Though a few days remain before it’s officially time to call it quits and pack up the beach gear, I think it’s safe to say that summer is on its way out. Stepping outside to grab the newspaper before dawn, before the sun has appeared and the neighborhood is still comfortably asleep, wrapped up tightly in warm blankets, that’s when the change is most noticeable. The chill in the air is almost tangible; such a marked change that it all but slaps you in the face, giving you no choice but to pay attention and take notice. Promises of the best holidays soon to come inspire me, along with anticipation of all those lovely autumn edibles- Pumpkins! Hearty stews! Homey Pies! But above all else, I hate to say it… This shift fills me with an inexplicable dread. More often than not, I can’t help but feel that fall marks and end more than it does a beginning.
Not so eager to relinquish my beloved tomatoes, watermelon, and corn, it’s a hard transition for me to make, and one that must be done slowly and gently. Seeking to minimize seasonal shock, going “cold turkey” just isn’t a reasonable approach. Switching out those summery flavors in favorite dishes, bit by bit, until they’re seasonally appropriate once more, this transitional period brings with it some curiously composed dishes. Take for example, the shiitake pesto.
While mushrooms are easily available all year round, fall just calls for fungus (of the culinary kind, please) with their earthy flavors and hearty, meaty textures. Plus, shiitake mushrooms especially make up for the loss of brighter fresher ingredients with a powerful dose of umami, the taste that everyone’s talking about and still can’t quite define. At this early stage in the game, I keep a reduced amount of basil in this simple sauce, but it would be easy enough to omit it in the dead of winter, or perhaps for a heartier leafy green plant, like kale.
Plus, pesto is one of those magical things that goes well with everything, so it’s not hard to dream up uses for it from summer to spring and everything in between. Continuing a slightly Asian-inspired theme, I choose to highlight it in a basic pasta dish with edamame, a quick and easy standby for busy days. Armed with an arsenal of tasty standbys like this deeply satisfying and flavorful concoction, perhaps autumn won’t be so hard to accept after all.
Shiitake Pesto Pasta
3.5 Ounces Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil Leaves, Packed
1/4 Cup Pine Nuts
1 Tablespoon Barley Miso Paste
2 – 3 Cloves Garlic
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1 Pound Fettuccine, Linguine, or Spaghetti
2 Small Leeks, Cleaned, Trimmed, and Chopped
2 Cups Shelled Edamame
To make the pesto, simply toss all of the ingredients into your food processor or blender, and pulse until well-combined but not quite pureed. I like to leave mine a bit chunky to add some texture to the dish, but you’re welcome to keep processing it until smooth, too.
For the rest of the dish, cook the pasta as directed until al dente, and drain thoroughly. Toss with the chopped leeks, edamame, and prepared pesto. Dig in!
Serves 6 – 8