Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pasta with mushrooms and braised celery in blue-cheese sauce

This makes about 2 adult servings:

1/2 lb. pasta (I used whole-wheat spaghetti)
good handful of fresh mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (I used cremini)
much smaller handful of dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
about 1 TBSP oil
4-5 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1-2 TBSP butter
good splash of white wine
2 TBSP a strong blue cheese, crumbled
a good glug of heavy cream (maybe 1/4 cup)
grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

1. About 15-20 minutes before you're going to start cooking, bring about 2/3 cup of water to boil separately (or heat it in microwave) and pour over dried mushrooms in a small heatproof bowl. Go find something else to do for a little while.

2. Back in the kitchen, set pasta water to boil. Heat a little oil (light olive oil or a neutral oil like canola - no reason to use the extra-virgin olive oil here) in a sauté pan — you can either use a small one for the mushrooms and avoid all the cooling-the-pan-down worries in the next step (but have an extra dish to wash), or the large one with a lid you're going to be braising the celery in. Once the oil is very hot, almost smoking, add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until nicely colored. Remove mushrooms from pan and reserve.

3. If you're using one pan, you're going to need to cool it down between cooking the mushrooms (which require high heat so they don't release all their juices) and adding the butter (which we don't want to scorch). Hold it off the heat for a minute, and add the celery first (this will cool the pan a bit). Give the celery a good stir, return the pan to the heat, and then add the butter. If you're using two pans, just heat your braising pan over medium heat, melt the butter, and add celery once butter is melted.

4. Cook the celery over medium heat until somewhat browned, stirring occasionally. Turn up the heat a bit, add the white wine, and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

5. Once wine has almost boiled away, strain the liquid that the dried mushrooms have been soaking in directly into the pan. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for at least 10 minutes, checking periodically to make sure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely (if it does, add a bit of pasta-cooking water). Meanwhile, chop rehydrated mushrooms roughly, and add to reserved cooked mushrooms.

6. At some point the pasta water will come to a boil (if this happens before you've started braising the celery, turn heat off and bring it back to the boil after the celery is braising). Add pasta, cooking according to package directions (though I usually shorten the cooking time by a few minutes).

7. A minute or two before the pasta is done, add both mushrooms and the blue cheese, give a good stir, then add the cream and heat, stirring, until a cohesive sauce forms.

8. Reserve a cup or so of pasta cooking water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to pan and toss, adding a bit of reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to thin sauce.

9. Top with grated cheese, if desired.

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