Saturday, April 28, 2012

Morel Mushroom Pasta

Once again, I'm throwing my hat in the ring for another contest at Marx Foods. This time the secret ingredient is morel mushrooms - and that comes into play two different ways. Each of us received (at no cost to us) a sample of dried morel mushrooms to work with, and the winner of the contest will receive fresh morels.

Instead of going wild with multiple dishes and a vast number of ingredients, I decided to go the opposite direction. Simple.

Well, sort of simple. Not a lot of ingredients.

I used chive flowers to garnish this dish, which adds a nice pop of light purple. The flowers taste ... well, chive-y and a little bit floral.

I have no idea if you can buy chive flowers anywhere, but chives are incredibly easy to grow and they re-seed and come back every year. Or you can grow them in a pot on a sunny window sill. Snip off what you need, and they'll supply you for a long time.

As far as the morels I used, I felt a little bad about grinding them up because they're such weird-looking things - like strange little elf-hats - but I used sliced and fried morels in last year's contest (which I didn't win) so I figured I'd do something different this time.

I considered stuffing them, but then went completely in the other direction. 

Voting for this contest runs from May 1-3 on the Marx Foods site and is live right here! I appreciate your votes!

Morel Mushroom Pasta with Chive Browned Butter

For the pasta:
1 ounce dried morel mushrooms
1/4 cup boiling water
1 generous cup all purpose flour
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Water, room temperature, as needed
For the browned butter:
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon chopped chives
For serving:
Additional chives for garnish
Chive blossoms for garnish (optional)

Put the dried morels in a food processor or spice grinder (I have a coffee grinder reserved specifically for spices) and process until it's mostly a powder. It's fine if there are tiny bits, but you don't want any larger pieces. Put the morel powder in a bowl, add the boiling water, stir to moisten, and set aside until it has cooled to room temperature.

Pile the flour on your counter top, make a well in the center, and add the morels, egg, and salt. Break the egg yolk with a fork, then begin stirring in, dragging in more and more flour until you have a stiff paste. Now you can get in there with your hands and begin kneading. Add a bit more water, a teaspoon at a time, if you need the moisture to incorporate all the flour into the dough.

Continue kneading until you have a smooth dough - okay, there will be mushroom bits, but the dough itself should be smooth.

If you're going to use a pasta extruder - as I did to make rotini pasta - you're going to want a very stiff dough. If you're going to be working it by hand, the dough can be a little softer. In either case, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for an hour before continuing to work it. You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate it until you need it.

When you're ready to make the pasta, roll it and cut it into the size/shape you prefer, or run it though your pasta extruder according to the manufacturer's directions. Toss the pasta with a bit of flour, if needed, to keep it from sticking.

While you're cooking the pasta in boiling salted water, you can make the browned butter.

Heat the butter in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add the salt. Shortly after it froths up, it will begin to turn brown, and you'll see browned bits begin to form in the clear butter. This is what you're looking for. It will also begin to smell nutty. Watch it carefully - you want it browned, but not burned and black.

Add the chives, then add the cooked pasta (because the pasta is fresh, it cooks incredibly fast). Toss the pasta around in the pan to coat with the butter, then serve immediately. Top with some additional fresh chives and, if you have them, some bits of chive flowers.