Long long ago, when I was working in Madras, a colleague (and a very good friend of mine) and I had this cool, but short-lived, tradition going. We would go out to lunch every Friday if both of us happened to be off assignment in the afternoons. We would try restaurants near our office, get away from the maddening (aka, gossiping) crowd and eat good food. The best part was we would talk about everything but work and colleagues and it worked for us… until someone decided to stop us from taking these lunch breaks. Weird, right?
Anyway, for one of our last lunches, we did something different. Around five of us not so bad teammates decided to go to one of the most popular cafes in that area. Anoki was this wonderful old-Europe-meets-old-Madras cafe that bordered on pretentiousness but compensated with good food and a wonderful (but slightly over-priced) couture boutique.
The cafe served rustic classic dishes which, then, seemed very quaint to us because International cuisine for normal people was still finding a platform in Madras. Anoki had a short but effective pasta menu and I, being a vegetarian, got the Pasta al funghi, which the waiter informed me was one of their best dishes. And it was. the pasta was basically a penne bake with mushrooms, parsley and a hint of garlic. I know. Pasta al funghi is nothing special or hard to make but underneath the rustling neem tree, flanked by the serenity of Chamiers and the company of good friends, it tasted ambrosial. I just wish we could clink our water glasses once again in celebration of the good time we had…
Two years of cooking has taught me not to consult a book every time I cook something new. So I went freestyle yet again. Here is the recipe but if you are a pasta expert, I would love to hear your version.
This is what I did:
Pasta Al Funghi
Two cups sliced mushrooms (I used cremini for its meaty texture and dainty size)
Four pods of finely chopped garlic
Four cups uncooked pasta, cooked, drained and pasta water reserved (any pasta would do but all I had were elbows and did not want to make a scene)
One Tbsp wheat flour (or AP. Personally, I prefer the nuttiness of wheat)
One cup milk
Two Tbsp heavy cream
Two Tbsp butter
One Tbsp dried parsley (which is what I had in the pantry. I would have preferred fresh, of course)
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch red pepper flakes
Quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley to garnish
Heat one Tbsp butter in a pan. When hot, add the garlic and saute for a few minutes on medium flame. Make sure it cooks but doesn’t brown. Add the mushroom slices and cook. It is vital that you don’t add salt to the mushrooms when it cooks because that would release the water from these beauties and that is not a pretty sight.
When done, set aside. In the same pan, add the other Tbsp of butter. When it melts, add the flour and cook it on low heat for a few minutes. Now, whisk it as you add the milk and the heavy cream to make a roux. When it thickens, add the mushrooms back, stir in the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Remember that the pasta and Parmesan have salt in them so tread lightly.
Add the pasta to the sauce and if it is too thick, the pasta water is always there. Finish with the cheese and another blob of butter if guilt doesn’t eat you up like it does me. Garnish with fresh parsley (or in my case, cilantro for photo-op) and serve.
The key to this pasta is making sure it doesn’t cross that thin line into mac and cheesedom. So make sure the sauce doesn’t rule the dish. K made yummy noises (the kind I’ve not heard in a long time) when we ate this for dinner. The best thing is, I did too!