During a recent visit to the lovely St. Regis Aspen in the Colorado Rockies, the hotel’s signature restaurant Trecento Quindici Decano wasn’t yet open for the season, although Chef David Viviano and his staff were already onsite to prepare. They were also kind enough to host a cooking class on a snowy afternoon in the restaurant’s kitchen.
Chef is pleasant and easy to converse with, telling about his time at St. Regis Princeville, and about how much his family likes living in Aspen. He also shares a little of the St. Regis brand messaging: Trecento Quindici Decano is Italian for 315 Dean, the address of the hotel. It’s a St. Regis brand standard to promote the address of the hotel as the “best in town”. The dining room itself is certainly befitting the address, done up in a fanciful mix of comforting woodland tones with some purple and pink accents that perhaps suggest ideas of fire and ice higher up the nearby mountain slope.
Chef goes on to tell about how the resort makes some parts of the meal interactive for families. Younger guests can make their own pizza or design their own sugar cookie which bakes while their parents wait for their own meal. The restaurant is open from 7 AM to 2 PM daily, reopening for dinner at 6 until 10 Sunday through Thursday; until 11 Friday and Saturday. Reservations are suggested by calling (970) 429-9644.
The lesson starts off with an Insalata of Tuscan kale and shaved Brussels sprouts. The star here is the Orange Honey Vinaigrette. Chef explains that he uses both extra virgin olive oil and regular salad oil for the vinaigrette because olive oil is really better by itself; in a vinaigrette using it alone has a tendency to make the whole dressing bitter. 16 ounces of orange juice is reduced by half and cooled, and mixed with 4 ounces white balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of honey, 12 ounces salad oil, 12 ounces extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Chef tastes during the whisking; nope, too “bright” he says, more oil. One really shouldn’t pucker after trying a vinaigrette; it should be a pleasant mix of oil and acidity. That’s tossed into the salad which is a pleasing green nest of 2 ounces kale done chiffonade, 2 ounces shaved Brussels sprouts, one ounce toasted pine nuts, and one ounce currants. That gets topped with freshly grated Pecorino “snow”. Because the kale and Brussels sprouts are hearty and hold up so well after being dressed, this is a good make-ahead for a crowd.
“You’ve plated before, haven’t you?” he asks, after noticing the almost perfectly round softball of greens centered perfectly in the middle of the plate.
“Oh yes, absolutely.” Food & Beverage training at the Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV still sticks a decade later.
Beginning the pasta
Next Chef demonstrates the scratch pasta making process, explaining that the dryness of the climate in Aspen requires some tweaks to make sure the dough is moist enough. In Aspen it’s four cups “OO” flour to three cups semolina flour, six eggs and 20 egg yolks, and a teaspoon of salt. In a hurry one uses the dough hook attachment on the Kitchenaid mixer, but Chef prefers to make a well in the center of the mound of flour and mix the dough by hand.
Pasta machine magic
The dough chills for at least 30 minutes, but typically overnight, to give the flour time to absorb the moisture, and to give the gluten time to activate. That gets put through the pasta machine to roll it out uniformly flat so the cheese mixture can be piped in.
Filling the agnolotti
Off camera, the mornay filling is started with a roux (4 cups of flour and 4 cups butter melted in a saucepan). Add 4 cups warm whole milk while whisking until reaching consistency of a bechamel. Whisk in one cup parmesan, one cup gruyere, and cook until melted. Season with a teaspoon each of nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. That’s cooled and put into a pastry bag, then piped onto the pasta in one long cord.
Making the sauce
After the filling is piped in, the agnolotti gets sealed (careful to ensure there are no air bubbles around the filling), and pinched into one inch purses, then cut into parcels. Those go into boiling, salted water for about 45 seconds. Meanwhile, 2 ounces of heavy cream is brought to a boil in a small saucepan, adding 2 ounces unsalted cubed butter (similar to the process for making a beurre blanc) and whisking to emulsify. Add one ounce white truffle oil and salt and pepper to taste, then toss in the agnolotti to coat. After a taste, Chef announced the truffle wasn’t as apparent as it might have been, but instead of adding more truffle oil he added salt to bring out the flavor of the truffle (too much truffle can be overpowering).
Italian breadcrumbs top the finished product. Heat three tablespoons each butter and olive oil in a sauté pan, add five sprigs of thyme, a cup of panko and sauté until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and toss in two tablespoons each of parsley, chives, and salt to taste. The agnolotti get plated with some extra sauce spooned on top and covered with the bread crumbs. Chef Viviano talks about how this recipe was a big hit at the Aspen Mac and Cheese Festival. In November 2014 the hotel sold several versions of mac and cheese by the pound to benefit their counterparts at Starwood properties in Los Cabos who were affected by Hurricane Odile. This recipe is unbeatable, really getting its richness from the truffle oil.