It’s mushroom season here in France! That is a beautiful thing. Each day when I walk my dog in the forest I come across mushroom foragers – heads down, stick in hand, looking for wild mushrooms. Personally, I buy mine in the local veg market for fear that I could otherwise end up hallucinating but also because my local veg market has the most beautiful selection of mushrooms! It actually seems criminal at this time of year not to eat mushrooms every day of the week.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a week in Rome with Italian relatives. We ate like kings and I came back to France with a souvenir of an extra 2 kilo clung to my sides. But it was well worth it. During every meal we ate, in restaurants scattered across the city, at least one member of my family ordered something with fresh porcinis – tagliatelle, pizza, risotto, etc. When in Rome………
The most traditional way of eating porcinis in Italy is Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini – a very simple dish with only a handful of ingredients that enhance these god-like mushrooms without competing with their flavor. Porcinis are like the steak of mushrooms. They are rich in flavor and texture and their caps, in my opinion, are like a vegetarian version of seared foie gras – total luxury. They come with a price tag to match but you must remember that they are the main ingredient and they are only available a few months a year. Spend the money.
So, when I got back from Rome and started thinking about getting back in to my blog this was an obvious recipe to include. It is soooo easy and yet soooo indulgent. If you live in an area where fresh porcinis (or cepes) are the current stars of your local farmers market then you need to learn how to make this dish! So, here we go….
How to Prepare Porcinis
Whatever you do – do not wash your porcinis! Why dont we wash mushrooms? Because mushrooms are like sponges – they absorb water. That’s not to say you should not clean your mushrooms! They are dirty. They have grown from the earth and have it still clinging to their sides. First, start cleaning your porcini by using a sharp thin knife to shave off the dirtiest part of the stalk, at its base. Then, using a mushroom brush or a damp paper towel wipe the mushroom clean.
Finally, for this recipe, we slice the porcinis lengthwise, ready for sautéing.
Italians are renowned for being warm, merry and laid back. But when it comes to pasta they are very serious. They have strict rules, anchored by hundreds of years of tradition. Linguine fruitti di mare, spaghetti vongole (clams), trofie al pesto, pappardelle ragu, spaghetti carbonara, tagliatelle ai funghi porcini, etc. Each traditional sauce has a pasta pairing. This is because the pasta is a vessel for carrying the sauce. Thick noodles and short, chunky pastas like penne are good at holding chunky sauces like ragu while thin, delicate noodles like spaghetti and linguine are better suited to lighter sauces. If you want to see an Italian fall off his chair offer him penne with a clam sauce or spaghetti bolognese. The traditional pairing for porcini is tagliatelle – a flat, medium-width egg noodle. It is often sold fresh but I bought my tagliatelle at Vert Tendre, where I get my porcinis.
Now you just saute the mushrooms and make a simple sauce with butter and the pasta cooking liquid. One note – do not strain the pasta in a colander. With this dish it is best to scoop the pasta out of the water with tongs and place them directly in to the mushroom pan with the cooking water still clinging to the noodles. That water is going to help make the sauce so you do not want to just flush it down the sink!
The Final Dish
In the end you have a perfectly simple, perfectly delicious vegetarian pasta that tastes like the earth from which it came, reminding us that food needs not be complex. Simplicity is best when you have fresh, seasonal ingredients.
- 350g fresh porcini mushrooms
- 200g fresh or dried tagliatelle
- 3 glugs of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup of white wine
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Start by preparing your mushrooms as directed above. Carefully slice off the dirtiest base part of the stalk and clean the rest of the mushroom with a damp paper towel.
- Slice the mushrooms lengthwise.
- Heat a large pot of water to a boil.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the garlic slices. Saute the garlic until fragrant and starting to brown. Remove the garlic and dispose of it (or eat it on toast).
- Add the mushrooms to the oil in the pan and cook, without stirring until they are going golden around the edges (about 3-4 minutes). You may have to do this in batches.
- Carefully flip the mushrooms with tongs and/or a spatula and cook the same on the other side.
- Add the wine to the pan and cook until boiled off. Continue to cook the mushrooms until they are tender, about another 3-4 minutes.
- Add the butter and thyme leaves to the pan and melt the butter, gently allowing the thyme to cook and flavor the butter.
- Meanwhile, salt the boiling water and add the tagliatelle to the water. Cook according to the package instructions but being sure to remove the pasta when it is al denté.
- Before removing the pasta fill a coffee mug with some of the pasta water.
- Remove the pasta from the water using tongs and/or a net and add the wet pasta directly to the pan with the mushrooms.
- Begin to toss the pasta with the mushrooms, being careful to not break the mushrooms too much.
- Gradually add the reserved cooking water until you have a moist, almost creamy sauce coating the noodles.
- Season the pasta with salt and pepper and sprinkle in the parsley.
- Toss and serve.