitter flavor of the cocoa softer. It’s the same reason many recipes you bake will include a pinch of salt, even though the result doesn’t taste at all salty. The science of taste!
The hazelnut cream sauce is essentially a variation of cashew cream, but since it’s a Valentines day dish I thought it would be good to make it extra fancy with a fancier nut. Hazelnuts need to soak longer than cashews to achieve a nice, even, creamy blend, so make sure to plan ahead a little and soak your hazelnuts at least 12 hours before you plan on making the dish. As long as you make sure to give them a long soaking time, hazelnuts will give you an extra creamy sauce- since they have slightly more fat than cashews, the resulting cream is extra velvety. I used unsweetened plain soy milk to help the hazelnuts blend where I would normally have used water- just another slightly special adjustment to help the sauce be as creamy and rich as possible. If you don’t have any unsweetened, plain vegan milk around water would probably do the trick. I found this sauce also needed more liquid than cashew cream sauce does- you might find you need a little more or less than what I used, so make sure to add it slowly to get the perfect consistency for your sauce.
Finally, lets talk about garnish- this is one of those cases where the garnish on my dishes adds an important element to the flavor of the dish itself. Serving with lime slices allows you to squeeze some lime juice over your pasta, giving you variation in the amount of bright citrus in your dish. The chili powder sprinkled on top should be left off if spicy food isn’t your thing, but I found the extra little zing a pleasant addition. Hazelnuts on the side add crunch to an otherwise crunch-less dish, and the cilantro on top as a pleasant, aromatic element to the dish that melds perfectly with the lime and chili. For those of you who aren’t cilantro fans (it’s not your fault, blame your genes), flat-leaf parsley will work as a stand in.
I want to finish this post up with a few words on Valentine’s day- it’s very much a commercialize holiday, with pressure to surprise your special someone with candies, flowers or jewelry. While I don’t love those aspects of the day, I do still love Valentine’s day- I guess I’m secretly a sucker for love. Whether I’ve spent Valentine’s day with close friends (a Galentine’s day celebration), with my boyfriend, or with my family, I’ve always loved a day with a little more love to go around.
Savory Chocolate Pasta with SpicyHazelnut Cream Sauce
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup dutch processed cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ cup unsweetened, plain soy milk
- 1 cup raw, unsalted hazelnuts
- ¾ cup soymilk
- 1 clove garlic
- The juice from 1-2 limes
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 lime, sliced
- Cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- Chili Powder
- A handful of hazelnuts
1. The day before you make this dish, place the hazelnuts in a bowl covered with water, and allow to soak for at least 12 hours.
2. Put the flour, cocoa powder, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times. Start adding soymilk in, about 1 tbsp. at a time, until the flour forms a dough. Take out of the food processor and kneed several times, adding a little more flour if the dough is wet. Form the dough into a ball and let sit while you prepare the sauce.
3. Drain the hazelnuts and place in the blender with all the other ingredients for the sauce. Blend until it is smooth, and then taste, adjusting the flavors if necessary.
4. Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil and return to the pasta. Divide the dough into 8 even pieces and use a pasta maker to roll out thinly (you can use a rolling pin, but it will be a lot more work). Cut your noodles using the fettuccini setting (or just use a knife to cut into fairly thin strips) and set the noodles aside. When the noodles are all ready, place in the boiling water until they start to rise to the top (this should only take a minute or so), then drain.
5. Serve the pasta with the hazelnut cream sauce on top, garnished with cilantro, lime slices, hazelnuts and chili powder.