When I was in Florence learning how to cook at Giglio’s Cookery School, my mentor and all around kitchen genius Marcella gave me a course on flavoured pastas.
Of the flavoured pastas (which included squid ink!) my personal favourite was the coffee pasta. We made long, pillowy strands of tagliatelle which was infused with freshly brewed coffee, giving the pasta a dark, intense soul but still held a soft element to partner with other flavours in the dish.
It felt really bizarre putting something that is synonymous with sweet into a savoury dish, and all I could think of was that it would taste like I was eating coffee.
I was proven wrong.
Distinctly umami, the addition of coffee into the pasta opened up a brand new avenue for flavour combinations. And among sentences like “You do things too fast” and “Your knife skills will injure you one day, Michael”, Marcella told me that she knew the coffee flavoured pasta would be my favourite because I had an open mind with food.
What I want to stress to you, dear reader, is that the open mind is necessary when cooking savoury dishes with coffee – please don’t think you’ll be eating a bowl of coffee.
With this recipe, what you get is a dark, treacly sauce that is built up of the reduced coffee juices that dredge out of the hot mushrooms. You don’t actually put coffee in the sauce, it comes from mushrooms that you soak, which then wraps around the strands of pasta and is topped off with the nutty coating of hazelnuts.
I smile as I write the recipe because food, while it has a plethora of characteristics, one of my favourite is it’s element of escapism, and cooking this dish takes me right back to the Kitchen in Florence. I always introduce techniques and methods that I learnt in the Giglio Kitchen but an element that will stay with me forever is to approach food and cooking with a little adventure (which can sometimes get lost in cooking).
Albeit, I don’t have the time in my every day life to make pasta from scratch the way this infusion was introduced to me, I have tried to capture the same essence of the recipe but in a life-friendly method. Sorry Marcella, it’s dry pasta for this one!
PS – if you’re cooking for someone who doesn’t have an open mind (ahem) – don’t tell them what the sauce is made from. They’ll just enjoy it and won’t ask questions.
Make a big jug of coffee (I literally use instant coffee, again – so sorry Marcella!). I won’t tell you how to suck eggs, but I just put a heaped tablespoon of instant coffee into a big jug and poured in some boiling water (maybe a litre?). Allow this to cool.
Chop up half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms (I prefer slices for this) and then drop them into the jug of cold coffee. Add a big pinch of salt and a few black peppercorns. Cover this and leave to marinade. I left it overnight in the fridge, but you could also do it before work so it’s ready for the time you get home.
When you’re ready to cook, melt a dab of butter in a big frying pan. Once it bubbles, drain out your mushrooms and throw them in to cook on a medium heat.
The mushrooms will shrink and sweat, but what they will release is a gorgeous, oozy coffee stained liquor that will act as your sauce.
While the mushrooms fry, drop a fistful of linguine into a pan of salted boiling water and boil for 9 minutes. Take out a small ladleful of pasta water and drop it into the pan of mushrooms.
Drain the pasta and then quickly throw it into the pan of mushrooms.
Swirl the pasta around so that is starts taking on the mushroom coffee sauce. Turn the heat down low and allow to bubble a little.
Quickly bash up a big, generous fistful of hazelnuts (I use a pestle and mortar but you could just put them in a sturdy bowl and bash with a ban of beans or something!). Throw the hazelnuts into the pasta, reserving a little pinch for decorating. Toss everything together.
Plate up the pasta before sprinkling over the reserved hazelnuts and some chopped parsley, a good grating of Parmesan wouldn’t be unwelcome either (I just didn’t have any!)