my kind of comfort food

I love mushrooms. LOVE. And my favorite kind is probably shiitake mushrooms. They have so much depth of flavor, and are so versitile. And though I always grew up eating them in only Japanese dishes, I love how they work in other genres.
There's a guy I go to every week at our local farmers market who grows shiitakes in tree trunks that he's predrilled. He leaves one tree trunk out for display, and the very last customer of the day gets the ones he picks from the display trunk--the freshest mushrooms of the day. It's beautiful and fascinating. And he sells out every Saturday by 10 am. So the mornings I'm running late, I've been pretty close to not getting what I want. But one time I got lucky and got a 1/2 lb from his display.

I've used these mushrooms for all sorts of dishes, but I think my favorite is to show off their earthy flavor in a creamy mushroom pasta. This sauce goes well with long or short pastas, but for some reason I think rigatoni works best.
It's so easy to alter this recipe. Sometimes I add baby spinach right at the end so it barely wilts, sometimes I add fresh basil, but my favorite sprinkle of green comes from the grassy, bright flavor of minced flat leaf parsley. But experiment and decide for yourself what you like.

pâtes à la crème et aux champignons
or "pasta with cream and mushrooms" (just wanted to sound fancy with the French)
1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, scrubbed clean, stems removed, and caps sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4~1/2 cup combination of parmiggiano reggiano and gruyere cheeses, grated
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb pasta
  1. In a large saute pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Add enough mushrooms to just cover the bottom of the pan without overlapping. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and brown the mushrooms. Toss to saute both sides of the mushrooms and set aside. Repeat with remaining butter and mushrooms.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and cook pasta to al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. 
  3. Once the mushrooms are cooked, add all of them back to pan. Add cream and cheeses, and stir gently until cheese is completely melted. 
  4. Add pasta and parsley and toss to coat. Add pasta water a little bit at a time to loosen the sauce if necessary. Serve immediately.

    from MY garden

    I can't believe it. I have a real garden. I have plants that are growing and I'm literally eating the fruits of my labors. I made salsa with home grown tomatoes for dinner tonight! And the other day we had norimaki with my own home grown mizuna (a leafy green, part of the mustard family, used often in Japan). I LOVE SUMMER! And even if I complain a lot about the humidity here, if it means even I can grow a garden, I think I can appreciate it:)

    japanese series part 3

    Ah, the farmer's market. I love walking around with my family and being inspired by what's available each week. Most weeks I buy some shiitake mushrooms and eggplant first, and then wander. And when it comes to eggplant, I'm generally drawn to Japanese eggplant. But this week I was inspired by this beautiful variety of baby eggplant.
    With such beautiful, delicate little eggplant, I wanted to showcase their texture and flavor by keeping it simple. My favorite way to eat eggplant is with a simple ginger and soy sauce dressing. Because this recipe only has 3 ingredients, it's really important to start with quality ingredients. Avoid soy sauce with added ingredients like sugar, and don't use dried ginger. Ginger is a lot easier to grate if it's frozen, and because it spoils quickly, I keep mine in the freezer all the time. And if you can find Japanese eggplant, do a little happy dance and buy it. You'll probably have to go to an Asian market to find it, unless you have an impressively stocked grocery store. Your typical globe eggplant is a little too bitter for this recipe.

    When it comes to cooking it through, there really aren't any short cuts. A properly cooked eggplant is buttery and rich, an undercooked eggplant is spongy and bitter. Don't be impatient. Trust me, I've made this mistake;)

    fresh ginger eggplant
    serves 4 as a side dish
    8~12 small eggplant
    1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
    1 tablespoon good quality soy sauce
    neutral tasting oil for frying

    1. Clean eggplant, cut off the tops, and cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. In a small bowl, combine the ginger and soy sauce.
    2. Heave a large skillet, grill pan, or on a grill, to medium heat. Brush the cut side of the eggplant with the oil. Arrange the eggplant, cut side down, in a single layer on the skillet. If it doesn't fit, do it in batches. Cover, and let it cook through. The skin will wrinkle a little and the flesh will be tender all the way through.
    3. Place the eggplant cut side up on a serving platter, and drizzle the soy sauce/ginger mixture over the top and serve.