Pasta must be an all time favourite in Zen Centres. It hardly matters what kind and it’s always a win-win situation.
At the old Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City, pasta would often be the meal of choice for a festive celebration. I recall going a little overboard one time. It was at the end of Ango and after shuso hossen for Michel Genko Dubois (now Genko Roshi) in 1995. Filled with youthful Tenzo enthusiasm, I made several bowls, each one a different flavour. It was fun.
In Toshoji, the training temple in Japan where I stayed for some time a few years ago, festive occasions called for large bowls of udon noodles. They were served with hot or cold bouillon (depending on the season) and slurped up enthusiastically and unceremoniously within a few seconds; wooden chopsticks guiding slippery noodles into ones mouth like a rising waterfall. That was fun, and messy.
At Zen River, pasta always feels a bit festive, even on Mondays. It’s flavour, character and presentation change depending on the weather, season and mood.
If the spirit of bodhisattva activity is to lift everyone up and out of the doldrums, then pasta must be bodhisattva food. It shines a light in the dark days before mid-winter and adds sparkle to the sunny days of mid-summer.
More often than not, when I ask Tenkei what he likes for lunch it’s one of two things; rice with bits, or pasta with bits (meaning an “all-in-one dish”). On this particular day it was pasta with bits and as the weather was cold, wet and windy again, the thought of warming sage, milk and pepper flavours came flashing through my mind. Another thought followed close behind. When he was a young budding artist, one of Tenkei’s favourite recipes was to throw a can of “Mushroom Soup” through pasta. So I put these thoughts together and this is what transpired. Cream of Mushroom Pasta. With bits.
On this day, we were fortunate enough to have some dried mushrooms that someone had brought from Japan, which turned out to be “hen of the woods”. They had a lovely frilly shape, texture and taste, and worked great in this dish while the dried shitake imparted a wonderfully decadent mushroom flavour. If you can’t find dried mushrooms, any kind of fresh mushrooms like chestnut or portobello will do, but forest varieties will probably give more character. Try getting dried shitake at your local Toko (Asian market).
In winter this dish may do really well baked in the oven topped with some grated cheese. I’ll try that another time…
250 g (2½ cups) pasta shapes
Optional: 6 dried chanterelle, porcini, or hen of the woods (maitake) mushrooms
4 dried shitake mushrooms
250 g mushrooms, preferably chestnut
1 medium red onion
3 cloves garlic
½ red bell pepper
200 g (3 cups) broccoli florets
60 g (1/3 cup) black olives
A few stalks of fresh parsley
3 teaspoons dried sage, divided
2-3 teaspoons soy sauce
Dash of cloves
240 ml (1 cup) milk, any kind, unsweetened
120 ml (½ cup) soy cream
2 tablespoons corn starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
For the Dried Soy Slices
50 g (1¼ cups) dried soy slices (T.V.P.)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
500 ml (2 cups) hot water
Olive oil for frying
- If using, soak the dried porcini, chanterelle, or hen of the woods mushrooms by covering with a little cool water.
- Soak the dried shitake by covering with a little hot water.
- Soak the dried soy slices by covering with hot water, and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar.
- Clean and dice the chestnut mushrooms.
- Peel and medium-dice the red onion.
- Deseed and medium-dice the red bell pepper.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets
- Slice the black olives.
- Roughly chop the fresh parsley.
- Medium dice the shitake; snip the porcini, chanterelle or hen of the woods into bite-sized pieces if they are too big. Return them to the water they soaked in.
- In a frying pan, heat up a little olive oil and stir-fry the red onion and bell pepper until caramelized. Add the garlic and continue to stir-fry until it starts to turn golden. Sprinkle in two teaspoons of sage and stir-fry for a few seconds.
- Put in the chestnut mushrooms, and continue to stir-fry. As soon as they begin to release their juices, sprinkle with a little sea salt and simmer for one minute. Add the dried mushrooms and 125 ml (½ cup) of the mushroom liquor.
- Pour in the milk and soy cream into the cooking pot. Bring to a boil and whisk in the corn starch dissolved in water. Stir continuously until it thickens. Cover, and turn off the flame.
- Drain the soy slices and squeeze out any excess moisture. Heat a little olive oil in the same frying pan over a medium flame and put in the soy slices. Stir-fry for a few minutes until they begin to brown on the edges. Sprinkle with the soy sauce, a teaspoon of sage, and a dash of cloves. Continue to stir-fry until the soy sauce evaporates, about one minute, then add to the mushroom sauce.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a rapid boil. Drop in the broccoli florets, quickly return to a boil and scoop out with slotted spoon. Put the broccoli in a colander to drain.
- In the same pot of boiling water that the broccoli cooked in, sprinkle in the pasta, stir well and return to a rapid boil over a high flame, turn down the flame, cover loosely and cook until al dente, about 9-10 minutes, depending on the type of pasta. Drain, rinse with hot water to remove the starch, then shake off any excess water.
- Combine the cooked pasta with the broccoli and mushroom sauce.
- Garnish with parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.