Penne with Asian mushrooms, bok choy and Gorgonzola cream
Umami is a many-splendored thing. I love just piling it on in my dishes, and I am even known to add a scant whisper (or sometimes more of a prattle) of MSG to my dishes. Oh, lower those eyebrows, you. MSG is harmless. I see you raising your fist and getting all fired up about this, but shut it down for a minute and let this simmer:
If MSG is so bad for our neurology, why are Asians so much better than us at math?
Harp all you want, MSG makes food taste really good. But sometimes, lilies need no gilding. This dish is packed with four different natural sources of umami: bunashimeji (beech) and black trumpet mushrooms , bok choy, Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. It is a veritable umami party, and everyone’s invited. Well, actually, I only made enough for my family. Sorry about that.
This sinister-looking relative of chanterelles, the black trumpet mushroom, is wonderfully earthy and spodic, tasting of sweet duff and chipmunk-industry. The comparatively placid bunashimeji, or beech mushrooms, take aggressive heat wonderfully; it just nudges them in a nuttier, chewier direction.
This is how we do it:
How’s about you get some butter and olive oil sizzling away, and you add a minced shallot? Heck, add a couple mashed garlic cloves, too, while you’re at it. Stir them around a bit, and should they start to get browned on this medium-high heat, add those mushrooms. (Trim off the woody, dirty bit of the stems. Slice the black trumpets into a fungal chiffonade of sorts; the bunamshimeji can stay whole since they are teeny-tiny.) They will release some of the 90% of the water of which their bodies are composed, and this will deglaze the sticky shallot and garlic quite nicely. Add some cleaned and quarted baby bok choys – three should be just about right. Now why don’t you add about a cup of half and half (to which you’ve stirred a few tablespoons of flour), and let that thicken and gelatinize into a creamy bechamel? Shoot, you could even use just whole milk if you’re being particular. Then when it’s bubbly and good, add a good hunk of Gorgonzola or blue cheese, just all crumbled up. Taste and add the proper amount of salt and pepper. Then toss in some chopped parsley, and cooked penne (or other bite-sized pasta, I suppose) and ooh, mommy.
Top with chopped toasted walnuts and serve with a brambly Côtes du Rhône.