— Thomas Tobin (@tvnooz) January 22, 2015
I keep chuckling at all the news reports’ description of the Avalon in Edgewater, NJ as a “luxury” apartment complex. Though the Yankees’ John Sterling has been referenced in almost every story as its most illustrious tenant, when we moved in, we only considered it luxurious in comparison to the hellish landlord situation we’d been dealing with for the past two years.
To have an apartment with two(!) working toilets, zero birds living in the stove vent, and a parking space for which we didn’t have to battle with the family living downstairs? That was luxury. Instead of lugging laundry to the coin-op machines, we got to sit on our tiny balcony and watch groundhogs frolic in the cemetery below (a cemetery whose existence made our rent so much cheaper, since apparently few others could abide it getting in the way of their Empire State Building view.)
We also ended up with a couple of next-door neighbors so terrible they almost put our former upstairs neighbors to shame. The snarling, drunken shenanigans of Pat (loafabout alcoholic) and Cindy (lumbering shrew) haunted us so badly we considered sending them a thank-you card after we bought our house, since they were a big motivation for moving out of the Avalon and never sharing any walls with anyone ever again.
Sure, the Avalon was a cookie-cutter, some might say soulless, development. It didn’t have the charm of our 1920s-built colonial home, but it played host to meaningful life moments both large and small. We moved in as a newly engaged couple and got married while we lived there. I started cooking more seriously, trying my hand at French Laundry recipes for the first time while prepping Dan for our honeymoon dinner. Our kitchen was the site of my first batch of homemade pierogies and where I used to drape every available surface with fresh pappardelle strands from my new KitchenAid pasta maker attachment.
It was also while we lived in Edgewater that I started eating meat again and ended a decades-long vendetta against mushrooms. The two events weren’t consciously related, but the act of choosing to eat both allowed me to develop one of the most comforting pasta dishes in my repertoire. I’ve actually been making a version of this dish since our honeymoon in 2005, when I ate the most sublime bowl of mushroom pasta at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Since that day, I’ve been working to recreate that perfect dish—this is just the first time I’ve stopped to commit quantities and procedures to paper (er, pixel).
The secret, I must confess, is adding beefiness to the mushrooms’ already-meaty essence. I skimp at nothing and add a dollop of veal demi-glace to really boost the salt and umami factor. If you quail at the price of a jar of the good stuff, just know that it will last forever (unless your apartment burns down—too soon?) in the fridge. I’ve had mine for years. Seriously, years. But the timid among you can use beef broth, though it won’t be exactly the same.
I might never eat at Bistro Jeanty again, and that’s ok. I don’t need to go back. I can remember the pleasure of the past and content myself with this enormous bowl of pasta in front of me right here in the present.
Hearty Mushroom Pasta
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Makes 2 servings
- 2 servings homemade pasta or other fresh pasta (1 inch-thick pappardelle is my favorite, but make whatever kind you want)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 pound mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned, and sliced paper-thin
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon veal demi-glace or 1/4 cup beef broth
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt for the pasta water
- cream, creme fraiche, or sour cream (optional)
- Maldon salt or coarse sea salt for garnish
Fill a 4- to 6-quart stockpot with water and place over medium-high heat to bring to a boil for the pasta.
While the water heats up, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a wide sauté pan or high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half the mushrooms in a single layer, stir to coat with the oil, and cook for 3-4 minutes undisturbed. Seriously, don’t stir them. You want them to develop a nice brown tan.
OK, now you can stir them and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or so. When the mushrooms are brown and starting to shrink, push them to the side of the pan, add the remaining oil, and the remaining half of the mushrooms. Repeat the browning process.
Stir all the mushrooms together and add the shallot and garlic. Cook for another minute more, until the garlic is fragrant and the shallots are starting to soften.
If you’re using demi-glace, scoop 1/4 cup water out of the (close-to-boiling) pasta pot and whisk the demi-glace together with the hot water in a small bowl to dissolve.
Add the demi-glace or broth to the mushrooms and stir to scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside while you finish the pasta.
When the pasta water comes to a boil, add the tablespoon of kosher salt to the water and then add the pasta. Cook for 2-3 minutes, just until the pasta is tender, then scoop the pasta with tongs into the mushrooms. Let a little bit of pasta water drip into the mushrooms with the pasta strands to make everything a little saucier.
If you have any heavy cream, creme fraiche, or sour cream on hand and want to add a spoonful to the pasta to make things a little more luxurious, no one can blame you. It’s what people in luxury apartments would do.
Divide the pasta between two bowls, sprinkle each with Maldon salt, and serve.