15 November, 2008

how to save your Friday night













I wish I could say I took this lovely photograph of porcini mushrooms, but alas the thought never occurred to me until we had eaten them all, so I am borrowing a photo from a really clever and GORGEOUSLY illustrated blog I'd like to recommend to you, crispy waffle. Sheryl has lovely recipes and even lovelier pictures.

But back to the mushrooms. Does your family melt down on Friday night? Obviously mine does or I would not be asking the question. We used to have what I called "Thursday collapse syndrome," where everyone was cranky and annoyed and tired, and then bounced back for the home stretch. It may have had something to do with Avery's old schedule of riding on Thursday afternoons after school, which by the middle of November meant that I was standing in Hyde Park for an hour in the DARK and likely as not some sort of angry precip. Now, Thursdays are spent at the pool which is lovely, and Fridays at... the *&^% skating rink. Give me the park any day. Let's see what about Friday afternoons might make me pissy: is it the subzero temperature, the smell of hot dogs, the screaming children, or the sight of dozens of highly sexed and caffeinated teenagers zooming around my daughter with blades on their incompetent feet...

And these days my long-suffering husband trails home on Fridays thoroughly sick of the stock market and everything else he's done all week, so he's a lost cause. And Avery never fully recovered all week from her dental ordeal, and so last night turned up with one of her nameless 24-hour high fevers. Oy veh.

What was required was a rich, delectable, complex dish that we could really sink our teeth into. Obviously garlic was indicated. But what else? Well, I had the fruits of my Good Food Show afternoon to choose from, and it was but the work of a moment to concoct:

Spaghetti With Cream, Porcini and Jambon Iberico
(serves four)

25 grams dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 lb spaghetti
1 tbsp unsalted (important) butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup single cream
2 egg yolks
10 slices jambon iberico
fresh ground black pepper to taste
a few gratings lemon zest
grated pecorino or parmesan to garnish

This dish is roughly inspired by a similarly creamy and decadent one in the brilliant Giuliano Hazan's Classic Pasta, where he combines prosciutto and asparagus. I love Hazan's book partly for its no-nonsense advice and obvious channeling of his mother's genius, but also for the presentation which has a Dorling-Kindersley appeal: ingredients lined up with Mondrian precision.

Now, two things about ingredients. I specify jambon iberico only because I bought some yesterday. You may easily use parma ham or prosciutto. Second, you must set the mushrooms aside in boiling water to cover them, for at least 20 minutes to rehydrate them. Remember this at the outset, because that will take longer than the sauce prep or the boiling water for your pasta.

So, set the mushrooms aside. Poke at them now and then to make sure they are all absorbing the water. SAVE that water when you've fished out the mushrooms because it is wildly fragrant and rich. I'm planning to use mine as a stock in tonight's sauce for chicken. Separate the slices of jambon and cut them into strips.

Put your pasta water on to boil about 15 minutes before you want to eat and start the sauce by melting the butter in a large saucepan and sweating the garlic till it's soft. Add the cream and whisk in the egg yolks, then grind in plenty of black pepper. Do not add salt as both the ham and the pecorino or parmesan are very salty. Take off the heat. Cook your pasta and save out a little of the water to thin your sauce if necessary.

As the pasta drains, put the sauce back on the heat, throwing in the jambon and the mushrooms which you've plucked out of the water, and the lemon zest. Whisk until it's bubbling softly. Toss in the spaghetti and mix with tongs, adding some of the pasta water if necessary. Top with grated cheese and serve immediately, if not sooner.

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We were revived. Even a little girl with a fever will eat this, if not the vegetable you feel compelled to serve even though on a Friday night no one really wants to eat anything virtuous. I've heard all about the healing properties of chicken soup, and I believe in them, but I'm planning to proselytyze anyone who will listen on the undoubtedly medicinal gifts of cream and garlic.

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