Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Pasta

by Sheila Connolly

This dish was the result to two happy finds.  The first was a box of magnificent black spaghetti in the Duty Free shop in the airport in Florence (yes, the one in Italy).  Why it was in that shop mystifies me—heck, maybe squid ink is a regulated substance in Italy. I bought it anyway.

The second was discovering a vendor selling fresh local mushrooms at a farmers’ market in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Northampton is definitely a foodie heaven (believe me, I’ve tried almost all of the restaurants, and then there’s the chocolate shop in the center of town…), and the vendors at this market, tucked in an alley next to the town administration building, which includes the state police offices, are very serious about their produce.

My first words to this lovely mushroom man were, “I want a pound of everything!” I did back off a bit after that first flush of excitement, but I brought home four pounds of assorted exotic varieties (I passed on the beautiful puffball because I had no clue what to do with it):  chanterelles, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, and something called Lion’s Mane, which I had never tried before.  We ate a lot of pasta at my house that week, to showcase the different varieties.

I’ve cooked with hen of the woods in the past, but I didn’t know about chicken of the woods.  It’s a hearty mushroom with good flavor—and it’s orange.  Light bulb moment:  black pasta + orange mushrooms = Halloween!  So I improvised a recipe that shows off both the spaghetti and the mushrooms.
From top left, chanterelles, Lion's Mane,
chicken of the woods, hen of the woods

Halloween Pasta

½ pound black spaghetti (this will serve two—you can expand the recipe)

1 pound chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

2 shallots, minced

2 Tblsp butter

2 Tblsp cooking oil (you can use olive oil if you wish, but choose a light-flavored one)

Dash of soy sauce

½ cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste


Cook the pasta according to package directions.

To make the sauce, slice the mushroom caps and stems into strips about half an inch wide.  Melt the butter and oil together in a saute pan. Cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes over medium heat (do not let them brown).  Then add the mushrooms and saute lightly.  Add a dash of soy sauce (this is a trick I learned from Andrew Bittman, who writes a food column for the New York Times—the soy sauce brings out the mushroom flavor.  But don’t use too much, or all you’ll taste is soy sauce!), and salt and pepper if you like.

Add the chicken stock and let simmer gently while you’re cooking the pasta. 

When you’re ready to serve, drain the pasta and place a serving-size portion in a wide bowl and spoon the mushroom mixture over it.  You can add grated cheese if you want, but give the mushrooms a taste first.

Happy Halloween!

Coming in November, from Beyond the Page Press
(print and e-formats)


  1. that's a cool cover--looks very Italian Sheila. And the puffball? one giant stuffed mushroom?

    what does your husband say when you come home with all this stuff??

  2. Ah yes, the cover is indeed Italian, and the book is set in northern Italy--now there's a real departure! (And, oh, the food...)

    My husband will happily eat whatever I make, even the duds (not too many of those, I hope!). I've been told that I could treat the puffball like eggplant, but I may never get another chance.

  3. Those mushrooms look delectable! Will have to try this recipe.

    In 2005 we had a Halloween party and I served squid ink pasta with salmon, grape tomatoes, garlic, and basil, with an orange pepper soup. It was a big hit, but a lot of work for a big crowd. Now I haven't seen black pasta in quite awhile. It causes a bit of a stir, doesn't it?

    1. That sounds like a delicious dish! I thought the squid ink pasta was gorgeous all by itself--it's so intensely black. It is hard to find around here, but I've been known to order it online (since I get to Italy about once a century).

  4. What a clever post. I have always been a lover of squid ink pasta but it is not easy to get, even here in foodie central, NYC. The orange mushrooms are a revelation, and I can't help but think "Halloween" when I see the photo. Thanks for the wonderful recipe.

    ~ Cleo

    1. I found the mushrooms to be flavorful and "meaty," if that makes sense. It's wonderful how many variations there are. The Lion's Mane was almost citrusy, and as you might guess, it has an odd ticklish texture.

  5. Spookilicious, Sheila! Thank you. I have often wondered about the black pasta. But do I dare?



  6. Obviously I need to explore mushrooms more! Here shitakes are considered "exotic" but then pasta and tomato sauce are in the foreign food aisle in the supermarket. Love the black spaghetti! I've never had it but I do remember making squid as part of a seafood dish for a dinner party. My husband was cleaning it while I read the directions out loud!

  7. I'm glad to see puff balls for sale in MA. They carry them here at the farmer's market but I'm afraid to try them. They grow in our woods. I do see that little animals must come along and nibble at them but I just can't convince myself that they're safe to eat.

    Love the black pasta for Halloween! Sort of like black rice. Very creative.

    And I love the cover of your new book! Italy, anyone?


  8. Sheila, very clever, black pasta for Halloween. Eerie and fun! And the mushrooms. I was at a farmer's market in San Francisco and saw the most amazing mushrooms, like yours, so many varieties. I was astounded. Fun.

    Daryl / Avery