Posts Tagged ‘linguine’

When it comes to pasta, I’m a traditionalist. I don’t approve of restaurant chefs who need to vaunt their “creativity” with dishes whose ingredients have never before encountered each other on a plate. There’s a reason some pasta combinations are classics: they work! But even a cranky person like me can occasionally appreciate something new.

This time it came about because Tom noticed that a farm stand at our Greenmarket was featuring boxes of very fresh, small king oyster mushrooms.



He couldn’t resist them. We’d had ordinary oyster mushrooms before, but not this different variety, which have been available locally only in much larger, stemmier sizes. I looked them up in Elizabeth Schneider’s magisterial Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini to see if they needed any special handling. The answer was yes: moist cooking to tenderize the very dense flesh.

Then I needed a recipe to make them with, so I did an Internet search for recipes using oyster mushrooms. The description of this one attracted me: “Oyster mushrooms are poached in butter and cream and tossed with pasta, Parmesan cheese and green onions.” Obviously, that’s not a classic Italian pasta preparation, but there was a reason I decided to try it: I happened to have a lot of scallions in the refrigerator.



My faithful knife man cut the mushrooms into small pieces, which I was to sauté for six minutes in butter, adding parsley, salt, and pepper for the last minute. Apparently if they had been the common oyster mushroom, as in the recipe, they’d have been tender by that point, but these sturdier ones weren’t yet.



When I poured on the recipe’s amount of heavy cream, I could see that it wasn’t going to be enough liquid for poaching, so I took it on myself to add a little broth.



Next I was to cook the mixture “at a gentle boil” for about five minutes, until the sauce thickened slightly. I was concerned that doing so might dry up the sauce and toughen the mushrooms, so instead I covered the pan and simmered it until the mushrooms were tender. The sauce didn’t thicken much, but I didn’t consider that a problem.

I set the mushroom pan aside while I cooked the pasta – linguine, as recommended – and chopped up two of my many scallions. I finished the dish right in the pan of sauce, tossing in the drained pasta, the scallions, and a few tablespoons of grated parmigiano.



I really hadn’t been expecting much, especially with the scallions going in raw at the end like that, but to our great pleasure everything came together extremely well. The linguine absorbed a good amount of the sauce, leaving the dish just moist enough. The mushrooms were delicious – the caps tasting noticeably different from and even better than the stems. The scallions also made a real contribution to the harmony of flavors, aromas, and textures.

I still wouldn’t call this an Italian dish, but it certainly was a good one. Guess I have to admit that the “classics” don’t have an exclusive lock on excellent pasta combinations.

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It’s sad when an old friend lets you down. This week, still in my older-books mode, I went looking for recipes in Jack Scott’s The Complete Book of Pasta. I bought it when it came out in 1968, five years before Marcella Hazan appeared on the culinary scene and started a great change in Italian cooking in American homes. Scott’s was a wonderful book to us then. (Tom simply drooled over its centerfold, shown below.) It gave us some recipes that have been favorites ever since. But many other Italian cookbooks have joined my collection since then, so I hadn’t gone back to it for anything new in years. Alas, it was not a good idea.

First I tried linguine allegre – translated as lively linguine with anchovies. It’s actually a mongrel sort of sauce. You sauté anchovies, celery, red bell pepper, capers, olives, basil, parsley, and garlic in butter and olive oil. Stir this mixture into a simple tomato sauce and simmer it all for 40 minutes. Now, all those flavors are good, but having so many of them cook together for so long blurred their distinctions and didn’t produce any synergy. As opposed to the Spanish recipes I wrote about two weeks ago, in this case the whole seemed like less than the sum of its parts.

An oddity was a direction to cook the linguine with less than the usual amount of salt in the water because of the saltiness of the anchovies. I think you’d need a fantastically sensitive palate for that to make a difference.

Well, I said to myself, even Homer nods. Let’s try another one.

Tagliolini freschi con carote, or fresh noodles with carrots, caught my eye because carrots aren’t often a featured companion to pasta. In fact, that name ignores two other principal ingredients: sliced mushrooms and julienne strips of prosciutto, quickly sautéed in butter and oil with the diced, precooked carrots. It sounded as if it’d be very nice on homemade egg noodles.

It was nice enough, but there wasn’t anywhere near enough of it. The recipe called for 6 mushrooms, 4 carrots, and 8 slices of prosciutto. The only liquid was ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water, added to the sauté pan at the end. This was supposed to be enough to dress 1½ pounds of fresh egg noodles. Fortunately, I doubted that, so I cooked only half as much pasta. Even so, there were still a lot of nearly naked noodles on the plates, with hardly any flavor of the other ingredients.

The recipe also called for grated parmigiano to be passed at the table, but trying a little on one forkful seemed only to emphasize the dryness of the dish. It did need salt and pepper, which weren’t mentioned in the recipe at all. Overall, another disappointment.

I almost feel guilty to think that this book, which gave me so much pleasure in the past, now seems to be so unrewarding. But a lot has happened since 1968. Many trips to Italy have exposed me to wonderful regional pasta preparations. I’ve published 60 of my own pasta recipes in my two cookbooks and enjoyed many more from books by other people that have appeared over the years. There’s far more access to excellent Italian ingredients and more knowledge of how to bring out the best in them. So dishes that were once new and exciting now have a lot of powerful palatal competition. I guess, as the philosopher Zeno didn’t quite say, you can never dip a ladle into the same tomato sauce twice.

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