Chilly autumn days in the high 80s brought a yen for the rich, earthy flavors of mushroom pasta.
A concept as 1980s as fancy mushrooms calls for a 1980s band, so let’s revive Living Colour (listen — or don’t, as there will be vids), not least because if one chooses the wrong mushrooms, things can get colorful. To my astonishment, Living Colour is touring — as part of a Jimi Hendrix tribute.
Equally important, whenever I cook something with nuts, I end up invoking metal, and Living Colour is classified as funk metal. Or metal funk. But not fetal munk. Really. The band is also ranked #70 on VH1′s Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Let’s start with the song that I heard played most, though apparently my local radio station was weird.
The glamour mushrooms are oyster mushrooms. A small quantity of dried ones needs to soak for half an hour in a bowl with a handful of craisins, a shot of vodka, and enough water to set it all afloat. Think of this as a hot tub for mushrooms.
At least that song reassured me that I’m not crazy to associate Living Colour with funk (rhythmic with a groove). But we need to get metal, so heat a drizzle of olive oil and toast some nuts on the stove top. These are crushed walnuts. They will absorb oil madly.
Slice some regular mushrooms. To make enough dinner for one person with leftovers, I went for half a package. I’m convinced that the brown mushrooms sold as criminis or baby bellas have deeper flavor than the white ones sold as button mushrooms, even though they’re the same shroom. And I ignore Julia Child’s admonitions about pan space: one always ends up alone with a crowded shroom.
While I associate Living Colour most strongly with lead vocalist Corey Glover, it turns out to have been the brainchild of guitarist Vernon Reid (#66 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time), who also cofounded the Black Rock Coalition, to support African-American musicians who want to play real rock-’n'-roll.
As the main mushrooms start to turn browner and limper, shred the oyster mushrooms and add them to the pan. Also add the craisins and a five or six cloves of baked garlic. Stir merrily to let it all blend and then, if you’ve forgotten to start the pasta, set all the goodies aside in a bowl while the penne boils. That gives time to admire the work of Reid’s fast-moving fingers on this live performance. The guitar solo around 4:10 almost vibrates.
Once the pasta is draining, we can whip up a sauce. A low-fat béchamel is the easiest thing to make, after boiling water but well before, say, toast. Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the hot pan and add an equal quantity of flour. Mix, mix, mix!
The drumming in this band is pretty impressive, too. Will Calhoun (a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in music production… yes, Wikipedia, I love it when you do that… now let me stir the sauce!) was Modern Drummer’s Number One Progressive Drummer three times.
Add milk. Things got exciting about here, thus the lack of photos. Figure a cup of milk, as you can always add more. Don’t be alarmed if the white sauce if somewhat beige, as the mushrooms left some pan juices, and we want them.
And then there’s the secret ingredient: basil paste. I discovered basil paste at Safeway today. One tube is equivalent to three bunches of basil, and it doesn’t get all wilted and reproachful in the fridge. Add a modest little squirt and stir like crazy.
When the sauce looks saucy, add the pasta and the mushroom mixture. Mix it all together well and let it heat through so that the sauce can thicken.
Here it is, on a plate, topped with the chopped walnuts. This is the mushroom pasta I’ve been trying to achieve since an unfortunate restaurant foray with friends back in April. The flavors are dense, woodsy, and complex; the sauce feels rich.
(It is sometimes a handicap in writing this blog to get a dish really right, as I then want to make it often.)
In the vein of dense and complex, let’s wrap up with Living Colour’s most famous song (now on Guitar Hero), which achieves a true metal vibe inside a funk groove.