What’s for dinner? The perennial question. Just like you, we sometimes struggle to figure out what we’re going to have for dinner. The day we were picking up our produce share, we were struggling. By the time our weekly share arrives, our fridge has been raided of most, if not all, fresh vegetables, making it hard to figure out what to make. It helps that the CSA posts the expected harvest; this week, they listed summer squash, so we assumed we were in for zucchini. So we thought, why not pasta primavera? It’s fast, and we could use some of the zucchini. We have mushrooms, onions, cream, and we could add some dried mushrooms, too. We’d just have to stop for some Parmesan cheese and possibly fresh peas at the local co-op.
So, we happily went about our business, making up some pasta dough, hydrating some dried mushrooms, turning the dough into orecchiette so it could dry, before heading down to pick up our produce.
Well, it turned out that the Parmesan was easy, but no fresh peas were to be found, and the zucchini that we assumed we were getting was the other summer squash, yellow squash, which we don’t think does as well in pasta primavera. Plus, we picked up a basket of okra that we knew we’d fry up, so what to do? If we did a full-scale primavera, that would be too much food, especially with the fried okra. (The okra was non-negotiable). As you can see by the title, we figured it out. Based on our Pasta Primavera, it was a no-brainer to quickly adapt our menu to Orecchiette ai Funghi.
If you have fresh herbs, use those — we’re still getting ours going, so we went with dried. For the heavy cream, read the ingredient list; last time we checked, heavy cream contained, well, cream. Period. We have to buy organic cream to avoid the carrageenan, Polysorbate 80 (which doesn’t sound all that tasty), and glycerides, both mono- and di-. We think we’ve had our daily allowance of those, thank you. Parmesan cheese is cheese. You know, the kind in a block, that you have to grate. A good option is to use Grana Padano (we do); it’s basically a cheese made like Parmesan, just not in the Parma region of Italy. Finally, we used a mix of dried mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, and oyster). They add a lot of flavor, and if you buy them online in pound bags, you can get good deals.
Procedure in detail:
Cook onion and garlic. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. After it’s melted, it’ll get foamy. That’s your cue to put in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until tender and translucent, but not beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add mushrooms. Stir in all the mushrooms, and let those cook in the delicious butter until they’re mostly cooked through, another five minutes. We happen to think that nothing quite smells as tasty as mushrooms cooking in butter with onions. Once we smelled that, we knew this would be good.
Add liquid. When you hydrated the dried mushrooms, you saved the strained liquid, right? Hope so, because there’s a lot of flavor in there. If so, add it and let it come to a simmer. If not, remember to do it next time.
Add herbs. While the liquid is simmering, add the thyme and sage. We like to crush the dried thyme between our fingers to help take care of any small stems that might be mixed in. Let everything simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid cooks off, about 10 minutes.
Boil pasta. While the mushrooms are simmering, cook the pasta in salted water until it’s al dente, or soft on the outside, and just a little firm in the center. Drain well. Ideally, time the cooking of the pasta so you can add it right after the next step.
Add cream. Stir in that heavy cream and bring it to a simmer. Looks good already, right? Well, it’s going to get better.
Add pasta. Stir in the pasta, just enough to coat. If you had to let your pasta sit in the colander a while, no worries; just wait a few minutes for everything to come to a simmer and the pasta is heated through.
Finish. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Once it tastes good, make it taste great by stirring in the Parmesan cheese until melted. Serve with a bit more grated Parmesan as garnish.
Ahh. Having this for dinner made up for the disappointment about the Pasta Primavera. It was nice and creamy, rich, full of flavor, and just the perfect amount after having an appetizer of fried okra. Some people might think that using all fresh mushrooms might be a better choice, but the flavors of mushrooms become deeper and richer during the drying process. We don’t know how or why that occurs, but we went away from the table happy. Five stars, easy.