Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring Pasta...with Artichokes and Mushrooms

The artichoke fest continues....  Today, in a quiet pasta along with mushrooms, spring onions, asparagus and prosciutto.  It is quiet because there is no noisy sautéing...just gentle stewing.  Quiet also in that the flavors are subtle...all coming together in a harmonious whole without one jumping forward and shouting for attention.  If you have an artichoke...or two...on hand—and some white mushrooms (delicious with artichokes)—the idea of this pasta can be adapted to whatever spring ingredients you happen to have in your kitchen. 

To begin, add the thinly sliced artichokes and mushrooms to a pan of melted butter.  I added finely sliced spring onions too, but a small leek...a shallot....or even some green garlic...would be good too.  If you have some thyme, that would be a fine addition, as well as a sprinkling of lemon zest.  But on this particular day, I chose to leave it simple.... 

Once the artichokes and mushrooms have begun to soften, add a splash of water, cover the pan and cook at a gentle simmer until the artichokes are tender through.  I debated adding wine...and reducing it to a glaze....before I added the water, but opted for the less layered, cleaner flavors of just the vegetables.  On another evening, I might add some wine....but water alone really is just fine.  If you have chicken stock, that would be delicious in place of the water, and like the wine would add layer and depth.  No matter what liquids you choose, as the vegetables cook, keep an eye on them to make sure they don't simmer dry...add water to supplement as necessary. 

When the artichokes and mushrooms are tender, uncover and add some asparagus (blanched in the water in which the pasta will be cooked), julienned prosciutto and roughly chopped parsley.  These additions were a function of what I had in my kitchen, but they could (and will) be varied to suit my ever changing spring pantry.  Peas...or fava beans (which unfortunately I almost never have)...would be good in place of—or in addition to—the asparagus.  For the herb, parsley is a staple in my kitchen, but as we move further into the growing season, I might choose to use any number of the soft, young herbs that will be showing up at the market and in my garden...arugula, basil, chives...even mint.  As for the prosciutto, I don't think it is adds richness, tang and salt.  I finished the pasta with Parmesan, but if you omit the prosciutto, I would recommend a nice salty Pecorino instead.

As always, save some of your pasta water to help extend the "sauce".  As you toss in the noodles, add a pat of butter—I love butter with the green vegetables of spring, but its purpose here is also to thicken and enrich the sauce.  Cream would be another option (add this to the artichokes and mushrooms before adding the green vegetable and bring to a simmer)....or perhaps a blob of mascarpone, swirled in, just as if it were butter. 

If you—like me—love artichokes with mushrooms, you will love the idea of this simple...adaptable...spring pasta.  I hope you will try it and make it your own.

Pasta with Artichokes, Mushrooms & Spring Vegetables

1 artichoke, turned, halved and sliced cross-wise 1/8-inch thick and tossed with a squeeze of lemon
4 oz. white mushrooms, halved if large and sliced cross-wise 1/8-inch thick
1/2 bunch very small spring onions (scallion-sized)—white, pale-green and equal amount of green—thinly sliced (you'll have about half of a cup)
2 T. unsalted butter
2 oz. (trimmed weight) asparagus, sliced 1/8-inch thick on a long diagonal (to make 2/3 to 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut in 1/4-inch julienne
2 T. chiffonade flat-leaf parsley or arugula
1/2 to 1 T. butter
8 oz. penne, farfalle or fettuccine
finely grated Parmesan

Melt butter in a medium, wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the artichokes, mushrooms and spring onions along with a generous pinch of salt.  Stew gently until the liquid is released from the mushrooms and everything is coated in a buttery liquid—about 5 minutes.  

Add enough water to come about half way up the vegetables (1/4 cup or so) and bring to a simmer.  

Cover and cook over very low heat until the artichokes are tender (about 20 minutes).  Check the pan occasionally to make sure it hasn't simmered dry...add water as necessary.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Salt should taste salty.  Add the asparagus and cook until just tender—because of the way it has been cut, this should only take a minute or two.  Lift the asparagus out of the pot and add it to the pan of artichokes and mushrooms. Scatter the prosciutto and parsley over all and toss to combine.  Set aside in a warm place while you cook the pasta in the water the asparagus was cooked in.  When the pasta is al dente, drain—saving some of the pasta water—and add to the pan of vegetables along with a pat of butter.  Toss to combine, adding as much pasta water as is needed to lightly film the pasta and vegetables with a light, buttery film of liquid.  Serve topped with finely grated Parmesan.  Serves 2 to 3.

  • Instead of spring onion, use one small shallot (finely diced), a small leek (halved, cut cross-wise into a fine julienne and well-rinsed).  If you have access to green garlic, you could add a small head, coarsely chopped or thinly sliced.
  • Add some picked fresh thyme and/or the zest of half of a lemon with the artichokes, mushrooms and spring onions.
  • If you like, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of white wine to the artichokes and mushrooms when they are tender.  Reduce to a glaze before adding the water.
  • Use a quarter cup of chicken stock instead of water.  When replenishing the liquid though, use water or the sauce will be to rich.
  • If you would like to have a cream based sauce, when the artichokes are tender—and before adding the asparagus—add a quarter to a third of a cup of heavy cream and bring to a simmer. 
  • Substitute peas or fava beans for the asparagus (or use a combination of any two of the three)
  • Replace the parsley or arugula with another favorite herb—chives, basil, mint...
  • Replace the final addition of butter with a large spoonful of mascarpone
  • Omit the prosciutto and replace the Parmesan with Pecorino
  • Recipe may be doubled to serve 4 to 6...simply choose a larger, wider pan to cook the vegetables.

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