Smut

Huitlacoche or (equally tricky to pronounce) cuitlacoche is a black, bulbous fungus that grows on corn. It looks revolting and distantly related to The Blob, so I can only assume that some poor Aztec thousands of years ago must have been either starving or being subjected to punishment when he first tried it. Famished daredevil or criminal, whoever was the first to eat it made a wonderful discovery. Sometimes referred to as smut, huitlacoche has also picked up a swankier moniker: corn truffle. Smut or truffle, huitlacoche is earthy, velvety, and intensely rich. In Mexico it’s sold canned at the grocery store (often with chiles and onions), but lucky for you, you don’t have to book a ticket to the D.F. to get it — simply order a few tins on Amazon with your next book or DVD purchase. It’s surprising, unexpected, and luxe layered in a quesadilla, stuffed into fried squash blossoms, wrapped inside crêpes, or tossed with pasta.

LINGUINE with HUITLACOCHE-MUSHROOM SAUCE
Serves 2

8 ounces linguine or spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 (10-ounce) box cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (215 gram / 7.5 ounce) can huitlacoche, chopped
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
4 scallions, thinly sliced

– Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot.

– Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute,

– Stir in the huitlacoche and cream and simmer over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

– Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup pasta cooking water, drain pasta, and add to huitlacoche sauce in skillet. Toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary. Serve in bowls and top with sliced scallions.

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