You know that great Tuscan chicken liver paté, the one you spread onto warm crostini and sometimes garnish with a scattering of chopped sage? Yes, I love it too. I make it for parties. It’s one of those preparations that look fancy but are truly easy. For my version, I sauté the chicken livers in olive oil and butter, then add anchovy, shallot, capers, sometimes garlic and juniper berries, sage, and then a splash of cognac or grappa, and maybe Marsala or vermouth, too. Then into the food processor it goes. The resulting smooth paste I spoon into a pretty bowl and let rest for a few hours, so all the elements can blend and the texture become velvety. I love this mix of flavors so much I was recently compelled to use it in another way, and a pasta dish was born.
I deconstructed the paté, upping its onion family component to use as a soffrito for my sauce. I sautéed the livers separately, to keep them pinker than you would for a paté, but added more booze and broth to my soffrito, making sure the pasta would be well coated. I went easy on the sage, which, we all know, can give off a musty taste if overdone. In fact, I added a touch of rosemary to balance things out.
I’m really happy with this pasta. I hope you are too. It feels like winter to me.
Cavatelli with Chicken Livers, Soft Onion, Marsala, and Capers
(Serves 4 as a main course pasta)
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 really large Vidalia onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 anchovy fillets, minced (high-quality oil-packed is best for this)
2 large sprigs rosemary, the leaves chopped
2 juniper berries, crushed
¼ cup dry Marsala
¾ cup homemade or high-quality purchased chicken broth
1 pound cavatelli pasta
1 pound organic chicken livers, trimmed and cut into approximately ½ inch lobes
A splash of cognac
About 8 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
A big palmful of capers (preferably salt-packed Sicilian ones)
The zest from 1 lemon
A chunk of grana Padano cheese
Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil.
In the meantime, put a large skillet over a medium flame and heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion, and let it soften for about 6 minutes. Turn the heat down a bit if the onion starts to brown too much. Now add the garlic, anchovy, rosemary, and juniper berries. Add a pinch of salt (very little, because of the anchovies) and black pepper. Let the mix sauté for about 3 minutes or so, to release all the flavors.
Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Now add the chicken broth, and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce reduces a bit. It should still be a little brothy.
Add salt to the pasta water, and drop in the cavatelli.
Set up a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is good) over high heat. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Dry off the livers. When the oil and butter are really hot, add the livers to the skillet. Brown them on one side, give them a turn, and brown the other side. This should take only a few minutes. You want them to stay pink inside. Be careful when turning them, as they can spit and pop. Now add a splash of cognac, and let it burn off. It may flame up (I love that), so stand back a bit.
Add the livers to the onion sauce. Add the sage, capers, and lemon zest.
When the cavatelli is al dente, pour it into a serving bowl, leaving a little water clinging to it. Add the chicken liver sauce and about a tablespoon of grated grana Padano. Toss and taste for seasoning. Bring the rest of the cheese to the table.