Frances Mayes’ Tagliatelle with Duck Confit and Chestnuts

Would you believe this pasta dish came together in less than half an hour?
Would you believe this pasta dish came together in less than half an hour?

In Italy, some folks eat pasta not merely every day, but twice a day.

In Tuscany, construction workers will even stop work at lunch to cook up a bowl of plain spaghetti on-site with olive oil and Parmigiano.

So writes Frances Mayes in the introduction to her new cookbook, “Pasta Veloce” (Abrams, 2023), of which I received a review copy.

Those are my kind of people. Because I love pasta — not just for its comforting taste, but its ease and versatility.

Mayes famously restored a Tuscan villa and wrote a best-selling memoir about it, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” that was turned into a movie. She wrote the cookbook with Susan Wyler, a registered dietitian who is a former editor at Food & Wine magazine.

It’s a collection of pasta recipes that take 30 minutes or less. They’re unfussy, providing inspiration for combining ingredients confidently. Tuck into “Farfelle with Beets in Goat Cheese Sauce,” “Casarecce with Shishito Peppers, Anchovies, Tomatoes, and Ricotta Salata,” “Glittering Angel Hair with Golden Caviar,” and “Penne Rigate with Lamb, Roasted Peppers, and Olives.”

I took the easy way out and used prepared chestnuts.
I took the easy way out and used prepared chestnuts.

At first glance, “Tagliatelle with Duck Confit and Chestnuts” seems like it would break that 30-minute preparation time. But nope. It’s a breeze if you buy the duck confit, which you can find at butcher shops or gourmet grocery stores. If you can’t find fresh chestnuts easily to roast then peel, you can always use already prepared ones sold in vacuum-sealed bags.

From there, it’s just a matter of shredding the duck confit. You can save the fat to roast potatoes or carrots in later, and the duck skin to crisp up to add crunch on top.

The sauce is an inspired mix of brewed coffee, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and thyme that gets enriched with cold butter. It gets reduced slightly before adding in the duck confit and chestnuts. I cut some of the larger chestnuts in half, but you can leave them whole, if you prefer.

Supple, egg tagliatelle.
Supple, egg tagliatelle.

Boil tagliatelle, and when barely al dente, add the eggy noodles to the pan with the sauce, giving everything a good toss.

The pasta will pretty much absorb every drop of sauce, adding caramel and umami notes to complement the earthiness of the duck and starchy, nuttiness of the chestnuts.

Even with 8 ounces of pasta, it’s a hearty enough dish to serve 4, especially with a salad or bread alongside.

Enjoy with a glass of Petit Sirah.
Enjoy with a glass of Petit Sirah.

This is a hearty, wintery dish that’s at once rustic yet also a little elegant. Try pairing it with the 2019 Adaptation Petit Sirah Napa Valley ($62), of which I received a sample, that’s from the PlumpJack family of wineries.

Inky purple in the glass, this 100 percent Petit Sirah has a voluptuous full body. It expresses tastes of blackberries, violets, fennel, cocoa, and, yes, coffee, making it an ideal match for this cup-of-joe-infused pasta that’s plenty perky but won’t keep you up at night.

The 2019 Adaptation Petit Sirah is made for this dish.
The 2019 Adaptation Petit Sirah is made for this dish.

Tagliatelle with Duck Confit and Chestnuts

(Serves 4)

8 ounces tagliatelle

1/2 cup medium roast brewed coffee

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon turbinado or light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 teaspoon dried

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 duck confit legs (about 5 ounces/140 grams each), coarsely shredded, skin and fat removed

6 1/2 to 7 ounces (about 200 grams) cooked peeled chestnuts

Sprigs of fresh thyme or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the tagliatelle until just barely al dente, 4 to 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, combine the coffee, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the duck and chestnuts to the sauce and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to heat through.

Using tongs, transfer the pasta along with the water that clings to it to the sauce. Toss to mix. Simmer for another minute. If the dish seems too dry, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Serve at once, garnished with thyme sprigs or chopped parsley.

From “Pasta Veloce” by Frances Mayes and Susan Wyler

More: Frances Mayes’ Estate Olive Oil

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