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Fast and fancy porcini absorption pasta

August 10, 2010

I cried inside the other day when I found out that Petrini had been sold/closed. I had bought dried porcini mushrooms, my vanilla beans that I’m still only halfway through using, some Valrhona chocolate brownies and smoked brie from this marvel of a deli & restaurant. That was all in one trip, I got that excited. Sadly I never managed to make it all the way out there for a meal, which is super sad considering the great reviews they have on DineOut (NZ’s largest review site btw. So helpful when you’re unsure about a potentially expensive meal out). So where does one get dried porcini mushrooms now? Piko sell them last time I checked, and fortunately, I’ve found a new place in Christchurch which stocks gourmet essentials (…they call themselves an essential ingredient market). Mercato not only has a great online catalogue, they are closer to the centre of town. The only annoying thing is that I can’t tell if the porcinis they sell are dried or not. I’d much rather have dried stuff because then you get more stock out of them, they keep for longer and you can use whatever amount you feel like at a time without having some left over that you need to use soon.

Ok so what the hell is absorption pasta? Kate Flaim’s absorption pasta is an alternative way to cook pasta that was easy, flavoursome and involved less waste, less dishwashing, and no extra cost. Basically you cook the pasta like you would risotto – starting with browned onions (I used shallots, but use onions if you want), then adding dry pasta and cooking a little before adding a lot of stock, bringing to a simmer, then stirring in splashes of hot stock (in this case, I just used hot water and added porcini stock from soaking the dried mushrooms near the end) and stirring, adding stock and stirring. You end up with a silky sauce that coats the pasta, as the starches that cook out from the pasta help thicken the stock you’ve added. You can still add whatever you would normally to the pasta – so you could do a traditional tomato sauce thing simply by adding chopped tomatoes in as you go, or some peas near the end, or whatever. It’s brilliant. You know what else? One less dish to wash!

So to this specific recipe – I am proud to say that I made it up on the spot. It involves browned shallots and garlic, porcini (more the flavour than the mushrooms, I only had a pinch left really), freshly roasted hazelnuts, goats feta (although you can easily omit if you want to veganise it, and it will still be quite rich and delicious), and a sprinkling of fresh chopped flat parsley. To finish it off, a drizzle of real cold pressed, properly bottled (dark bottles) extra virgin olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper. I drizzled in a little hazelnut oil as well but it’s not required. This was quite rich so something mild and fruity for dessert is advised (also, the vege content isn’t exactly high, but then, this is a rare treat for me)! This was a flavour combo dreamed up thanks to The Flavor Bible. If you love cooking, seriously get this book, or mention it loudly to all your friends when it’s close to Christmas or your Birthday. I even forgive its blatant American-ness (cilantro?! argh!!!). It’s also beautifully littered with photos and I love sitting on the couch just browsing through it. Go me.

Porcini and hazelnut absorption pasta

serves 2

  • about 250g dry shaped pasta (not spaghetti for example)
  • about 1 heaping Tablespoon dried porcini mushroom slices, soaked in about 1c water for at least 4 hours*
  • 6 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • heaping 1/2c raw hazelnuts
  • optional: 50g crumbled or cubed goat’s feta
  • handful fresh flat parsley, finely chopped
  • about 4-5 cups just boiled water (keep it in the kettle, or in the pan on low heat)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • cooking oil
  • optional: about 20g butter for cooking shallots and garlic
  • to serve: drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or hazelnut oil, squeeze lemon juice

* place slices in a glass, pour over water, and sit another cup on top. Or seal in an airtight container. You want the slices to be fully immersed in the water.

Turn your oven on to 200C (400F), place hazelnuts in a tray on a single layer and put in the middle rack in the oven (from cold is fine). Let roast for ten minutes untouched. The skins will have separated. Shake the pan a little to dislodge and see if the nuts are golden brown yet. If not, let sit in the hot oven for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Once cool (you should find a minute to spare during the pasta cooking process for this), pick up handfuls of the nuts with clean dry hands and rub the skins off. You can do this in a tea towel as well if you don’t want to use hands, but I don’t like potentially finding fluff in my food. Then roughly chop the nuts or place in a paper bag and bash it up a little with a rolling pin. If you’re a salt fiend like me, bash it up with a pinch of sea salt.

While the nuts are doing their thing, you can chop the shallots and garlic. Melt the butter in a medium large saucepan on medium low heat. Add a little drizzle of cooking oil and the shallots. Arrange on a single layer, and stir every now and then until they go golden. Add garlic, and continue to stir, cooking on a single layer, until the garlic is golden. Add the pasta to the pan and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Add enough hot water to just immerse the pasta, and a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Turn heat up to high and bring the water to a boil (uncovered), stirring occasionally to prevent things sticking. During this time, you can chop your parsley and cube your feta. Keep cooking and stirring every now and then until things start getting drier and things start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of hot water to “deglaze” (unstick the stuff that starting to stick to the pan), and stir. Repeat this step until the pasta starts to pale and gives when you squish it up against the side of your pan.

Now add the porcini and its juices, and stir until stuff starts sticking again. Now it’s time to taste the pasta for done-ness and for flavour. If it needs more salt, sprinkle and stir that in now. If it needs more cooking, keep adding splashes of water and stirring until the pasta is cooked to your liking. Just don’t add too much water at any one time now, as it’s near the end of cooking and you only want the pasta to be lightly coated in sauce, not drowning in a thick soup. The pasta can be taken off the heat and covered at this stage and will last five minutes or so if you’re having guests around.

Arrange the pasta on plates, then sprinkle the goats cheese and hazelnuts over. Finally, sprinkle over the parsley, drizzle with a little olive or hazelnut oil, and squeeze over a little lemon juice. Finish with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately once the pasta is out of the pan. If your house is cold like mine, stick some plates into the oven after you’ve taken those hazelnuts out, and turn the oven down to 50C rather than turning it off. That way you’ll have hot plates that will keep your pasta hotter for longer.

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