I like mushrooms, and I always have. When I was growing up we got to have whatever we wanted to eat for our birthday dinners. When I turned eight, I angered my siblings by asking for spaghetti with mushroom sauce (and pineapple upside-down cake for dessert). My brothers and sisters couldn't figure out why I hadn't asked for steak or lamb or something fancier.
After last week's mushroom debacle, Santa Maria went to the coop and bought a bag of crimini. I later went out and bought a bag of dried porcini. We now are well stocked when it comes to mushrooms.
Tonight, Santa Maria had a meeting to attend and a party invitation to enjoy. I was alone with the girls for dinner. Nina has become infatuated with tri-color bow-tie pasta. She likes the way they look (saying they are the only pasta one can wear in their hair), and she's experiencing her first dose of nostalgia around them. She's four-and-a-half, which, apparently, is old enough to have had a friend who once ate the pasta and who has since moved to Chicago. She misses her friend and remembers the pasta.
I was serving flounder for dinner. I gave the kids a choice of cauliflower or asparagus as a vegetable, and they both chose cauliflower. I had been planning to make fried rice, but was happy to substitute the bow-tie pasta.
So the kid's menu was set, but what was I going to eat with my fish and vegetable? I wasn't about to make fried rice for one. And I wasn't interested in bow-tie pasta with olive oil, which is the way the girls like their "plain" pasta.
I knew there was a serving of leftover spaghetti in the refrigerator, and I thought of those cremini mushrooms. When I was single, I used to make a half-lame dinner of mushrooms, garlic, and pasta. It was tasty enough for myself, but it's not the kind of thing to serve someone else and I hadn't made it since Santa Maria entered my life.
She wasn't joining me for dinner on this evening, though, so I took a page from my bachelor days. I'd put the mushrooms with the pasta. But I've grown since becoming a husband and father, and I wanted something more than just mushrooms, garlic, and pasta.
Yesterday afternoon, Santa Maria searched through our jumble of yellowing newpaper cut outs and fading hand-written recipes to get us out of our (relatively tasty) rut. She came across a 2005 recipe from the New York Times for pasta with zucchini, ricotta, and basil. I intend to make this dish later in the week and I've already purchased the necessary ingredients. The recipe calls for mixing a bit of the cheese with the pasta water to make a sauce. I figured if it worked for zucchini, it would work for mushrooms. And a bit of basil might give my original dish its needed boost.
What I didn't figure on was the children running around and distracting me. Without Santa Maria to corral them, they were free to run roughshod over the living room. I think that during the time it took me to boil the water for their pasta, they managed to take every toy in the house out of its proper place.
Nina then wanted to watch television, and when I told her that she couldn't do so until she put away the toys she was no longer using, she started to cry. I was late in getting them dinner, and I wasn't surprised that she was over-sensitive.
I was rushing to get their food to the table, and I didn't have time to re-read the original recipe, so I didn't know that the ricotta should be combined separately with the pasta water before tossing it with the vegetables and the pasta. I tried to do it all in the same pan.
The girls were crowding into the kitchen. I wanted to get them to taste the ricotta. I thought it would cut their hunger. The mushrooms were browned, and the garlic was at risk of burning. I needed to cool the pan right away. I told them to back up or else they might get burned. I splashed the pan with pasta water, which cooled it just fine. But when I put the cheese in it, I didn't get a a sauce. The cheese broke up into clumps instead of becoming creamy. I tossed in some basil and enjoyed it just the same. The whole point of the dish was the mushrooms, after all.
I haven't quite figured out the best way to make this dish, but I'm going to post a recipe for the way I did it tonight in case anyone is as fond of mushrooms as I am. I would advise combining the ricotta and the pasta water per The New York Times recipe, rather than the way I did it, though.
After I refine this recipe, I'll post another version of it.
- 1 big bunch crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, diced
- fresh basil, to taste
- ricotta cheese, to taste
- spaghetti, or pasta of choice
Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta per its instructions and drain, reserving some of the pasta water.
Heat a cast-iron frying pan until hot, and add a bit of olive oil.
Sauté the mushrooms in the pan until brown.
Toss in the garlic.
Sauté a minute or two more.
Douse the pan with a bit of the pasta water.
Stir in the ricotta cheese and basil.
Add the cooked pasta and serve.