Last September I wrote a small piece for Kinfolk Magazine about the quiet joys of cooking in winter. We were in the middle of a late summer heat wave at the time, and it was difficult to recall that uniquely cozy frame of mind that’s found when night falls around 5 o’clock, the markets are full of root vegetables, and the cold nights are made warmer by the oven’s blasting heat.
Now that we find ourselves halfway through the season, I remember what it means to love being in the kitchen above all else, fantasizing about braised meats, risottos and noodle-dense soups that make the most of this time of year. That’s what this pasta is all about. While there’s no braising here, this pasta embraces the rich, earthy produce of the season and the comforts of cream and bacon. The result is a dinner that makes a long night a little less frigid.
Wintry Mushroom and Chard Pasta With Bacon
Yield: 6-8 servings
12 ounces pasta
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2 tablespoons butter, divided
16 ounces assorted mushrooms, sliced (portobello and crimini used here)
1/4 cup dry Sherry (can substitute white wine or chicken broth)
1 tablespoon fresh, minced thyme
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 small bunch chard, stems removed, leaves torn
1/2 cup reserved pasta water from cooking
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Set pasta aside in the pot in which it cooked.
In a large skillet set over a medium low flame, cook the bacon until just crisped. Drain on paper towels. Roughly chop and set aside.
Drain off most of the bacon grease. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook until they are just soft, about 5 minutes. Stir to prevent browning. Set the leeks aside.
In a very large skillet, melt about 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Add the sliced mushrooms; you may have to work in two batches. Cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the first batch from heat if working in two batches. Repeat until all mushrooms are cooked.
Add all mushrooms to the skillet. Pour in the sherry and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add the fresh thyme and the reserved bacon and stir.
Next, add the creme fraiche. Allow the pan sauce to come to a gentle simmer, about a minute or two.
Add the torn chard leaves. You may have to work in batches again. Stir the leaves until they just begin to wilt, then add more until all the chard is in the pan. Season with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
Add the leeks to the pasta noodles, followed by the mushroom and chard sauce. Add some or all of the reserved pasta water if needed for a creamier sauce. Gently toss the pasta with the sauce and serve warm.
Vegetarians can omit the bacon if desired.
Kimberley Hasselbrink is a food photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. She is the author of the blog The Year in Food, which is framed around a monthly seasonal food guide. Kimberley enjoys unusual produce, strong coffee, road trips and summer nights.