Friday, September 09, 2005

if this dude reviews one more restaurant...

Okay, so I admit it, this thing has started to get a little monotonous. Like anyone cares what restaurant I ate at when and what I thought. And even though you were all nice enough not to complain (perhaps because you're imaginary?), I thought maybe a moratorium on reviews was in order. I've been promising some recipes for quiite some time, so here's a good seasonal dish for all you tomato growers. It comes to us courtesy of the Voluptuous Vegan cookbook.

"PASTA WITH FRESH SHIITAKES, TOMATOES, AND BASIL

"This is a simple and flavorful pasta that celebrates the fresh, ripe tomato. Fresh tomatoes are warmed through and mixed with cooked pasta and basil. I [remember, this is Myra Kornfeld talking, not yours truly. My comments follow the recipe] like to use short pasta such as fusilli. Sometimes I mix spinach pasta with whole wheat for a subtle variety of color and flavor.

"The shiitake mushrooms transform amazingly when you cook them until they shrivel. They become chewy and crispy and are a great compliment to the pasta.

"This is a pasta that can easily be made for company. Cook the pasta in advance and toss it in a bit of olive oil, so that the pasta pieces will not stick together. Have all the other ingredients ready to go, including the basil chiffonade. The sauce only takes five minutes to cook, so heat it through at the last minute, right before eating.

INGREDIENTS:

"1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms [see my comments below]
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons shoyu
Salt
8 ounces pasta such as penne or fusilli
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup basil chiffonade (see page 15) [but since you can't do that, just sit tight]

PROCEDURE:

"*Preheat oven to 375. Remove the stems from the shittake mushrooms and discard them or save them for stock. Thinly slice the caps. In a medium bowl, toss the mushrooms with 2 tablespoons of the oil and the shoyu. Spread on a parchment-covered baking sheet and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have shrunk and become crispy. Set aside for garnish.

"*In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until it is barely al dente. Drain. If you are holding the pasta for a while before serving, toss it at this point with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together or drying out.

"*Warm the 1/2 cup of oil in a large pot or skillet. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, or until the oil is shimmering and the garlic just barely starts to color. Add the diced tomatoes and stir until they are hot. Add the drained pasta and basil, and stir over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the pasta is warmed through. Season with salt (make sure you taste here to determine how much you need) and pepper. Serve immediately."


This dish is great, but I can almost promise you that it will taste like ass if you combine spinach and whole wheat pasta. Regular pasta is not bad for you, and trying to sneak all that health food shit into a dish that doesn't need to be tinkered with (much) is like wiping your ass with your crush's phone number. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. But do use short pasta, like bow-tie or penne or something. She's right about that.

I use dry shiitakes, which can easily be reconstituted by adding them to a bowl of water that you heated in a teapot on the stove. I let them soak in that for at least 10 minutes (usually more like twenty). I find that it helps to put a plate over the top of the bowl, as the smell is incredibly overwhelming. Then later you've got some stock, so just go ahead and throw those stems in the composter. Dried shiitakes can be purchased pretty cheaply at most larger Asian markets, and they keep for a super long time and reconstitute beautifully. Trust me.

The only thing is that they're good chewy, so I would say check them more like every seven to eight minutes, and you absolutely must stir them, or all your hard stem-removing thin-slicing work will have been for naught. For naught!

As a final word regarding the shiitakes, I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead of shoyu last time (out of necessity, it was the only thing I had), and it was great. Bragg's is way better for you, too, low in sodium, high in protein-building goodness.

If you're super lazy or busy or whatever, canned tomatoes work (you know by now I'm going to recommend Muir Glen), but I can't emphasize enough how much better fresh tomatoes taste than even Muir Glen's. You should be warned that seeding a tomato is a pain in the ass, but it's the weekend...what the hell else were you going to do?

The oil. You don't need a half cup, unless you're on some insane weight gain diet or something. For the rest of us, a third to a quarter cup will do.

Finally, a note about the chiffonade. Stack up a bunch of basil leaves that are roughly the same size. Roll them tightly like a joint, and cut into thin strips. See? Pretty, no? And don't worry, it's not a science, no one will know if you mess this up. It's all aesthetic. And while I'm letting you off the hook with the shiitakes and tomatoes, you absolutely cannot get by making this dish without fresh basil. If you do, you deserve what you get. You might as well be eating whole wheat pasta.

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