Taste of Italy: Try my easy pasta recipe for a satisfying autumnal meal
Having grown up in a town in southern Austria that was less than an hour's drive from the Italian border, I sometimes feel like I'm almost as Italian as I am Austrian. That may certainly help explain why I love to include pizzas and pastas on the menus in many of my restaurants, including my flagship Spago and even two Italian-style restaurants in Las Vegas: Lupo (which means Wolf) and Cucina (kitchen).
So I thought I'd share a favorite autumnal pasta recipe: my penne with sauteed mushrooms, glazed shallots, and broccolini. It's wonderful to serve for dinner any time during the season, and it makes a good choice if you're looking for something different to cook on October 9 for Columbus Day, the annual observance of Christopher Columbus' arrival on American shores.
Many people consider autumn to be mushroom season, as wild specimens thrive in damp woodlands at this time of year. When I was growing up, my mother and grandmother would certainly take my siblings and me on autumn hunts for wild mushrooms (though I urge anyone considering doing so today to be extremely cautious, as it takes knowledge and experience to avoid potentially hazardous specimens).
Fortunately, most supermarkets today carry commercially grown mushroom varieties that were once considered wild; or that at the very least have fuller, richer flavors and more robust textures than the mild cultivated mushrooms many Americans grew up eating. My recipe calls for fresh shiitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms; but you should feel free to substitute other types you might find in stores, such as portobellos, cremini, chanterelles or porcini. Even those common, cultivated mushrooms will work fine, too, if you take care to brown them enough to enhance their flavor.
In this recipe, I complement the meaty, earthy flavor of the mushrooms with garlic (which I first double-blanch briefly in boiling water to remove some of its harshness) and chunks of shallot that I caramelize and coat with a tangy-sweet glaze of balsamic vinegar. You can prepare both of these items in advance, if you like; then, the main recipe itself will be ready in no more time than it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.
To make the dish even more satisfying, colorful, and nutritious, I also include some broccolini, a slender cousin to broccoli. You'll find it in many produce sections and farmers' markets today; but you could substitute regular broccoli, asparagus or chopped, de-ribbed kale leaves.
Whatever green vegetable you include, the result will be a hearty one-dish meal suitable for a weeknight family supper or a casual dinner party. Add some crusty bread and a robust red wine, and you'll have a satisfying autumn feast, Italian-style.
PENNE WITH SAUTEED MUSHROOMS, BALSAMIC-GLAZED SHALLOTS, AND BROCCOLINI
12 ounces (750 g) penne, or other tube-shaped dried pasta
1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces (125 g) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 ounces oyster mushroom, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound broccolini or broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cloves double-blanched garlic (recipe follows), thinly sliced
Pinch chopped fresh thyme leaves
Pinch chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) good-quality canned chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1/2 cup (125 mL) balsamic-glazed shallots (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 fresh basil leaves, cut crosswise into julienne strips, for garnish
Thinly shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish
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Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer's suggested cooking time.
Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Saute the mushrooms, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Stir in the broccolini, garlic, thyme and oregano. Add the stock and the shallots. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring, until it reduces slightly. Whisk in the butter pieces until melted.
As soon as the penne is done, drain it and stir into the sauce. Stir in the grated Parmesan. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Spoon the pasta and vegetables into 4 large, shallow serving bowls. Garnish with basil and shaved Parmesan. Serve immediately.
Fill a bowl with ice cubes and water. In a small saucepan, add enough water to cover the garlic you'll be blanching. Salt lightly and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, separate as many garlic cloves as needed. With a small, sharp knife, trim off both ends of each clove, leaving the peels on.
Carefully drop the garlic into the boiling water. Blanch for 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon, remove the cloves and immediately plunge into the ice water.
Repeat the process with a fresh pan of boiling salted water, removing the garlic from the ice water and again immersing the cloves in the boiling water for 30 seconds before returning them to the ice water.
Drain the garlic and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Slip off the peels and use as needed.
Makes about 2 cups (500 mL)
1 pound shallots, all about the same size
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) balsamic vinegar
Peel the shallots. Cut in halves or quarters for pieces uniformly about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide.
In a 10- or 12-inch (25- or 30-cm) skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes, carefully turning with tongs so they don't separate into smaller pieces.
Reduce the heat and add the butter. When it has melted, deglaze the pan with the vinegar. Raise the heat slightly and boil until the vinegar reduces by half, 7 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Transfer the contents of the skillet to a small baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake until the shallots are tender but still slightly crunchy, 10 to 12 minutes. Use as needed, cooling any unused glazed shallots and refrigerating in a covered container.(c) 2017 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.