This is halloween…
Halloween is here! Yikes! …Aaaaand so is my 42nd birthday. Double yikes! Unlike birthdays, I don’t really celebrate Halloween that much. Maybe once in a decade? But for birthdays, I usually organize a house party every year. Since I love a good theme party, my birthdays often have a theme. The theme’s been Halloween only once or twice, though I guess I should include the “adult” party to scary themes…
Obviously, there has not been any theme parties lately. Unless you count in a few Zoom wine dates, or my husband live streaming a DJ gig from our laundry room, there hasn’t been parties, period! In times like these, it’s not surprising that Halloween has actually started to sound more and more appealing to me. Not because of any treats, but because I love dressing up! Even as a kid I would borrow my moms make up and disguise myself as a monster, or an old man (cotton for beard, obviously). There I’d then be, prancing up and down the street in front of our house, simultaneously hoping someone would notice me and also not, because I’m just an old man walking by…
Just imagine what I could do with all the make up I now own?! So last year around this time, I organized my very own mini Halloween playing dress up and gobbling down a scary dish called mushroom skulls & graveyard pasta.
Sheet mask ghoul
As you can see from the picture above, I was using what I got: mainly a sheet mask and some black eye shadow to transform myself to an evil ghoul carving tiny skulls. Although this is not a longwear costume, I think it turned out pretty good! And not only because my skin was looking extra nice by the end of the photoshoot… (With the exception of my eyebags, which took three washings to scrub away that darkness!)
I wasn’t originally planning on cooking anything specific with my tiny mushroom skulls, but no food was wasted here! The mushrooms were sauteed until they were nice and shriveled, and then served on a bed of risotto style toasted orzo.
Mushroom skulls & graveyard pasta
The idea for carving mushroom skulls came to me from Satokausikalenteri Facebook. Upon seeing those fun little skulls I knew I had to try them ASAP! Such a fun and simple idea… I now realize that mushroom skulls have been made by many for a long time, but even if I am an avid Pinterest user, I hadn’t seen them before! I came home with a bunch of mushrooms the next day, ready to start carving. After experimenting with a few knives, it turned out to be easiest with a wooden skewer. I used the blunt end to press in eye sockets, and the pointy end to draw the teeth and nose into place.
After I’d played enough with my mini skulls and my camera, I started to wonder what I’d cook with all those mushrooms. At first I wanted to make a mushroom pasta with black spaghetti. Since I’d just run out of it (oh yes, I typically would have something like squid ink pasta stored away in the cupboards…) I ended up using orzo! Orzo look just like little maggots, if you just use your imagination! (My apologies if I’ve just ruined orzo for you.)
I often prepare orzo in the style of a risotto, and that’s what I did this time too! First I sauteed the skulls with plenty of garlic and onion, and added in some cubed up childhood horror of mine: celeriac. Nowadays it’s not a horror anymore, i actually love celeriac! Especially, when it’s toasted golden, slathered in sherry and caramelized! Obviously the same treatment does wonders to the onions and mushrooms too 😉
To add another level of depth I decided to toast the orzo before cooking it. When you dry toast pasta before cooking it, it takes on this lovely nutty aroma! Whoever came up with that idea is as much of a genius than the person who made the first mushroom skulls…
Toasting pasta is an easy method of lifting the dish to another level. But, it’s also an easy way to ruin the whole thing unless you’re paying attention! Even if this is a Halloween inspired recipe, burnt pasta might be just a little too scary for everyone. I personally prefer to toast the pasta on a frying pan to be able to keep an eye on it, but you can also toast it in the oven. This time I added the pasta on the frying pan along with all the other ingredients before adding in any liquid.
This is how everything looked after toasting – you can see how the orzo has taken on a slightly golden hue!
In case you’re wondering: no. You don’t need to carve the mushrooms into skulls to make this dish! 😀 I have to warn you, it takes time! So go ahead and skip the step… Unless you’re looking for a fun project to get distracted from, say, work stress, and maybe want to capture some Halloween’esque photos too?
Graveyard pasta AKA toasted orzo with mushroom skulls
- 200 g button mushrooms (small ones, if making mushroom skulls!)
- 50 g butter (or vegan butter)
- 100 g celeriac (or fennel if celeriac isn't your thing)
- 1 large shallot
- 1 dl dry sherry
- 1 tbsp agave syrup or honey
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 2 dl orzo pasta
- 5-6 dl vegetable stock
- 1 dl "cooking cream" (single/light cream) (or plant based cream)
- 1 dl grated parmesan or grana padano (or vegan parmesan)
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
- salt (to taste)
- a pinch of chili flakes
- 4 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- Start by preparing the mushrooms: stick eyes to the button mushrooms with the blunt end of a wooden skewer, then carve teeth and noses to your skulls. If the mushrooms are big, I recommend cutting them in half! If you are not making the mushrooms into skulls, just half or quarter them, depending on their size.
- Finely mince the garlic and chop the onion to small pieces. Peel and cube the celeriac to small dice of about ½ x ½ cm. Heat the vegetable stock and keep warm under a lid. Toast the pine nuts on medium hear on a dry frying pan, stirring constantly to avoid burning them! Take them aside for serving. Toast the orzo also on the dry frying pan, on medium heat. Keep stirring to avoid anything burning. Remove from the pan to be added back in later!
Cooking the pasta:
- Heat up the butter on the frying pan and fry the celeriac until it starts to brown on all sides. Add in the mushrooms and onion, and keep frying until onion is translucent and the mushrooms are getting shriveled.
- Add in the garlic and orzo and stri well to combine. If you didn't pre-toast the orzo, keep frying everything together until the orzo gets nice and toasty. Be careful to not burn anything! If your orzo was pre-toasted, keep frying only until everything has taken on a golden hue, and then add in all the sherry and the agave syrup/honey as well as the thyme, a small pinch of chili flakes and as much freshly cracked black pepper as your heart desires!
- Allow the sherry to soak in to the pasta, and right before all of it has disappeared, start adding in your vegetable stock, one deciliter at a time. Add in a new deciliter of stock after the previous one has been "drunk" by the pasta, and don't stop stirring! Once you've added about ½ liter, the orzo should be close to being cooked. If there's still a lot of bite to the orzo, add some more stock (or just hot water).
- Once the orzo is just about al dente, add in the cream (oat cream if making vegan version). Season to taste with grated cheese (or vegan parmesan) and salt. Divide the pasta on 2-4 plates and serve with some toasted pine nuts!