Good pasta dishes are first and foremost about the pasta. Cook the pasta right, with a little bite to it and definitely no mushiness, and you can make an excellent meal out of any old pasta and vegetables you have on hand. Sauteed mushrooms and garlic provide a delicious, savory base for a light pasta sauce and can be made even more rich with the optional addition of cream to the sauce. I like to let the mushroom and garlic speak for themselves. The starchy pasta water is the secret to Italian pasta sauces, and it works its magic to create a wonderfully creamy sauce without the excess dairy. The resulting sauce should not be wet with the pasta water, but instead creamy without being too thick.
This dish reminds me of the pasta I was served at a rural bed and breakfast in the mountains of Norcia, Italy, a plate of food and a place I will never forget. I may never return to Norcia, let alone that bed and breakfast, but food well made always seems to bring me back to the time and place I first enjoyed it. So whether you’re hungry for nostalgia or just some decent grub, cook this week and cook well.
1 lb of mushrooms, sliced to medium thickness
1 lb of spaghetti
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 cup of cream (optional)
10 cups of salted water (should taste like sea water)
- Bring the salted water to a boil in a large pot and add spaghetti. Allow to cook until slightly al dente, about 9 minutes.
- While the pasta cooks, heat the oil or butter in a sauce pan on medium-high until fairly hot; the mushrooms should sizzle when they hit the pan. Saute the mushrooms over medium-high in batches, to avoid overcrowding the pan, and season with the salt as they cook. Once they have lost their water and begun to brown a bit, about 7 minutes, add the garlic and pepper and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
- Scoop a bit of the pasta water into the saute pan to deglaze it, picking up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. This will combine with the mushrooms and starch from the pasta to create a sauce.
- Add all the pasta to the saute pan with the mushrooms, lower the heat, and toss the pasta with the mushrooms and garlic in the pan. Cook for two minutes more, tossing the pasta in the sauce and adding more pasta water if the pasta becomes dry.
- To make a mushroom cream sauce, add the cream to the pan and allow it to reduce by about 1/3 over low heat, then toss to coat the pasta.
- Serve, perhaps with some grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and extra pepper over the top.