Mushrooms and I have had a long, turbulent history.
When I was a little girl, I loved pizza. In that sense, I haven't grown up at all. But every slice of pizza I had as a little one had to be covered in a thick blanket of sliced mushrooms. Sometimes, I would allow a few olives to join in, but most of the time it was me and mushroom pizza at the park, me and mushroom pizza out shopping with maman, me and mushroom pizza in front of the TV.
So you can imagine what a shock it was, to both me and poor mushrooms, that one fateful day when I bit into my mushroom pizza at the zoo and realized that, lo and behold, I absolutely hated mushrooms. I've heard on daytime talk shows, stories of ladies who've been happily married for thirty-five years, who wake up one dark morning, and can't stand the sight of their not-so-beloveds. I imagine it was something like that.
I can't say the same for mushrooms, who lurked behind every glass pizza case, demanding my return, or at least an explanation, but as for me, I moved on pretty quickly. Broccoli pizza and I were pretty steady for a while, though sometimes green pepper moved in. But I was vegetarian for over a decade growing up, and maman did not take my parting with mushrooms with quite my flippancy.
Mothers always have an opinion on who their young daughters spend time with, don't they? Why couldn't I recognize a good thing when I had it, she wondered. Maman insisted that mushrooms were the only vegetarian source of vitamin B, and unless I wanted to be in a bad mood for my entire adolescence--and, I might add, I was for a good part of it--I had better straighten up and go back to mushrooms.
Maman invited mushrooms over as often as she could. Mushrooms showed up in almost everything on my plate. Sometimes maman hid mushrooms away in veggie burgers--sometimes she was not so subtle, and the whole veggie burger would be a mushroom. Turns out vitamin B12 is not Love Potion Number 9. I turned my nose up at all of them.
"I refuse mushrooms!" I shouted. Although, what mushrooms had done wrong to me, I couldn't say.
And then one day, as if by magic, the curse lifted. Mushrooms was wearing his shiitake outfit that day, and I took one look, and then one bite, and I fell truly, madly, deeply back in love. Maman says I finally grew up and came to my senses.
When you order something "forestier" in France, it means you're in for a rendezvous with mushrooms. The name, for me, evokes images of a medieval maiden, meandering through a dense French forest with her pig on a leash, treasure-hunting for truffles and gathering up hoards of champignons in her basket along the way.
It also evokes the sensation of eating mushrooms--the earthy smell of the forest floor, the taste and color of the woods. For this dish, I pair the nutty, earthy flavor of multigrain spaghetti with a blend of roasted wild mushrooms, ground into a pistou with walnuts, shallots, garlic, and a trinity of sage, thyme, and parsley. I stir in crème fraîche for mellow luxurious heft, top with crispy French prosciutto and fried chips of parsley and sage, and anoint with my medieval maiden's truffle oil.
Pistou, or pesto, isn't just for basil anymore. This is easy enough, and healthy enough, to serve to your family, but unusual and elegant enough to pass at a party. Merci, M. Forestier. And bisous to my champion champignon.
- Yield:4 to 6
- 1 pound of multigrain spaghetti (I recommende Barilla Plus)
- 3 cups of pistou forestier (recipe follows)
- 1/3 cup crème fraîche
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
- 6 slices of crispy jambon de Bayonne, Prosciutto, or Serrano ham (recipe follows)
- 20-30 herb chips (recipe follows)
- A drizzle of truffle oil
- 2. In the bottom of a large bowl, stir together the pistou forestier, the crème fraîche, and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water. Add the spaghetti, and toss. At this point, you will probably need to add another 1/4 cup of pasta water
- 3. Delicately mound the Multigrain Spaghetti with Pistou Forestier in a large serving bowl. Drizzle lightly with truffle oil. Arrange the crisp slabs of jambon de Bayonne all around the pasta like a crown, and scatter the herb chips all
- - makes 3 cups -
- 12 ounces mixed wild mushrooms (cremini, shitake, oyster), roughly chopped or sliced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon, plus 3/4 cup
- 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
- 2 shallots, roughly chopped or sliced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
- 1 tablespoon packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon packed fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine
- 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Salt and pepper
- 6 thin slices of jambon de Bayonne, Prosciutto, or Serrano ham (about 4 ounces)
- 15 leaves of sage
- 15 leaves of flat leaf parsley
- Vegetable oil for frying
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Arrange the mushroom rubble on a foil-lined baking sheet, and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the herbes de Provence, and a good amount of cracked black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the shallots. Add the rings to a small sauté pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and season with a touch of salt. Cook on low heat just a few minutes, until the shallots are just soft and translucent.
Decant the pistou to a bowl, and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
Jambon de Bayonne Crisps
- makes 6 crisps -
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
On a nonstick or foil-lined baking sheet, lay out the slices of ham in a single layer, trying as much as possible to keep them intact as you peel them apart. Bake for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on how thick the slices are. You want the ham to resemble a chip--crisp throughout. Allow to cool, then gently remove from the tray with a spatula. Arrange the ham crisps whole on top of the pasta, and then crumble in to eat.
- makes 30 herb chips -
In a small sauté pan, heat just about 1/2 an inch of oil over medium-high heat.
Pluck the leaves from the stems of the fresh herbs--choose large, intact leaves where you can.
Place about 10 to 15 leaves into the oil one at a time, and fry until crisp but not brown, 30 to 60 seconds. And stand back--when you add the leaves to the oil, the water in the herbs will make the hot oil pop.
Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Lightly salt, just like chips.