Paccheri With Mushroom Sauce

I sometimes attribute my fondness for mushrooms to the fact that my father claimed not to like them, a teenage rebellion that I never outgrew. My mother did not always respect his opinion, especially when it came to using cream of mushroom soup in her noodle casserole. He would sit down at the table, mutter something about poisonous mushrooms and dig in with the rest of us.

Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole was a popular dish with us kids. It was also one of her favorites, because it was easy to make, and even Dad approved of it, since it was a cheap way of filling up growing kids.

However, none of us would have thought of cooking Paccheri with Mushroom Sauce. We had never heard of paccheri, Mom never cooked with wine and would not have risked a battle with Dad by making a sauce of ground-up and sliced mushrooms that did not come in a can.

If you like pasta, you will probably enjoy Paccheri. They are large tubes cut in inch-long sections. There are many recipes for stuffed paccheri that I am tempted to try sometime, but this recipe for paccheri with a mushroom sauce is a quick and simple way to put a tasty dish on the table to please anyone who likes mushrooms.

As you can tell from the photo, it is not a particularly colorful dish. Most edible mushrooms are white or various shades of brown and gray, and once they are cooked and puréed the result unfortunately looks like fresh concrete.

But the flavor!! If you enjoy mushrooms, I can promise you that you will not be disappointed. You can use white button mushrooms, but I think that crimini (baby bella) mushrooms have more flavor, and you can combine mushrooms if you wish. A good combination is a half and half mixture of crimini and shitake mushrooms.

The basic recipe comes from Ciao Italia, the longest running television cooking program on PBS. I changed it a little to suit our tastes. Here is what I did and what I recommend.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 lb. mushrooms, divided
4 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 and 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 oz. package of paccheri
Water for cooking the pasta
Parsley for garnish

PROCEDURE:

Put two or three quarts of water in a large saucepan over moderate heat.

Wash and slice the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a nine-inch skillet or saucepan over moderate heat. Add a cup of the mushrooms and the pine nuts and cook them for five or six minutes until the mushrooms are soft. Transfer the mixture to a blender cup or food processor and make a nice gray purée.

Mince the garlic while the mushrooms and pine nuts are cooking.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over low heat, add the garlic and cook for about two minutes. Do not brown the garlic. Put the remaining mushrooms into the pan, raise the heat to moderate and cook for about four minutes, stirring often.

The pasta cooking water should be boiling by about this time. Add a teaspoon of salt and the paccheri and cook to al dente, about sixteen minutes.

Stir a quarter teaspoon of salt and a half cup of wine into the mushrooms and garlic in the skillet. Reduce the heat when the mixture comes to a simmer, stir in the purée and keep the sauce warm while the pasta finishes cooking.

Test the paccheri for doneness. Drain the pasta, reserving a half cup of the cooking water.

Add the paccheri and the half cup of cooking water to the sauce in the skillet. Sprinkle a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese and grind about an eighth teaspoon of black pepper over the mixture. Mix thoroughly, taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with a garden salad, bread and the same wine used for the sauce. Garnish with parsley and pass the remaining grated cheese.

NOTES: I tend to use sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay wine when a recipe calls for dry white wine, but there are lots of good Italian wines such as Soave that an Italian might prefer.

Spam ’N’ Mac

“To die for” was how a young lady described a dish of “Lobster Mac” she had eaten the night before our conversation. It’s macaroni and cheese with lobster meat baked into the casserole. I really like lobster and enjoy good macaroni and cheese, so I am sure I would agree with her assessment of the dish, but I have never tried it.

For me the problem is the cost. A pound of lobster meat can easily cost $50 and a small side dish of Lobster Mac will set you back $15 to $20. I have found a delicious alternative for less than $5 a pound that I am sure will soon be appearing at “haute cuisine” restaurants from coast to coast. You may pay $15 for a little side dish of Spam ’N’ Mac at some of those restaurants, but you can create this gourmet dinner at home for what it costs to make hamburger hotdish.

On our way back from visiting relatives in Kansas, Jerri and I decided to revisit the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, which was moved from its original quarters to a new location downtown. It was late on a Tuesday afternoon when we walked past the bronze sculpture of a farmer with two pigs that we had had our picture taken with many years ago.

Ours was a fun reunion with the history of a meat product that I remember fondly. I knew that Spam was a lunch meat combination of pork shoulder and ham invented by the Hormel Company in 1937. However, I had forgotten that one hundred and fifty million pounds of Spam were shipped to soldiers and civilians during World War II. I did know that thousands of cans of Hot and Spicy Spam were shipped to Guam every year, but I was not aware that Hormel now made Spam for other food cultures.

There is Jalapeño Spam for Texas, for instance, Portuguese Sausage Spam for Hawaii, Teriyaki Spam for Korea and Chorizo Spam for Mexico, as well as Garlic, Bacon, Black Pepper, Turkey and Hickory Smoke Spam for adventurous Americans along with the Classic Spam I grew up with. You can buy all these varieties at the museum in Austin or on the museum web site.

Mom kept a can of Spam on a shelf for emergencies and we do the same today. Every few weeks, Mom would fix Spam and Eggs, slices of meat fried until slightly crisp on the outside and served with fried eggs and toast for breakfast. We still enjoy a breakfast of Spam and Eggs at least a couple times a year.

Until I created Spam ’N’ Mac with Portuguese Spam, Spam and Eggs was my favorite way to enjoy this meat. But then I saw the cans of Portuguese Sausage Spam. I had no idea what it tasted like, but the man who greeted us informed me that it was a little spicy and the most popular variety of Spam in Hawaii.

I could not resist, and we enjoyed a delicious Spam ’N’ Mac supper a few days after we got home from our visit to the museum. I was told that Portuguese Sausage Spam is available only at Austin, Minnesota or Hawaii, but I am betting that a few drops of hot sauce will make Spam ’N’ Mac with classic Spam taste just as good. If not, I promise to let you know soon.

INGREDIENTS:

About 3 quarts water
Salt to taste
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
3 T butter
3 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. ground dry mustard
1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
8 oz. Portuguese Sausage Spam
2-3 T breadcrumbs

PROCEDURE:

Heat about three quarts of water to boiling in a saucepan or Dutch oven. Add salt if you wish. I add about a half teaspoon of salt to the water for this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375º while the water is heating, grease a three-quart casserole and start making the sauce.

Add the macaroni when the water comes to a boil and set a timer for eight minutes.

Heat the milk to steaming and shred the cheese.

Melt the butter over moderate heat in a two-quart saucepan and stir in the flour, salt, pepper, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook the roux for about three minutes. Chop the Spam into a quarter-inch dice.

Stir the hot milk into the roux until you have a smooth sauce. Cook the sauce for about two minutes until it thickens, then add the shredded cheese gradually while stirring until you have a smooth sauce.

Drain the cooked macaroni and return it to the pan. Mix the sauce with the macaroni and blend in the Spam.

Put the macaroni into the casserole, sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top and put the casserole into the oven. Bake for about twenty-five minutes until the casserole is bubbling and the bread crumbs have begun to brown.

This recipe makes four generous servings. Serve with a salad and a glass of wine.

NOTES: Use the Cheddar cheese you prefer. My first choice is sharp Cheddar, but medium or extra sharp are okay too. Spam comes in twelve ounce cans. You can reserve two or three slices for a sandwich or for a breakfast of Spam and eggs or just make a meatier Spam ’N Mac.