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Posts Tagged ‘scallions’

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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Every time I try a new Chinese restaurant, I scan the menu hopefully for scallion pancakes. I love them, but it’s hard to find good ones. Too often they’re thick, doughy, with too little scallion flavor. It finally occurred to me that I should try making them myself. I have two Chinese cookbooks with scallion pancake recipes. One turned me off by specifying western brand names for flour and vegetable shortening. The other looked more authentic, so I chose it.

The book is Dim Sum and Other Chinese Street Food, by Mai Leung. I’ve had good luck with another of her cookbooks, and I was intrigued by the drawings in this one demonstrating the strange technique for shaping Chung Yao Bing, or Crisp Scallion Cakes. I was also heartened by the fact that the recipe called for lard, not tasteless vegetable shortening.

Preparing the cakes was a gloriously messy process, with drifts of flour all over my kitchen counter. It starts with a very soft flour-water dough. The pieces rolled out easily to 11-inch circles. The first tricky step was to, “with your fingers,” evenly spread a tablespoon of lard on each circle. My lard, even though I’d taken it out of the refrigerator to soften hours before, persisted in glomming onto my fingers, not smoothing over the dough. (Next time I’ll try melting it, letting it just reach room temperature, and painting it on with a brush.) But I wrestled it into sort-of submission and sprinkled on chopped scallions.

Now, the recipe had me: (1) rolling the circle into a tight, narrow cylinder; (2) twisting it “like a rope”; (3) holding it vertically on the work surface and squishing it down into a lumpy round; and (4) rolling that out into a 10-inch cake. This last was not easy. The twists made the dough very resistant to manipulation, and the scallions kept trying to break out of their coating.  Using scads of flour, my heaviest rolling pin, and a lot of muscle power, I managed to achieve 9-inch circles.

Twisting the cylinder

Squishing it down

From there, it was easy. I fried the cakes in shallow peanut oil until they were a nice golden brown on both sides. Well, “nice golden brown” may not be quite the phrase: spotty golden brown would be more accurate.

I wonder if my glommy distribution of the lard was what caused them to look so chicken-poxed. However that might be, the cakes were delicious, with bright scallion flavor.  (All but the one on which I neglected to spread lard. That showed how important the fat is to this recipe – the cake without it was leaden, tough, bland.) They were in fact thin and crisp, not as thickly pancake-y as the ones I’ve had in restaurants. A dipping sauce of soy and hot oil made them even tastier.

I may never qualify as a competent dim sum chef, but I certainly had fun making this recipe and eating the results.  It’s the kind of food you first get your hands into and later onto: good stuff.

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