White Truffles: Oh, my…

In Oregon’s emerging truffle industry, I feel like a newcomer to the party.   Admittedly, this truffle season I finally experienced my first cooking session with these quirky characters, legendary for their aphrodisiacal attributes.

At my local Roth’s market, I spotted a small collection of the knotted balls of excess on display, marked $199 lb.  According to “D”, our produce manager, the white truffles were provided by a reliable local purveyor who’s very tight lipped about their actual location in the wild.  At that price, he should be.

Oregon White Truffle

Oregon White Truffle

“D” suggested shaving them over a light pasta dish.  With white truffles, it seems much of their musky ephemeral garlic-like attributes are linked to their aroma, which can be fairly fleeting.  Thus, peppering the top of the dish, allows the most extreme up-close-and-personal olfactory sensation.  Since the heat of the pasta would cause the aroma to drift upward, salad would be deferred to a later date.

Truffles have an affinity to butter and cream, too.  Many of the dishes from Italy’s Piedmont region and specifically Alba, where truffles go for thousands of dollars a pound, are prepared quite simply.  Often pasta is tossed in a butter sauce seasoned with Parmesan.  Fresh truffle is then shaved on lavishly in front of the salivating guest.

My solution was a little different.  I took my old Pasta Carbonara, deleted the bacon, sautéed local mushrooms in a small amount of butter, tossed in the hot pasta, and added raw egg with Parmesan cheese to make a light sauce.

Pasta with White Truffle

Pasta with White Truffle

Into the bowls it all went.  A razor-sharp grater of some sort is necessary to shave truffles as thin as possible: my handy garlic shaver worked like a pro.  Oh, my…

Mushroom Carbonara with Truffles

3 Tbsp. butter, or part EVOO
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, flattened
6 oz. wild or domestic mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2-3 leaves sage, chopped, or 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 lb. linguine, cooked in salted boiling water until al dente; reserve 1 cup pasta water
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 white truffle, gently wiped clean

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter, add the shallot and garlic and cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, herbs, salt and pepper, and sauté until the mushrooms soften and begin to release their juices.  Remove the garlic.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add half of the Parmesan cheese.
  3. Over moderate heat, add the hot pasta to the mushroom mixture.  Reduce heat, pour the egg-cheese mixture over the pasta and toss to coat well.  It will make its own sauce and have shiny appearance, if it looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  Sprinkle in the remaining Parmesan cheese and a grinding of freshly ground pepper.  Portion into pasta bowls. At the table, shave fresh truffle over the tops of the pasta.  Serves 4

One-Pot Pasta: No Sauce Required

Here’s a one-pot pasta dish that creates its own remarkable sauce in less than 20 minutes―while the pasta and its cohorts burble away.   Serious pasta lovers may scoff at the unconventional approach, but it actually works.

This clever Martha Stewart recipe is quite similar to Pesto Soup, a popular vegetable soup I have made for years.  It starts with fresh vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and either fresh or canned tomatoes.  All of this is simmered in a large amount of salted boiling water until nearly tender; pasta is then added and cooked until al dente. The bland mess is poured into a large bowl where it is miraculously transformed by plenty of pesto sauce and freshly grated cheese. No stock required; still delicious.

In this case, no sauce is required to make this easy satisfying pasta dish.  Cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, a generous amount of garlic, fresh basil, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and linguine are all brought to a boil with 4 ½ cups of water.  In about 9 minutes most of the water has evaporated, and it is done.  To serve, it is spooned into bowls and finished with more fresh basil, a bit more olive oil, and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Since I am bad at following directions, mine took a slight turn. I had vermicelli on hand, which cooks much quicker (4 minutes).  I decided to make this a real one-pot-meal and ramp up the vegetable factor by including zucchini and a pepper. I sautéed them ahead, along with the onion and garlic, and set it aside, reasoning a quick sauté would seal in their flavors and further enhance their sweetness.

The primary ingredients were placed in the pot, when it reached a boil  the sautéed vegetables were included, and then the pasta worked its own magic by emitting just enough starch to thicken the liquid. The quick sauté may add an extra step or two, but the lively flavors brought out in the process make it well worth the effort.  On the finish, I stirred in a handful of grated cheese just before pulling the pan off the stove.one pot pasta pot

Granted, the 4 minute vermicelli threw off my timing factor with the necessary water reduction―which could have been rectified by using a little less water, perhaps 4 cups. In spite of cooking longer than necessary to reduce the sauce, the pasta was neither flabby nor gummy.  I’d  recommend tossing a small handful of cheese into the pot’s sauce while it’s still on the stove. The additional nutty creaminess brings everything together in one happy mouthful!

one pot pastaMy revised version follows, which includes the quick vegetable sauté step and extra cheese addition.

If you are thinking about a salad, consider lining the bowls with young spinach or other hearty field greens, top them with the hot pasta, and let everyone toss away.

At the table, be sure and have extra virgin olive and a good quality grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Add a rustic, crusty bread and you have all the makings for a fun and relaxed meal.

One-Pot Pasta

Inspired by Linguine with Tomato and Basil in One Pot, From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients

1 tbsp      olive oil
1              onion, thinly sliced
4              cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1              pepper of choice: red, Hungarian, Anaheim, etc.
1              zucchini, cut up
12 oz       linguine
12 oz       cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1/2 tsp     red pepper flakes
2 sprigs    basil, fresh
1 tbsp      olive oil
2 tsps      salt
1/4 tsp     pepper
4 ½ cups  water
1/2 cup     grated Parmigiano Reggiano
For garnish:  fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Method

  1. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add the onion, garlic, zucchini, and pepper; briefly sauté. When softened, remove from pan.
  2. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pot, break the pasta in half and add it briefly tossing to coat and color slightly.  Add all remaining ingredients through the water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring pasta frequently, until al dente and the water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes. Add ½ cup cheese, stirring to combine well. Taste for seasoning, add more salt or pepper as needed.
  3. To serve, garnish with more basil, olive oil and cheese. Serves 4

Adult Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other:  cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.

Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire!  How perfect!  An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.Penne and Cauliflower

But was this workable in my tiny kitchen?  Too ambitious?  Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…

grater

Two-sided grater

The following items would be needed for prep and cooking

  • 1 quart pan
  • Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
  • 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
  • Small two-sided grater
  • 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
  • 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage

Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase

  1. Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
  2. Boil the pasta.  Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente.  If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
  3. Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.

Yes, I could pull this off.  I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…

And I wasn’t disappointed:  creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower.  Penne, Caul and SaladThe crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor.  A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese

Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley

Ingredients
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
Cheese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
Breadcrumb Topping
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
Directions

  1. Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften.  Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps.  Add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf.  Simmer briefly to blend flavors.  Set aside, can be made ahead.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.  Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process.  The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish.  For bread crumbs:  Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
  4. Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.

Crespelle Redux

More on my previous manicotti post with crespelle, those endearing Italian crepes.

Last night about 7PM I started thinking about dinner possibilities.  I had previously pulled a small stack of crespelle  out of the freezer from my crepe making binge, and left them to defrost on the counter.  I was impressed, even stacked together they separated and were in perfect condition to go another round.

Peeking around the fridge, I spotted a cup or more of the delicious ricotta-Hatch pepper manicotti filling  plus just enough Bolognaise Sauce for a few more manicotti.  I quickly filled and rolled the pasta-like sheets, covered them with sauce, and sprinkled a bit of grated Parmesan on the top.  In no time, dinner was ready to be heated up.  But I was hungry, and the idea of waiting for this to bake another 20-30 minutes in the oven, was a non-starter.

manicotti reduxInstead, I covered the platter loosely, placed it in the microwave on reduced power (6), and gave it a couple of spins at 3 minutes each.  While that happened I tossed together a quick salad and had “fresh” manicotti on the table within minutes.

Yes, I was certainly hungry, but everything tasted better than the last time!  These simple crepes are brilliant:  they require no pasta machine,  no messy rolling of dough—or boiling water to finish them.  They are extremely forgiving, have a mild flavor of their own, and share the distinct tender/chewiness of pasta.

Hands down:  crespelle beat all pasta sheets and cylinders by a long shot.