An Easy Win

Recipes 3 and 3.1: Roasted Mushrooms on Toast and Mushroom Spaghetti                                 Victories 3 and 3.1: Roasting mushrooms (simple as that) and discovering that mushrooms can go great with pasta without any sauce

I kept flipping past this recipe whenever I was trying to decide what to cook from the “Vegetables” section of Small Victories. It just seemed too simple. But since mushrooms are always available and something both my boyfriend Sascha and I enjoy, it made the most sense to just go with this recipe.

That’s the thing, though, right? Just because something is simple doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be discovered. I love roasting vegetables, but when it comes to mushrooms, I usually choose the sautéing route. The first time I felt proud of my cooking was in high school, in our family’s rented apartment in Canada, where I sautéed mushrooms with butter, jarred minced garlic, and wine vinegar.

I eat a lot less mushrooms nowadays. Before making this recipe and its spin-off, the last time I had a memorable mushroom dish was in my friend Dasha’s apartment about two years ago. It was an impromptu dinner, for which she roasted two large portobello mushrooms and topped them with minced tomatoes, garlic, and lemon juice (if I remember correctly)—a salsa of sort. It was beautiful—the earthiness of the mushrooms cut by the acid of the tomatoes and lemon juice.

Last summer in Berlin, Sascha and I went out to one of our favorite Italian restaurants in the city—a place that has also been a long-time favorite of his family. The chanterelle mushroom was in season, so I decided to order their spaghetti with chanterelle mushrooms. It was the first time I was disappointed with the restaurant. The dish was bland and dry. I should have gone with my gut instinct because even as I was ordering the dish, I had a difficult time imagining it to be otherwise. But another part of me couldn’t pass up on something that was in season.

As one of my acting teachers in college (I was a theatre and writing/literature major) said, “Sometimes, the most obvious thing is the most creative.” So of course, butter (lots of it), Parmesan, and chopped Italian parsley are all it takes to make roasted mushrooms and spaghetti go so well together. It seems so obvious, and yet I had never come across this combination before. In a lot of Italian restaurants, mushrooms are usually drowned in heavy cream sauce, and all you have left is its texture, not its flavor.

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The roasted mushrooms on toast is equally simple, and obvious. Of course, if roasted mushrooms go so well with garlic and something sour, then why shouldn’t it work beautifully with garlic (rubbed on toast) and crème fraîche or sour cream? And Italian parsley (one of my favorite herbs) can brighten up just about anything.

More and more, I find that when I go out to restaurants, I seek out simple and comforting food. They, too, can be full of surprises. I occasionally enjoy wildly inventive food, but the simplest always leaves the deepest imprint and draws me back again and again.

In 2013, I was in Porto with my mom. I remember vividly our lunch at the Michelin-starred The Yeatman—the heavy rain that only made the city more broodingly beautiful, my head heavy with port wine, our giddy delight at being at a Michelin-starred restaurant for the first time and at the lushness of the whole experience. The food was lovely, I’m certain, but I don’t remember much of it.

I remember more fondly, though, a family restaurant just a few minutes from our hotel. Its name escapes me, but I sure remember its incredibly warm and kind people and its delicious, hearty food. The flavors of their food are not the kind you have to make an effort to remember because they’re the kind you long for, the kind you instinctively recognize, the kind you simply know.

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