Spaghetti Carbonara With Lobster Mushrooms
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to watch a repeat episode of Iron Chef America where Mario Batali battled Chef Anita Lo. Chef Batali is one of my all-time heroes of the kitchen (though I'd love the chance to tell him that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the UNdisputed king of cheese, not the INdesputed king of cheeses since indesputed isn't a word). Of course, I would say no such thing, but would beg profusely to be allowed to stand at his side and absorb as much from him as I possibly could.
Anyhow, back to the battle. The secret ingredient was mushrooms, one of those vegetables that people either love or hate, and I happen to love. The episode was a double bonus; first in providing some outstanding cooking ideas for the mushrooms, but also introducing me to some varieties of mushrooms with which I had little or no contact before. One of these was the lobster mushroom, which is incredibly gorgeous, having an orange exterior and pale ivory interior, much like cooked lobster meat does. Unfortunately, the chances of getting my husband and daughter, already not fans of mushrooms, to eat this would be impossible since that beautiful orange coating on the fungus is actually a parasite growing on the outside. I don't mind though; I eat the rind on Brie cheese, which is just mold so I guess I'll eat anything.
Since watching that episode, this mushroom, as well as the dishes that both chefs made have come to mind at random times. For instance, Chef Lo surprised me by combining the lobster mushrooms with lobster itself. Of course, she won against my culinary hero so she must have done something right, but as I continued to think about the episode, pairing a "poor man's lobster" with the real deal didn't make sense.
So, when I recently received a shipment of mushrooms, I was thrilled to find a packet of lobster mushrooms in it and my meandering, random thoughts focused in on exactly what I needed to make with them; a dish that allowed the flavor of the mushrooms to shine through but embraced their earthiness and more humble nature.
Spaghetti Carbonara is a dish whose origins lie either in the Italian coal mining industry or the poverty of World War II.Since my grandfather was a coal miner in Belgium and both my parents survived World War II as children in Europe, I decided to use that recipe as my base and create something new that highlighted the flavors of the lobster mushroom.
In order to keep the lobster mushrooms in the forefront, I reduced the amount of Parmesan cheese that is normally used in Spaghetti Carbonara. However, keeping the dish creamy was a must so I included some heavy cream, which not only preserved the creaminess of the carbonara, but also married well with the lobster mushroom, making them as rich-tasting as real lobster meat is. Finally, I used bacon for its saltiness and because cooking it until crisp provided a textural contrast to the mushrooms and pasta.
The dish ended up tasting wonderful and looking beautiful. The contrast of colors and flavors was perfect and the lobster mushrooms were definitely the star. I hope you think so too.