It’s the day before Christmas, which means, in our household, that I’m playing Christmas music, minus the actual Christmas celebration. But it’s still Hannukah, which means we get to combine our love of fried foods with the annual tradition of Chinese food. But more on that later. I’ve something up my sleeve for you tomorrow.
Today I want to talk to you about pasta.
No doubt, most of your houses today are buzzing with the holiday anticipation. The presents are wrapped, the tree sparkles and perfumes the air, the oven will put in a full day’s work. There’s coffee in the pot and possibly a cake or two to go with the morning breakfast. Some of you, I suspect, are still wearing fluffy bathrobes, as you putter around the kitchen getting things organized. It’s actually my favorite time of day, or any holiday, that anticipatory shuffle. Or maybe you’re cool as a cucumber and are choosing to read the paper at the counter. But whatever your morning, I know, that it shimmers with anticipation. Even in our house, without a Christmas to celebrate, it feels somehow festive, soothing, still.
I’ve gotten almost no emails in the last twenty-four hours. The quiet is even in the interwebs. I love it so. Love the quiet of this morning. Love the light pouring into the window. Love the clean, tidy living room with stacks of books and magazines at my side. We ran out of milk and coffee creamer this morning and I, being up early as usual, just added a dollop of heavy cream instead. And you know what – it’s delicious, decadent, and just a touch indulgent. I’m still in my fluffy bathrobe and I plan on staying in one for quite awhile this morning. We’re going to Boston early next week, so there’ll be no trips to the farmers’ market this weekend (or are they taking a break for Christmas? I hope they are!). It’s just us and the contents of our fridge. I anticipate some “rescue” soups happening very very soon.
But back to pasta. It’s a bit of a cheat, this recipe. I’ve been making this mushroom medley for years. It’s an old throwback to our family recipe where we used a mixture of porcinis (fresh, in the summer) and chanterelles (dirt cheap in the old USSR). My grandmother spooned them over potato patties (a recipe I must share with you soon!) and baked them into a flaky crust as hand pies. Of course, we didn’t use white wine or thyme in Russia – that’s my addition to our family recipe. But I like it a little better even. For one, I can’t find fresh porcinis this time of year; and furthermore trying to pay for those and chanterelles, well – I might have to skip a rent payment to do that.
Recently, I did a post for the Cooking Channel Devour blog where I put these mushrooms on buttered challah bread. Then I did it with brioche, which was even better because, to me, butter will always trump oil. And then, I remembered that my grandmother, desperate to get me and my cousin to eat something, anything, would make us these mushrooms and stir them into elbow macaroni (which oddly enough, we did have in Russia). And my cousin, who had even a pickier appetite than me, and I would eat this pasta without so much as taking a breath in between the bites.
I realize this isn’t a holiday cookie, or an edible gift (speaking of which here they are all organized for you. Crafty, no?). It’s a humble, less-than-exciting pasta dish that I’m sharing with you on the day before Christmas. When you probably have more glamorous things to eat like Christmas ham, or goose, or maybe a crown roast. Or maybe, if you’re of the Hannukah persuasion, you’re still high on the latkes theme. But maybe after the holiday, if you’re hankering for a kind of comforting dish that you can pull together in a snap, I think this might just do the trick.
In the meantime, I hope your Hannukas are beautifully lit and deeply fried, and your Chritmases are merry, bright, and full of sugarplum sweetness.
Creamy Mushrooms with Pasta
I, personally, don’t like cheese with this dish. The mushrooms are strong in the umami department and to combine them with another pungent flavor, by my palate, creates a bit of a conflict. Still, if you’re the kind of person who must have cheese on their pasta, go ahead and see if you find a blend of flavors that works for you.
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms
1 sprig thyme
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta (elbow macaroni is perfect)
1. Using a cloth or paper towel, clean mushrooms to remove the grit and dirt. Finely chop mushrooms and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sauté shallots and thyme until soft, 3 minutes. Add the remaining butter and mushrooms and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add the wine, reduce heat to medium, cover and sauté 5 minutes until the alcohol has evaporated.
3. While the mushrooms cook, in a small bowl stir together the heavy cream, sour cream, salt, and pepper. Also, start cooking the pasta – and cook 2 minutes less than indicated on the package (elbow macaroni take about 9 minutes). When the wine has mostly evaporated, stir the dairy mixture into the mushrooms, as well as the chives. Reduce heat to low, and stir until well-combined. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet, and stir to distribute mushrooms throughout. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems too dry. Remove from heat, divide among the bowls, and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6