Porcini-Style Shiitake Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sugo di Funghi Freschi alla Moda dei Porcini

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, making

    4

    large

Appears in

Late in spring and early in the fall, puddles-bring mushrooms, and mushrooms in Italy bring their gatherers, both professional and amateur, who scour the woods with bent back and a large potato sack in hand. As I am writing this, at the end of September in Venice, baskets full of fresh wild mushrooms are glorifying the Rialto market, displaying porcini (Boletus edulis), yellow and black finferli (chanterelles), spug-nole (morels), chiodini (“little nails,” a long-stemmed, densely clustered variety), and ovoli (orange-capped agaricus).

When Italian cooks say funghi—mushrooms—they are referring to the wild variety, because the cultivated ones are a poorly regarded synthetic version of the real thing. Ovoli are highly prized for salads; but to cook with, the intense musky scent and juicy flesh of porcini makes it by far the most desirable of all funghi.

When working with cultivated mushrooms, I try to find methods that will excite from them flavor reminiscent of Boletus. An example is the combination of dried porcini and fresh cultivated white button mushrooms that I discovered years ago; it is described in my earlier books. Recently I found that I could achieve a comparable result by using white mushrooms and fresh shiitake together. The exchange of flavor that takes place between the two varieties produces such a remarkable evocation of the aroma that one looks for in Boletus that, as long as I have shiitake, I am more peacefully resigned to the absence of fresh porcini from American markets.

There is nothing like olive oil for bringing out the woodsy accent from mushrooms, and that is how I start them. But I love to serve mushrooms with homemade pasta, whose porous texture thirsts for butter and cream, so I add the two in the final cooking stage to achieve both objectives, full mushroom flavor from the mushrooms and an elegant sauce for fine homemade egg pasta.

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Ingredients

  • ¾ pound fresh white cultivated mushrooms
  • ½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Method

  1. Rinse all the mushrooms quickly under fast-running water. Cut the white mushrooms from cap to stem into thin lengthwise slices, detach and discard the hard shiitake stems, and slice the caps into thin crescents.
  2. Put the olive oil and chopped onion in a 12-inch sauté pan, turn on the heat to medium high, and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking, stirring, just until the garlic begins to release its scent, without letting it become colored any darker than a pale gold.
  3. Add the parsley, stir quickly once or twice, then add all the mushrooms. Add salt—do not be salt-shy if you don’t want a bland-tasting sauce—turn over all ingredients a few times, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes or more until the liquid that the mushrooms shed has simmered away.
  4. Add the cream, butter, and liberal grindings of pepper to the pan, raise the heat to maximum force, and reduce the cream to half its original volume, stirring frequently.
  5. When the pasta is tender but firm to the bite, drain it, and toss it immediately in a warm serving bowl with the mushroom sauce. Add the grated Parmesan, toss thoroughly to coat the pasta well, and serve at once.

Suggested Pasta: Any of the homemade noodles; the square ones known as tonnarelli, or pappardelle, or fettuccine.

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