Roast duck, render fat for purposeful pappardelle

Turkey tetrazzini aside, poultry and pasta aren’t the most natural companions.

Sure, I’ve had my share of roast chicken stuffed inside and tossed with various noodles, but the meat usually seems like a concession to palates that aren’t primed for pork products. It’s the latter’s fat that makes all the difference in concocting flavorful sauces that adhere to pasta without a lot of dairy products.

That’s where duck, promoted in this blog’s previous post, can outmaneuver pork in the pasta department. Owing to its substantial fat layer, duck produces a laudable amount of fat that can be reserved and then reused like bacon drippings. The meat is moister than most other poultry with a texture that resists becoming stringy. And like pork, its slightly sweet savor suits it to fruit, including dried types.

Prunes, in my opinion, are highly underrated and underutilized in savory dishes. They’re a clever contrast in the following recipe to bitter root vegetables and radicchio, enhanced with duck.

Duck confit, for cooks with a convenient retail source of that commodity, makes this a weeknight meal. I would consider this dish among my goals for roasting a duck and making the most of leftovers, including the rendered fat. Instead of sautéing in bacon fat or oil, I would reach for duck fat.

I also would pare down the number of ingredients in the following recipe, which verges on a laundry list. Three purposeful items are plenty to toss with pasta, in my opinion, although I don’t include aromatics like onions and garlic, nor herbs, in that count.

Because the root vegetables make for a heavier dish, I would try eliminating them from the following recipe, sticking with the radicchio for the requisite bitter note, supported by toasted walnuts. I also find red onion unnecessary here, when garlic already is in the mix. The onion’s flavor and texture, particularly when sliced, is redundant with the radicchio.

Should you decide to use the turnips, recipe testers for the Chicago Tribune recommend par-cooking in the microwave, which cut the cooking time and tames their sharp taste. Parsnips, rutabaga, small new potatoes or daikon radish also can stand in for the turnips, each subtly transforming the dish.

Tribune News Service photo

Pappardelle With Duck, Golden Turnips and Prunes

2 medium turnips (about 9 ounces total), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice to measure about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup diced pitted prunes or raisins or currants

1 (16-ounce) package duck leg confit or 2 cups shredded smoked chicken, roast pork or grilled steak

3 tablespoons bacon drippings or olive oil

1/2 large red onion, peeled and finely sliced

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

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

1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups cup torn radicchio or very thinly sliced red cabbage

1/2 package (16 to 17 ounces) pappardelle pasta, or long egg noodles about ½ inch wide

Large shreds of pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)

Chopped, fresh parsley and chives, for garnish

Put the diced turnips into a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and cover tightly. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until tender, for about 4 minutes. Drain.

Put the prunes or alternate ingredient into a small dish; add very hot water to barely cover. Let stand.

Scrape fat and juices off the duck legs into a bowl. Remove duck skin and reserve it for another use. Pull meat from bones into large shreds. You’ll have about 2 cups shredded meat.

Heat the bacon drippings or oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet. Add the onion, and cook until golden, for about 4 minutes. Stir in drained turnips, and cook until golden, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth, any duck juices, prunes and their soaking liquid and the thyme. Boil hard for 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and stir in the radicchio.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot full of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (a little toothsome to the bite), for about 6 or 7 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Drain pasta, and add it to skillet along with duck shreds. Set pan over medium heat. Toss to coat pasta with sauce, adding dribbles of reserved cooking liquid to moisten throughout.

Serve topped with the shreds of cheese, chopped walnuts and fresh herbs.

Makes 6 servings.

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