Cactus Mushroom Rigatoni

When I was studying for my master’s in the middle of the Arizona desert, we had an unusual “accident” one night. A very drunk classmate of mine, who had drunk tons of alcohol and was desperately searching for a toilet, quite happily finally found one and sat down to use it. Unfortunately, the cactus he sat on made for a very poor toilet, and a trip to the hospital. Imagine hundreds of sharp thorns stuck on your butt. Just thinking about it has made me ache for a long time. That fear of pointy cactus, however, recently turned into my new fascination. A co-worker of mine from Mexico brought a sautéed cactus for lunch, and I got to taste a spoonful of it. The lemony flavor and cucumbery texture of the cactus totally marveled me. I never expected something that can be so very hurtful can be so astonishingly delightful. That evening I went to a Mexican grocery store after work and picked up some cactus to cook. And, that night a delicious cactus mushroom rigatoni came out of my California kitchen. Refreshing and hearty, it is a great one pot meal you and your family will love very much this Summer.

To start, heat some of my mushroom olive oil in a pot and sauté 1 onion (chopped), 4 garlic cloves (crushed), 1 green chili (chopped), 1-2 large cactus (cleaned & chopped into bite sizes) and 2 portobello mushrooms (cleaned & chopped into bite sizes). Then, add 1 tomatillo (chopped) and 3 roma tomatoes (chopped) to the pot. Next, pour 4 cups of chicken stock and bring it to boil. Then, add 5-6 sprigs of cilantro, a corn cob (cut into half) and 30-40 pieces of rigatoni to the pot and season with a dash of anise seeds and some sea salt to taste. Lastly, simmer with cover until the rigatoni turns tender. Before serving, sprinkle some fresh cilantro and drizzle some of my ancho chili olive oil.

This riganoti is sumptuously delicious. It soaks in the tasty broth filled with flavors of earthiness, smokiness, sourness, spiciness and herbaceousness. A spoonful of the meaty mushroom and the crunchy cactus together balances each other so beautifully like “ying” and “yang” both in their textures and in their flavors. How irresistibly refreshing it is to bite into acidic tomatillo and cactus deliciously blended with smoky, fruity ancho chili olive oil and earthy, buttery mushroom olive oil. Enjoy this recipe on a balmy sunny day this Summer. Happy cooking!

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