Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recipe: French Onion Pasta

I don't mind waiting while
the onions caramelize.

This dish is basically an unholy union of French onion soup and pasta, with a fun Spanish/Mexican twist. Beef broth, caramelized onions, wine — those basics ingredients of French onion soup seemed like such an obvious marriage to pasta. The dried porcini mushrooms increase the depth of flavor as well as add a little class. Then, what the hell, I didn't have any pine nuts so I added some toasted pepitas. Then dump the whole pasta mess in a pan, top with gruyere and broil.  

But I got the dish out of the oven and something was missing. It felt overly sweet and dark. In a mad-scientist move, leaping from the pepitas, added just a touch of Rick Bayless's picante sauce to provide some heat and tart notes. Serve this with some nice Spanish red wine and crunchy bread for a really classy dinner.

French Onion Pasta
Serves 2

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced in to 1/4" rings
2 tbs dried porcini mushrooms
1 Bay Leaf
1 sprig thyme (1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp marjoram (1/2 tsp dried)
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 tsp butter
1/2 grated gruyere cheese
1 tbs toasted pepitas
dried linguine for other wide-ish pasta for two
salt & pepper to taste

1) Add 1 cup boiling water to the dried porcini mushrooms. Let soak for 30 minutes. Squeeze out mushrooms and roughly chop them. Reserve 1/4 cup of the steeping liquid (you'll probably want to strain it.)

2) While the mushrooms are soaking, caramelize the onions. Add the butter to a large skillet and heat over medium. Once the butter is foamy, add the onions and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Don't let them brown, but you just want to get them soft. Feel free to turn down the heat a bit if they are browning. After the 5 minutes are up, add the thyme, marjoram, bay lead and season with a bit of salt and fresh pepper. Cover and cook over medium low to low heat for 30 minutes, until they are well caramelized. 

3) While the onions are caramelizing and the mushrooms are soaking, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for the pasta. Also, preheat the broiler.

4) Once you have the mushrooms and onions prepped, increase the heat on the skillet to medium, and add the mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes. 

5) Add the wine and scrape up any of the crunchy bits from the onions. Cook until most of the wine is reduced down, 2-4 minutes, then add the beef broth. Let simmer while you work on the pasta.

6) Cook the pasta in the boiling water for 1-2 minutes less than the package says (you'll finish it in the pan.) I've never made this dish with fresh pasta, but it should work with a few minor modifications.

7) Add about 1/2 cup pasta water to the skillet and stir. 

8) Once it's done, scoop the pasta with a pasta grabber from the pot and plop it in the skillet. Add the pepitas. Mix it all up. If you need more liquid (you don't want it to be too dry because then you would be sad that there is nothing to sop up with bread!) take a bit from the pot. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.

9) Transfer the pasta to a broiler-safe pan. Top with gruyere cheese and broil for 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly golden.

10) Split the pasta and let each diner add hot sauce to their taste (start with a very small amount since the idea is to add vinegary-complexity but not take over the whole dish with spicy sauce. I would even start with 1/8 tsp for each.)

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