Mushroom, Chicken, and Spring Pea Penne
Sometimes, when I’m walking home from work in the evening, or sitting on BART heading into San Francisco, or wandering through the Rockridge Market Hall drooling over fresh pasta, I’m overcome by joy that I get to live here, that this is, really and truly, my new home. Two weekends ago Mr. X and I took a trip into the city to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and I couldn’t stop grinning, despite the crowds and noise and madness. I felt like I was in my own personal version of heaven, surrounded by piles of glorious spring onions and purple carrots and flawless mushrooms of all kinds. I could spend hours wandering through that place, but luckily for Mr. X, I was content to cut the shopping short and sit down to enjoy a glass of cava once I found my new culinary magical ingredient: Umami paste.
I read about Laura Santtini’s Taste #5 Umami paste awhile ago in one of the many food magazines floating around my house, but I couldn’t get my hands on it: It was back-ordered big time on Amazon, and none of the stores in my little town, not even the gourmet grocery, carried it. When I saw it at the Ferry Plaza Marketplace I snatched it up, and immediately started pondering all the uses to which it might be put.
I decided to use it that very night, along with the fresh mushrooms we bought and some leftover roast chicken that was waiting in our refrigerator, to make a simple, springtime pasta dish, and dish that felt like just the thing for a May evening in California.
If you can’t get your hands on Umami paste, don’t despair. This dish will still be delicious. You could leave it out completely, or use smidgen of anchovy paste and tomato paste instead. It just added a little something-something to what is already one of my favorite pasta preparations: a light cream sauce and plenty of fresh vegetables.
And let me just talk for a minute about those peas: I had never had fresh peas before, only the frozen type or (god forfend!) canned. I saw a bag of fresh peas at Trader Joe’s (another reason I’m so happy to be back in California), and they were a real treat. Raw, they’re a bit grassy and kind of bitter, but with just a quick boil or saute, they are bright and a little sweet, and the texture is fantastic, not at all mushy. They add just the smallest amount of crunch to this dish, which otherwise is all creamy, soft richness. And they just scream to me that it’s spring! Glorious spring!
Mushroom, Chicken, and Spring Pea Penne
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked penne or other short noodle
- about 2 tablespoons olive oil
- about 2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms (or whatever variety you fancy)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- about 1 cup of chopped roasted chicken meat
- about 3/4 cup fresh peas
- a squeeze of Umami paste (optional, or use some anchovy and/or tomato paste)
- a bit less than 1 cup of heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the penne until it’s almost done, about 6 minutes, and then drain.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the mushrooms. Shake the pan so they’re in a single layer, then leave them alone to cook for about 2 or 3 minutes. Give them a little stir, sprinkle in some salt, then cook them for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and give it all a quick stir for about 30 seconds, or just long enough for the garlic to become fragrant. Remove the mushrooms to a separate bowl.
Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan and add the chopped chicken. (If your chicken is particularly fatty, you can probably skip the rest of the olive oil). Cook until the chicken is just warmed through, then remove the chicken to the same bowl with the mushrooms.
Add the peas to the skillet, and a splash of water. Scrape up the browned bits from the pan, and let the water boil until it’s evaporated and the peas are bright green and a little softer. Add the Umami paste to the skillet and stir, then add in the heavy cream. Bring the cream to a boil, whisking continuously, and let the cream cook down until it’s thickened into a sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the sauce is thick and saucy, stir back in the mushrooms and chicken. Then stir in the pasta, with some of the starchy pasta water (I usually just quickly drain the pasta and don’t rinse it, so the pasta itself is still fairly wet). Stir everything together well so the pasta finishes cooking, for another minute or so. Finish with a healthy grating of Parmesan.
This would be great with chopped asparagus, if you can’t find fresh peas. Leave out the chicken if you want to go vegetarian. Use whatever mushrooms you can find: Cremini mushrooms are great here, and if you want to go upscale, well, it is morel season. (I had to be talked out of splurging on the morels.) This dish is, to me, a great bridge between winter and summer: still rich from the cream but with those promising flavors of spring brightening the whole thing. And with strawberries and tomatoes already appearing in the farmer’s markets here, well, I know summer is coming even sooner than I expect. I still can’t believe I get to spend it here.