For those of you that know me, you know that I am obsessed with pasta. I make pasta by hand on a weekly basis. I use only the best dried pasta from Italy or fantastic domestic sources. If someone called me a pasta snob, I would have to agree. The idea of pasta made without wheat has never sounded good to me. Obviously, there are many people who are gluten-intolerant and I think rice pasta is a great option for them. But since I have the choice, I would always pick the real deal. Until now….
Monday night I was over at my chef-friend Erica’s house to watch The Bachelorette finale. Yes, it was tremendously girlie, but a fun night nonetheless. I expected the highlight of my night to be the tragic proposal Ben made to Courtney, the queen bitch/villain on the show. But it was not. Erica whipped up a simple pasta dish with shaved brussel sprouts, brown butter, lemon and Parmesan cheese. With my eyes glued to the juicy reality tv show, I took a huge bite of pasta and was shocked. I urgently asked Erica, “why does this pasta taste so good? What brand is it?” She answered ,”it’s quinoa pasta. My favorite?”
The pasta was absolutely delicious and tasted so far from a replacement healthy pasta choice. Quinoa is not only high in protein and essential amino acids, it is one of the most healthy grains you can eat in the world. (it’s health benefits are similar to spinach and beets) How could something so damn healthy taste so good? My favorite part of the pasta was the texture. It was perfectly al dente (with a little bite) and held onto the succulent flavors of garlic, lemon, and brown butter in the dish like true Italian pasta. Three portions later, I was hooked!
Yesterday morning I woke up inspired to try my own version of this incredible pasta. I already had a bunch of asparagus (which is finally in season and tastes great), dried mushrooms, truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon in my refrigerator. All I needed was the quinoa pasta, which I found easily at Whole Foods.
I invited my good friend over for dinner, opened up a bottle of Italian Proscecco and made up a new pasta dish. I learned a few things in the process:
1. Quinoa pasta takes a shorter amount of time to cook than regular wheat pasta (approximately 7-9 minutes)
2. When you put it in boiling water it clumps together, so make sure you stir it as it boils.
3. Dried mushrooms can add fantastic flavor to a pasta dish. When you use dried mushrooms you reconstitute them by soaking them in boiling. After 15-20 minutes , the mushrooms come to life are ready to be cooked. The benefit of this technique is that the boiling water used to soak the mushrooms becomes a rich mushroom broth. This broth can be added to the pasta as part of the sauce for more savory flavor.
Here’s the recipe I created for dinner. I hope you enjoy all of the flavors. Most important, I would love to know what you think of quinoa pasta!
Quinoa Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms, Roasted Asparagus and Truffle Oil:
3.5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, stems trimmed off
1.75 oz. dried shitake mushrooms (or any other exotic dried mushroom)
3/4 cup mushroom water (from the rehydrating of the dried mushrooms)
8 oz. quinoa spaghetti or linguine
1/2 lemon, juiced
1.5 Tbs. truffle oil
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the asparagus in 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 8 minutes, or until tender. Let the asparagus cool down and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Cover with boiling water and soak for 15-20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the water (reserving the mushroom water) and place them on a cloth. Squeeze the mushrooms in the cloth together like a sponge to get rid of all of the liquid. Pat dry and slice them thin.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa pasta and let it cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up clumps. Drain under cold water, toss with a little olive oil and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan. Add the remaining olive oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the sliced mushrooms and 1/2 cup of mushroom water, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for 4-5 minutes. Add the asparagus, quinoa pasta, lemon juice, truffle oil and 1/4 cup of mushroom water. Season with Kosher salt and lots of black pepper. Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring with tongs to let all of the flavors come together. Garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese and serve hot.