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
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.
Coming in November, from Beyond the Page Press
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