Thursday, June 30, 2011

Morel and Lentil Carbonara Pasta - My Legume Love Affair 36


Necessity truly is the mother of invention. After two dismal flops at MLLA recipes for June, and a clock that stops ticking for no one, I rummaged my pantry for on-the-fly ideas that would improve my odds of success at a very late hour. Carbonara sauce, as lush and rich and wonderful as it is, is a great challenge for a vegetarian cook who has an uneasy relationship with undercooked eggs. Although I frequently fake meat flavors with mushrooms (the wilder and stinkier the fungus, the better) I was much more concerned that I would go through all the motions only to wind up with the characteristic raw sauce clinging to my lovingly arranged mafaldine noodles. Scott has a very good appetite, but without my participatory consumption, there would be a mound of leftovers unable to be reheated without the egg seizing into tiny bits of curdle which only our imaginary Fido would be happy to chow down on.

Though merely a hunch, I prepared a savory custard cheese sauce, not unlike pastry cream, vigilantly whisking it on the lowest heat setting just until steaming and barely opaque enough to cover the back of a spoon. The eggs were cooked, the sauce was silky, and the texture naturally thickened when met with the pasta starch during the critically timed assembly and tossing. I cannot overemphasize the importance of timing for this recipe to work. As with most egg dishes that you do not intend to scramble, temperature control requires skill and confidence, but these qualities can be learned in real time, even if you are running out of it. While I make no claims to be as clever as Napoleon's Chef Dunand after the Battle of Marengo, some of the best cooks are those who can think on their feet. I absolutely did not know where I was going with this, but it's found a home of hungry mouths who definitely march on their stomachs around here.

Dried Morels

Vegetarian Morel and Lentil Carbonara Pasta - My own recipe

Serves 2-3. Leftovers cannot be reheated.


8 dried whole morels, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1 hour

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup lentils (any kind), boiled in 4 cups of water until firm to the bite but not mushy (about 7 minutes)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

3/4 pound long, textured pasta (such as mafaldine, linguine rigate, or fusilli)

20 fresh chive blades, snipped into 3/4-inch pieces

Additional salt and ground black pepper to taste
Additional grated Parmesan to serve on side


In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil with butter over low heat until butter is melted. Add garlic and stir. Maintain the lowest heat to prevent garlic from burning. Cook garlic until translucent and golden (about 5 minutes). Turn off heat; remove saucepan from burner. Add heavy cream and stir. Set aside to cool while you beat the eggs with an electric mixer in a medium bowl on high speed until thick and foamy (about 5 minutes). Slowly add 2 ladles of the warm cream sauce into eggs to condition them to the heat. Whisk immediately to combine. Transfer egg mixture to the saucepan with remaining cream sauce. Over the very lowest heat, and while whisking constantly, slowly heat the sauce until it just begins to steam. (You can best see the steam rise by lifting the saucepan and viewing the edges at eye level.) Dip a spoon into the sauce. It will be slightly thickened and cling to the back of the spoon. This process should not take more than a few minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, and while continuing to whisk, add Parmesan, salt, and pepper. The Parmesan will melt almost immediately. Add 4 tablespoons of the morel soaking water to the egg and cheese sauce. Reserve saucepan uncovered on a cold burner to prevent further cooking.

Rinse cooked lentils under cold water and toss in bowl with olive oil and salt. Cooked yield will be approximately 2 cups. Reserve.

Cook pasta according to package directions. In meantime, drain remaining morel water and reserve for future use. Slice morels lengthwise. Reserve.

Drain cooked pasta and immediately transfer to a large cold serving bowl. Do not return to the hot pot you cooked it in. Stir and pour egg and cheese sauce over pasta and toss well. Stir in lentils. Arrange morel slices on top. Scatter with snipped chives. Taste for additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan.

This recipe, rich in lentils, is for Aqua of Served with Love, who kindly offered to host MLLA 36 while she was in the middle of a very dramatic household move to South Africa. Her round-up will be online as soon as she catches her breath.

In meantime, I am busy with last-minute preparations to announce MLLA 37 which kicks off Year 4 of an event which I am still pinching myself for its popularity. Do stay tuned for extra-special features and prizes for the month of July. I shall be assuming the hosting duties. I expect it will be a very crazy time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Serenity Now - Chinese Chrysanthemum Flower Tea

White Chrysanthemum Tea

You may be wondering about the mysterious silence in this space over the last several weeks. It would be the romantic in me to suggest that I have been indulging in the famous summer pastimes of picking berries across endless acres of flatland; idly draping my fingertips into the aqua waters of a swimming pool from a floating chaise; or stretching supine on the porch of a lakeside cabin, a tattered paperback poised in my line of vision.

Alas, life has been been, instead, rather infuriatingly pragmatic. First there is the air conditioner, still on the blink after three separate visits by the repairmen; then there's the roof, which now diverts downpours directly onto our windowsill; oh, and then there was my recent dogged pursuit of shutting down a scraper site that lifted my entire feed since Day 1. All this drama is enough to make one's hair start coiling into serpents as the mouth freezes open into a perpetual scream. It is not a good look.

Yet there really is no reason to loose your head over this stuff when there's a cup of golden chrysanthemum tea to restore your sense of calm and dignity. The Chinese have celebrated its powerful properties for at least as long as the ancient Greeks have been spinning their mythological tales.

Traditionally brewed as a tisane, dried chrysanthemum flowers are steeped in hot water where they instantly blossom once again, more delicate and transparent than when they were freshly alive, but with all the herbal qualities intact. Although I cannot personally attest to its medicinal success in cooling the body of fever, I can vouch for its cooling of the nerves during times of turbulence. Similar to chamomile, another flower known for its soothing effects, chrysanthemum flower tea possesses a more bold color and flavor, and a faster transport back to tranquility. Whether drunk hot or cold, sweetened or plain, you will not find anything even remotely like a tempest in your teacup.

White Chrysanthemum Tea Blossoms

The recipe, if you can call it that, is nothing more than tossing a small handful of blossoms into a teapot, followed by pouring water over them fresh from a boil. Allow the blossoms to expand, float, and steep until the tea color is a lively golden yellow. Decant through a tea strainer into individual cups. Serve with optional granulated sugar or honey. You can also brew an individual cup by poising a small strainer over the rim, filling it with a generous tablespoon of blossoms before proceeding to pour the water and steep as above. Simply lift the strainer, and your tea is ready for sipping.

Chrysanthemum tea can be found in Chinese grocers or online at Enjoying Tea or Tea Spring. (I have no vested interest in any retailer.)

This is for Cinzia of Cindystar, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #290 for Haalo of Cook Almost Anything at Least Once, the mistress of this long-running and popular weekly event originally created by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.

Been There, Done That ~
Cherry Blossom Tea
Violet Granita
Halvah Ice Cream with Poached Apricots in Orange Flower Water

Other People's Eats ~
Chrysanthemum Tea Jelly from Noob Cook
Chrysanthemum and Honeysuckle Sorbet from Slashfood
Poached Stone Fruits with Jasmine and Chrysanthemum Flowers from A Food Lover's Journey