Thursday, April 01, 2010

In Season NW: Spring Sensations

Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood has a booth at the Portland Farmers' Market on Saturdays in the South Park Blocks (look for the large "Olive Oil" sign…that's him), so he's always up on what's in season and looking good. Plus he's a terrific cook and one who's willing to share his latest finds.

Pasta with Nettles and Maitakes

Both maitake mushrooms (above) and stinging nettle should be at the farmers market this time of year. They provide an alternative to the usual spring ingredients like fresh peas or asparagus. Maitakes are also called Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa for the mycologists), and the clusters of frond-like fungi can be simply broken up for cooking.

Start the pasta water first. Cook the nettles separately in boiling, salted water for a minute or two [be sure to handle with gloves when they're fresh…they're not called stinging nettles for nothing! - KAB], then squeeze out the water, chop coarsely, and set aside. Strain out debris and save the cooking water (also called nettle tea) and use it for soup.

Chop a couple of garlic cloves and sauté them briefly in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Pour in a splash of white wine and let it cook down. Add the chopped nettles. Taste, add a little salt if necessary, and remove from the heat until the pasta is ready.

In the meantime you’ve cooked a pound of pasta (a short shape like orechiette or rigatoni works best) in salted water. Drain, reserving a bit of cooking water, and add the pasta and couple of spoonfuls of pasta water to the mushroom mix.

Add a cup or so of bread crumbs to a little olive oil in a skillet and cook for a few minutes, until they darken a bit. Stir into the pasta. Serve with good extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.

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