Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ode to a Mushroom...

So, I watched Il Postino the other night. Just like every other time I’ve watched it, the film left me a) wanting to move to a remote island off the Italian peninsula, b) even more in love with the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and c) craving a nice, big bowl of pasta. Unfortunately, this blog is not the appropriate forum to discuss issues A and B.
Issue C, however, prompted me to create this nest of autumnal, mushroomy goodness. Unlike classic fettucine carbonara which I usually make with some combination of pancetta, fresh peas and mushrooms, the selection of freshly foraged fungus at the market stalls convinced me that the little guys should really be the focal point of the dish. To make this dish really knock your mushroom-loving socks off, I would suggest pushing the boat out and going for some exciting combination of chantrelles, oysters, shitakes or baby porcinis. However, I was completely satisfied with the results I got here.

The trick is to cook the mushrooms on low heat for as long as possible to allow for maximum flavor and earthiness, about 35 minutes. I also deglazed the sauté pan once or twice with some white wine I *happened* to be holding in my non-stirring hand, which coincidentally added to the overall flavor of the final product. I would also like to experiment with some other types of big pasta—I’m sure pappardelle would be amazing.
Happy fungusing.
Mushroom Carbonara
3 cups mushrooms (preferably wild), sliced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
Handful parsley, chopped roughly
½ lb dried pasta such as fettucine, linguine or papparedelle
1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks
1/3 cup single cream
½ cup parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the oil and butter. When bubbling, throw in the mushrooms and stir to coat. Meanwhile, set a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
Allow the mushrooms to sauté about 20 minutes, stirring only occasionally to allow caramelization. Add salt, a few twists of fresh ground black pepper and the chopped garlic. Deglaze with the wine. Continue to cook the mushrooms until they are browned and all the moisture is cooked off.
Add dried pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Whisk together the eggs and cream and set aside. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss it with the mushrooms. Pour in the egg and cream mixture, the parmesan and parsley. Toss well to ensure that the hot pasta cooks the eggs. Serve with a healthy shake of fresh black pepper.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Nothing Special

The fact is: you have to eat. Unfortunately, meals can’t always be glamorous and extravagant, but they can always be delicious. This recipe for oven-roasted vegetables and couscous salad is great for when you want maximum flavor and nourishment but have minimal desire to slave away. I eat it at least once a week. Euan calls it Couscous Delight and has his drizzled with balsamic whereas I prefer a grating of parmesan and a twist of black pepper over the top. So it’s not that original. But the sheer variety of recipes out there combined with the flexibility to combine just about whatever vegetables you can get your hands on makes this one a great standby. Take comfort in simplicity. Mark Bittman would be proud of me.

Oven-Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad
1 cup couscous (I use wholewheat)
¾ cup vegetable stock, boiling hot
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped fresh vegetables, such as carrots, onions, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, sweet potato, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. (you get the idea…)
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/190 degrees C. Prep your vegetables, making sure they are chopped to about equal bite-sized pieces. Place in an oven-proof dish, combine with the garlic and pepper flakes. Season to taste and drizzle with the olive oil, mixing everything together with your hands. Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Take a break and watch half an hour of TV.
Place the couscous in a serving bowl and pour over the hot stock. Cover and let stand for 4-5 minutes. Combine with the roasted vegetables and toss. Serves 2 lazy but hungry people.