Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

I am always on the lookout for seasonal pasta dishes that are made with ingredients that are part of my regular pantry.  If it isn't obvious, pasta is my "go to" dinner for days when I'm too busy to think about cooking for myself.  For a pasta to appear regularly on our table, it really needs to be made with stuff I tend to have on hand.

The presence of seasonal vegetables and pantry staples is what made me stop and take a second look at a pasta from the New York Times when I ran across it on my Instagram feed recently.  The pasta included Italian Sausage (something I always have in my freezer) and mushrooms and kale.  

Mushrooms and kale might not be pantry staples for everyone, but they happen to be two things I routinely purchase when I'm at the grocery store during the winter months.  Even if I have no particular use in mind, I know I will easily find a use for them.  I'm not quite sure why it never occurred to me to combine them in a pasta.

In the end, I only used the Times's recipe as a starting point.  I decided there was enough flavor in the mushrooms and kale so I didn't really need the sausage. (Sometimes more is not's just more...).  If I were to add an animal protein to the dish I would actually be more inclined to mash an anchovy or two into the red onion base along with the garlic and pepper flakes.  Both times that I have made this pasta, I almost did just that.  But on each occasion I decided I preferred the clean flavors of the vegetables by themselves.  Likewise, I felt the addition of cheese was unnecessary.  Instead, I went for some added texture in the form of a final shower of toasted bread crumbs.  It was the perfect touch. 

This dish is just the kind of pasta that I crave during the winter months—hearty, flavorful, and savory.  I will definitely be making it again, and again...

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

2/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (see note)
1 bunch Tuscan/Lacinato Kale (about 1/3 lb.)
3 to 4 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced (about a cup)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes...more or less, to taste
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3- inch thick
1/2 lb. fusilli (or other sturdy, short pasta)
1 T. unsalted butter

Prepare the breadcrumbs:  Spread the breadcrumbs in an even layer on a small baking sheet or in a metal pie pan.  Place in a 350­­° oven.  Bake, stirring occasionally until crumbs are uniformly golden brown—about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer, depending on the size of the pan, the thickness of the  layer of breadcrumbs, etc.  Remove from the oven, drizzle a small amount (1 to 1 1/2 t.) of olive oil over, toss to combine, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, prepare the kale:  Pull the leaves away from the stems, tearing the leaves into large (2- to 3-inch pieces) as you do.  Discard the stems.  Wash the leaves in several changes of water.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season lightly.  Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 minutes.  Lift the kale out of the pot, transferring it to a strainer or colander (set on a plate or over a bowl or in the sink) to allow most of the water to drain away.   Reserve the pot of water for cooking the pasta.

While the kale cooks, prepare the onion base and the mushrooms.  In a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the cooked pasta comfortably), warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook (regulating the heat to maintain a low sizzle) until the onions are tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges.  If the onions seem dry as they are cooking, drizzle in a bit more oil.

While the onions cook, sauté the mushrooms:  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to sauté in batches—don't overcrowd the pan.  Heat a sauté pan (non-stick, if you have one) over high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (a tablespoon or so), then add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  If they seem dry at any time as they cook, drizzle in a bit more oil.  Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

When the onions are tender and have begun to turn golden, add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cooked kale along with a small ladleful (about a quarter cup) of the kale cooking liquid.  Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the vegetables simmer very gently, allowing the flavors to blend, while you cook the pasta.

Return the pan the kale was cooked in to high heat. Add more water if necessary.  Add more salt.  (The water needs to be more heavily salted for the pasta than for the greens, in my opinion.  For the pasta, a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half per quart is about right.  For the kale, you will need about half of that...maybe a bit more.)  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the mushrooms and kale along with the butter.  Toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Finish with a final drizzle of oil (for flavor and sheen), if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide among two or three plates and top with toasted breadcrumbs.  Serves 2 to 3. 

  • To make coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, remove the crust from a slightly stale ("day old") baguette or country-style boule. Cut into chunks and process until the crumbs are a mixture of fine and coarse (no large than pea-sized). These "fresh" breadcrumbs may be frozen for several weeks. They can also be dried even further and then processed into "fine, dry breadcrumbs."
  • This recipe is easily doubled. Increase the size of the sauté pans you use accordingly. If you don't have a sauté pan large enough to hold a one pound batch of pasta, finish the pasta by returning the noodles to the pot they were cooked in (draining the water first) and use this pan to finish saucing and tossing the pasta.

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