crisp fried caper, bread crumb and oyster mushroom pasta

you know those things you discover one day and love so much you can’t believe you’ve lived without them till now? fried capers are one of those things for me. had i known how different they are when fried, and how much they can add to a basic pasta, for example, i would have been using them to make many simple dishes a little more special. i’ve become kind of obsessed with them now. they’re really flavourful…salty, savoury, and i found it hard not to eat all of them on their own while i was making the rest of this recipe. to try and justify eating them on their own more often, i thought maybe i could fry them, stick them in the fridge, and have them as a snack with a cold beer or glass of white wine on a hot afternoon. but this is probably as unhealthy a snack as chewing on salt might be, so i need to work on that idea a little more. in the meantime, back to the recipe at hand–a pasta that is crunchy, salty, sweet, tangy and hearty all at once.

oyster and nebrodi mushrooms

if (and it’s a big if) you can find them, nebrodi mushrooms are great in this recipe. they grow in the nebrodi region of italy, and are similar to oyster mushrooms, but are meatier and stay plumper after cooking than the oyster mushrooms do. but oyster mushrooms are perfect for this recipe too.

mushrooms and marinade
sauteing mushrooms

in fact, it was a recipe for oyster mushrooms that i found years ago in gourmet magazinethat are at the centre of this pasta. it called for marinading them in orange juice and lemon juice, before grilling them on the barbeque. they were delicious and came out slightly crispy and juicy at the same time, and i’ve since adapted that recipe quite a bit to include nutty and rich sesame oil for one thing. much more recently, i came across a pasta recipe, also in gourmet,that called for fried capers and breadcrumbs and i suddenly had the urge to combine those and the mushrooms together in a recipe. i’d never had these mushrooms with pasta and i’d never made them without using a grill. the new result was good but very different. for one thing, with no where for the marinade and water from the mushrooms to run off in a skillet, the oyster mushrooms don’t carmelize nearly as much as they do on the grill. but the upside is that you can reduce that sweet and savoury citrus marinade until you have a perfect sauce for the pasta.

fried breadcrumbs and capers

the mushrooms don’t have to marinade for long. just about the time it takes to fry the bread crumbs and capers, and get your pasta water started. while there are a few “parts” to this recipe, everything cooks so quickly that it takes no time to come together. i think it’s a great pasta for warmer months, with bright, juicy flavours and no heavy sauce. if you read this previous post, you know i already enjoyed it al fresco once this year. i highly recommend you try it the same way if you can!

served family-style: fried caper, breadcrumb and oyster mushroom pasta

crisp fried caper, breadcrumb and oyster mushroom pasta
1/2 lb oyster mushrooms (and/or nebrodi mushrooms), any tough bottoms trimmed
1/8 c. capers , rinsed, drained and patted dry with a towel
1/4 c. panko breadcrumbs or other coarse breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 c. chopped parsley, loosely packed
1/2 c. coarsely grated parmesan or other sharp cheese
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

marinade:
juice of 1/2 an orange (about 2 tbs)
juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 1 tbs)
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

special tools: a fine-mesh splatter guard if you have one

set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta

whisk marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl. using your hands, tear the oyster mushrooms lengthwise into 1 inch strips and place in the marinade. toss the mushrooms well ensuring they are fully coated in the marinade and set aside for 10 minutes.

in a large skillet, heat one tbs of oil over medium-high heat. when the oil is heated, add the breadcrumbs and stir well to coat. fry the bread crumbs for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until they are lightly golden, and then transfer them to a bowl. wipe out skillet to remove any remaining breadcrumbs and return skillet to heat. add 3 tbsp of oil to skillet and allow the oil to get hot again. add capers to the oil and cover skillet with splatter guard, or stand back–even if the capers are fairly dry, the oil will splatter. after 1 1/2-2 minutes, the capers will have started to open up (you can see their light insides). using a slotted spoon or taking care to shake off oil into the skillet, transfer capers to a small bowl and set aside.
if your pasta water is boiling, salt the water and add pasta.

returning to your skillet, lower heat to medium and add garlic. sautee for one minute until the slices start to turn gold and then add mushrooms and marinade. the mushrooms will start to release some of the marinade they absorbed. let the liquid come to a boil, then lower heat slightly and simmer for 7-10 minutes, stirring occaionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced by about half. 

by now your pasta should be done. drain pasta and add to the skillet and toss there or transfer both pasta and sauce to a large serving bowl and toss well. add half the cheese and all of the parsley to the pasta and toss again. top with the remaining cheese, the breadcrumbs and the fried capers and serve immediately.
serves 4.