Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The second mode

I have two cooking modes. The fancy, "over-achieving" mode in which I make everything from scratch, and the quick and easy cooking mode, aka the I'm-too-tired-to-cook-anything-but-pasta mode.

The first mode is the one I get into when I have a lot of time on my hands, a lot of energy and a whole lot of patience. It is during such days that I feel like I can conquer the world with my cooking, and I create dishes like Greek feta-filled breads and small hand pies, or desserts like saragli and bars of chocolate dulce de leche with shortbread crust.

The second mode is my everyday mode. It's the mode I get into when I come home from a busy day, and can't or won't cook anything that takes more than half an hour to prepare. Those days are usually salad, pasta or grilled chicken days.

Yet, this type of cooking for me, need not be uninspired. The outcome doesn't have to be a boring plate of food. See, I love my food and dinnertime is special for S and me. It's our time; when we catch up on our day, when we have the chance to unwind over a glass of wine, enjoy a plate of good food and feel that we are doing something special, even if we're staying in.

Dishes like this one are meant for such evenings. A plate of pasta that is easy and quick to prepare, but that is also elegant and deeply flavorful. Spaghettini with mushrooms, olive oil and garlic.

There's something really comforting and relaxing in the idea that you can make a plate of scrumptious food in less than half an hour. And there's no need to be fussy over the ingredients. Choose your favorite pasta, it doesn't have to be spaghettini, some mushrooms, from the fancy chanterelles to the common button, any kind you have on hand will do, even dried ones that if you give them some time in warm water they'll do wonders for the dish, some good olive oil, garlic and cheese—parmesan, pecorino, kefalotyri—, anything with a tang and a strong umami flavor to match the meatiness of the earthy mushrooms.

And, if your day has been particularly challenging, then play your favorite music in the background, serve the pasta in your most beautiful plates, have a glass of wine and toast to the small, everyday pleasures and to the simple things that bring you joy.

Spaghettini with Mushrooms, Olive Oil and Garlic

The "sauce" for this dish is created by adding wine to the sautéed mushrooms and a little pasta water (water that the pasta has been boiled in) if needed at the end.
I used a white Bordeaux to liven up the dish but you can also use a Sauvignon Blanc.

Don't skip adding the parsley on top. It's not a garnish; it really brings a freshness and vibrancy to the dish.
I also love this dish with pappardelle, tagliatelle or spaghetti.

Serve the pasta with a simple green salad tossed with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar, and have the cheese on hand at the table for further grating on top of the pasta. I always need more cheese on my spaghettini.

Yield: 2 servings

200-250 g spaghettini
3 Tbsp plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized garlic clove, finely minced
100 g button mushrooms, sliced
50 ml dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Parmesan cheese, for grating on top of the pasta

Special equipment: grater, colander

In a medium-sized skillet, heat the 3 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat and add the garlic. Turn heat down to medium and sauté for 30 seconds, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the sliced mushrooms along with some salt and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook for a further 2 minutes. You don't want all the juices from the mushrooms and wine to evaporate. You need them in order to make up the "sauce".

In the meantime, prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to the boil over high heat and add the salt, followed by the spaghetti. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard), or cook to your liking. Be careful though, spaghettini cook very quickly because they're very thin pasta.
Reserve 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the pasta water and drain the spaghettini in a colander (but don't shake the pasta), discarding the rest of the water. Return pasta to the pot and add the mushrooms, making sure you scrape every last drop of the liquid out of the skillet and into the pot. The starch from the pasta will create a light "sauce".
Mix well with a large fork or a pasta fork, add the 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and if you find the pasta to be too dry for your liking, add some, or all, of the 60 ml of pasta water you reserved earlier.
Toss pasta well and serve while it's hot on two dishes.
Sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley and grate a generous amount of parmesan on top.


  1. Right on. I do the exact same thing... usually eating salad, pasta and hummus :-) Love simple pastas like these because they make you appreciate the flavors of the good things in like, like olive oil ;-)

  2. Hi Magda! Love your quick spaghettini very yummy even now at 06:45 while drinking my coffee. I especially like your plate.Cheers and have a good day.

  3. Lovely. Simple. Elegant. Isn't that what it's really all about? (This coming from another who loves to use every pot and pan in the house for every meal...)

  4. See, I look at this and I think: wow, I would like a meal like this, with a good glass of wine! It does not have to be fancy in my world, just good. My favorite dry pasta is Delverde. and of course, great mushrooms, and butter and parmesan and wine...

  5. I was nodding all the way through this post, especially with the two modes. Sometimes I'm such a purist and refuse to have anything from a tin or that's quick and easy and other times I want something tasty and fast. Quick doesn't mean poor quality though as you show and with just a few really great ingredients, you can do so much. Love this recipe, it's my kinda comfort food and the picture of the packet of open spaghetti is so pretty too.

  6. Next time try adding tarragon in the recipe..

  7. Anna — my hummus queen!
    Yes, there's nothing like olive oil! Especially if it's Greek :)

    Stelio — thank you!

    Cocoa and Lavender — hehe I know exactly what you mean!

    tasteofbeirut — I haven't tried that pasta. I'll look for it. But no butter here, just olive oil, preferably extra-virgin.

    Emily Vanessa — the beauty is in the small number of ingredients that yield such a flavorful dish. Got to love such dishes, and there are actually quite many of them out there. I think I have to start posting more such recipes.

    Eri — I love tarragon! Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Those are exactly my two cooking modes! But quick and simple doesn't mean unflavorful and boring.

  9. Oh, and by the way, I like Delverde but I have to say I love Garofalo...

  10. I think most of us have two modes. Even world class chefs I guess.
    Your pasta looks delicious!

  11. A wonderful pasta dish which I cook very often, the only difference being that I add Greek cheeses. I also think that all of us have two cooking modes and pasta is a dish which I cook when I have lots of other work to do.

  12. Magda, I now have to make some pasta with mushrooms very simply. I cannot tell you how beautiful I think this post is. So very, very nice as always.

  13. I'm definitely in the second mood today. This dish looks just right.