Over the past two years, I have visited Italy multiple times, and I have learned so much through cooking with a wonderful woman in Florence. I think I’ve learned just as much eating there. One of the things I appreciate the most about Italian cooking is the simplicity of the ingredients. This dish is about mushrooms and onions with a caramelized tomato flavor.
What kind of mushrooms? If we were in Italy, I would choose porcini mushrooms, but getting them fresh here is not so easy. I have used cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos). This time I used shiitake mushrooms because my market had some really lovely ones. I would not use the standard white mushrooms because the flavor is not intense enough. Depending on the type of mushroom you choose, the stems may be tough and should be discarded, unless you want them for flavor in making a stock.
You can also use dried mushrooms. The benefit can be a more intense flavor. If I can get fresh ones — I like the texture better. If you do use dried mushrooms, use 3/4 cup, soak them in water for an hour, drain and then squeeze the excess water from them and proceed with the recipe below.
Then to the pasta. What is the difference between tagliatelle and fettuccine? They are very close to the same. When I make pasta from scratch, it is tagliatelle. Fettuccine is a great substitute because it’s available dry in most stores, and it is the nearly the same width as tagliatelle, only a touch wider. It’s just a bit thicker.
- 2 cups mushrooms (see above for type), coarsely chopped
- Half a medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh tagliatelle or dry fettuccine (3 – 4 ounces dry pasta per person)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano
Put water into your pasta pot along with some sea salt or kosher salt. Water takes awhile to boil, so you’ll want to turn the heat up on high about the time you put the water and wine into the sauce below. You can always drop the temperature on the pasta water down if it comes to a boil before you are ready to cook the pasta.
Cook the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil over a medium high heat for about four minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the water and the wine, continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half or more. Be sure your pasta water is heating.
Then add the tomato paste. Drop the heat to between low and medium and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring often. This will become dense and non-liquid. You may need to drop the heat. If you are using dry pasta, begin cooking it in the last ten minutes of finishing the mushroom mixture.
Toss the pasta with freshly grated parmigiano cheese and the mushroom mixture, and serve immediately.
Note on tossing the pasta: I toss individual servings — this way you get a balanced amount of mushroom mixture, pasta and cheese. Much better than tossing all of it together — where you have a tendency to get a uneven mixture.
How much pasta per person? It depends on whether it is a side dish, or the main dish. I would use 2 ounces (dry pasta weight) for a side dish, and 3 to 4 ounces for a main dish, depending on the appetites of the people you are serving.
Photographs: both my own and from iStockPhoto.