The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift
A gift from the spaghetti gods. (Photographer: William Hereford, courtesy of Penguin Random House)

The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift

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Editor’s Note: As more people are working from home, Bloomberg Pursuits is running a weekly Lunch Break column that highlights a notable recipe from a favorite cookbook and the hack that makes it genius.

The good news for people intent on celebrating Valentine’s Day in a restaurant: Indoor dining returns to a handful of cities, namely New York and Portland, Ore., just in time for one of their busiest days of the year.

The bad news: Capacity is limited to 25% in both places. Already challenging on pre-pandemic holidays, the odds of getting into most restaurants that have any reputation for romance will be exponentially steeper this year. At the vaunted Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo., which will only have 13 tables available in the dining room as a result of pandemic restrictions, reservations booked up “very quickly,” says co-owner Bobby Stuckey.

For those stuck celebrating at home by choice or fate, then, it’s an opportunity to put a year’s worth of pandemic cooking skills to good use. Or perhaps you’ve spent enough of the past 12 months cooking and have decided to find a simple recipe that provides maximum bang for the buck. Splurge on a truffle-topped steak. Pop open a bottle of pink prosecco. Set a mood with some scents. And unwrap a surprise dish that’s a present in itself: spaghetti in parchment packages.

The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift

The dish can be found in the handsome 2020 coffee table tome, Friuli Food and Wine: Frasca Cooking from Northern Italy’s Mountains, Vineyards, and Seaside by Stuckey, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Meredith Erickson (Penguin Random House; $50). The recipes from Friuli, one of Italy’s most culinarily diverse regions, are divided among the areas name-checked in the title.

There’s marinated tuna belly and frito misto di mare from the “Sea” section and wine-friendly fresh pork sausages from the “Vineyard” pages. The “Mountains” section has the widest-ranging (and most fun) selection of recipes, from garlic soup to polenta with peaches and on to short ribs with apples.

Spaghetti in parchment is another recipe from the mountain region, but the method of cooking food in paper goes way beyond Friuli. Known as al cartoccio in Italian and en papillote in French, the technique is centuries old and has slowly been going extinct in restaurant kitchens. Now is an excellent moment to bring it back. This is the epitome of a dish that you don’t share. It arrives in its own little package, one unwrapped with a flourish and flair that could benefit a restaurant running low on ways to wow. For home cooks, it’s also versatile—excellent for any food that benefits from a hit of steam, like a fish fillet.

The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift

Here, James Beard-winning chef Mackinnon-Patterson fills the package with spaghetti, undercooked slightly, and mixed with braised wild mushrooms in an elegant wine and shallot sauce. The pasta is piled on parchment and then sealed and set in the oven, to finish cooking.

When the puffed package is opened, a hit of fragrant steam scented with olive oil, wine, and parsley hits the diner. “A gift from the spaghetti gods” is how the recipe’s intro describes the glistening pasta strands, and this is exactly right. “It’s a dish that brings festivity and fun to at-home Valentine’s,” says Stuckey.

A master sommelier, he also says one of the great things about this special occasion dish is that it’s versatile with different wines. Stuckey recommends a Friuli red such as Schioppettino, but also endorses a glass of good Champagne, or a white with some depth, like a Burgundy chardonnay. 

He also notes that the package makes a good place to hide a diamond ring. “Just watch where you bite.”

The following recipe is adapted from Friuli Food and Wine.

Testers note: The recipe makes a little more than might comfortably fit in two packages. It can be expanded to three people (if that’s how your Valentine’s Day unfolds in these modern times) or reheated as breakfast spaghetti the next day.

Baked Spaghetti and Mushrooms in Parchment (Spaghetti con Funghi al Cartoccio)

The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift

Serves 2 to 3

8 oz. dry spaghetti
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
8 oz. mixed fresh wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, king mushrooms, and matsutake, trimmed and cut up if they’re large
1 small shallot, minced
Fine sea salt
¼ cup dry white wine
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

The Perfect Date-Night Pasta Is Spaghetti You Unwrap Like A Gift

Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook for 2 minutes short of the timing for al dente on the package.

Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes. Push the mushrooms to the side and add the shallots. Sauté over moderate heat until translucent, about 3 minutes, seasoning with salt as you go. Stir the mushrooms into the shallots, add the wine, and cook until almost completely absorbed, 3 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat until reduced and flavorful, 5 minutes.

Drain the undercooked pasta and stir into the sauce. Stir in the parsley and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

On a work surface, lay out two (or three) 15-inch squares of parchment paper. Place one portion of pasta onto the center of each square. Moisten the edges of the parchment with water and fold up into a triangle shape, crimping all along the edges to make a seal. Gently transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining square/squares.

Bake until the parchments puff up (from the steam inside), about 5 minutes. Use a large flat spatula to transfer each parcel to a plate. Serve immediately, letting your date open up their cartoccio.

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