Week Night Yum Yum: Wild Mushroom Pappardelle
Friday, January 7, 2011
I love taking advantage of the insanely good mushrooms starting to sprout out about now. Late fall, winter, and late spring are optimal mushroom months, and now stores and even local large-chain super markets are starting to carry the more "exotic" variety. The common mushroom we all know and see is the tasteless white button mushroom. Aptly named, it's small and white and the quintessential mushroom shape, with a rounded top like a button. Similar to the white button is the baby bella, also known by their original Italian name, cremini. They look similar in size and shape to the white buttons but are darker brown. In fact, these are the baby versions of their adult size, the meaty and nutritious portabella mushroom. Often served whole with its hard stem removed, it can substitute quite nicely for a burger patty for a vegetarian option or be sliced up thinly for a wonderfully flavorful mushroom bruschetta.
These are your basic, easy-to-find mushrooms that you know and most likely have eaten before.
But there are more, especially now...
The oyster mushroom is wonderfully delicate -- they grow usually on the trunks of trees and sort of look like oyster shells, and their tops are fluted out like an oyster's meat. They have a silky texture to them and finer, mild mushroom flavor than say its portabella counterparts. Popular in Asian cuisines, they also yield nicely to European flavors (garlic, herbs, olive oil, butter, etc.) but because of their subtle flavor, it's best not to go overboard with strong flavors or heavy sauces to mask their delicateness. The Japanese shiitake mushroom is wonderfully meaty, has a strong earthy flavor, and one of my all-time favorite mushrooms. In fact, I'd venture to say it is my most favorite mushroom. The stems must be removed as they are very, very tough and hard to eat (although still edible -- just unpleasant to be gnawing on a tough stem) and the beige-brown caps are wonderfully tender. Shiitakes crisp up the best out of all the mushrooms I've ever seen, so if you're thinking of doing a saute of some type, I highly recommend mixing in some sliced shiitakes. They caramelize beautifully and get a nice, slightly sweet flavor to them when sauteed in butter or olive oil especially. They also pair very well with most flavor profiles, from garlic and rosemary on the Italian spectrum to soy sauce and ginger on the Asian one. Chanterelles look slightly similar to oyster mushrooms on the tops but have longer stems, making them look a little like fancy champagne flutes. The tems are very tender and don't need to be removed before eating, and the tops are also quite tender and delicate but a little stronger than the oyster mushroom. They also have a milder flavor but a bit stronger than the oyster mushroom. Their texture can stand up well to sauteing as well, and offer a nice softer texture when combined with stronger mushrooms like the shiitake or cremini. Chanterelles I've found pair just beautifully with herbs, especially fresh rosemary and thyme.
Other mushrooms like the woodear or trumpet mushrooms are a little harder to come by and have more specific cooking techniques for them. For example, the woodear is not that pleasant raw, and is best served in soups (commonly found in the Asian hot and sour soup in fact) or dried and used as a topping or garnish. Morels are even more difficult to find raw and if you can, they are terribly expensive. They yield a fantastic rich flavor like a cross between mild truffles and meaty mushrooms, are very earthy, and pairs beautifully with chicken, garlic, and cream but they are extremely expensive to buy enough of to make a dish out of. You can find them dried and reconstitute them, but it's not the same and I personally wouldn't bother.
So given the abundance of mushrooms you have to work with, you can make a very quick and tasty dinner using a combination of mushrooms, some good olive oil and fresh herbs, garlic, and good pasta. I've been in love lately with pappardelle pasta -- it's a wide egg noodle you can make very easily from scratch in no time (think lasagna sheets but longer and cut into strips) or easy to find dried. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods carry good pappardelle. I prefer it with meatier and thicker toppings like bolognese or this recipe for wild mushrooms. It makes for a filling and substantive dinner, and pairs beautifully with some blanched asparagus on the side sprinkled with a little fleur de sel. Mushrooms also pair perfectly with Romano cheese as opposed to Parmesan -- the nuttier romano compliments the earthy flavor from the mushrooms. And the classic lemony thyme brightens the dish while earthy rosemary gives aroma and depth of flavor to round it all out. This dish literally comes together in under 30 minutes and is a perfect way to celebrate both winter, the healthy and underutilized mushroom, and to get you a fast and delicious meal during the week. Enjoy!
Wild Mushroom Pappardelle
1 lb mixed wild mushrooms -- recommend combination of shiitake, chanterelles, and crimini
2-3 cipollini onions, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, leaves removed from stem
1 (8 oz) bag dried pappardelle pasta
romano cheese for garnish
splash of heavy cream (optional)
Remove the stems from the shiitakes and discard. Slice the caps about 1/8 inch thick. Slice the creminis and chanterelles also in similar widths so they all can cook evenly (no need to remove the stems on the creminis or chanterelles). Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling, season with a good amount of salt (about a small palmful/1/4 cup worth) and add pasta all at once. Stir with tongs or pasta spoon and cook 12 minutes or according to package directions.
While the pasta water comes to a boil, prepare the mushrooms. Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large saute pan until hot but not smoking. Add the cipollini onions all at once and season with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Saute stirring occasionally until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and coat with the olive oil. The mushrooms will soak up the oil, so add more if needed (amount of oil they soak up will depend on what mushrooms you're using and how much). Season again with a good pinch of salt (about 1/2 tsp) and lots of black pepper (about 1/2-3/4 tsp) and stir to combine. Let mushrooms and onions caramelize, so stir only very occasionally, allowing the sides to crisp up and get brown but not burn. Once the mushrooms and onions are caramelized, add the garlic, rosemary and thyme, and cook another 2 minutes stirring often. Don't worry if the dish starts to crackle -- that's the water in the herbs coming into contact with the hot oil...this is normal and will stop after 30 seconds. Mushrooms are now done so remove from heat while pasta finishes cooking. At this point if you wanted extra richness you could add a splash of heavy cream if desired.
Once pasta is done, transfer pasta direction out of the pot and into the mushroom mixture without draining it first -- the starchy water will help thicken the mushroom "sauce" so leave it. Using tongs, gently toss the pasta with the mushrooms until combined. Top with a generous grating of romano cheese and serve immediately.