I’ve been cooking this a lot recently, after having eaten something similar at our best nearby pub/restaurant, The Mill Race. It came as quite a shock to realise how simple it is, and I thought it deserved to be shared more widely.
Ingredients: mushrooms, cream, butter, salt, pepper, pasta.
Quantities: I really couldn’t say: I just use the amount that seems about right. To give a very rough idea, I used a dozen mushrooms when I last made this, which was for three people, but you could certainly use more. Probably about 100 ml of cream, and a blob of butter about the size of a smallish USB stick. (I propose this as the new standard unit for measuring butter.)
First get the pasta going, if you’re using a shape like penne which takes a while to cook through. Use lots of water, with plenty of salt, and bring it to the boil before you add the pasta. Once it’s back up to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and leave it to cook while you make the sauce.
Chop the mushrooms.
Now fry the mushrooms in a blob of butter. Do not use margarine. As though you would do anything so vile.
You want to use a fairly high heat, so that they don’t just boil in their own juice, but fry. If you do it right, you’ll get a very slight brownish crust around the edges of some of them:
Now bring the heat down a little, and pour in the cream. Let it bubble and absorb the mushroom flavours. You’ll want to move it around a little to make sure it doesn’t stick and burn. And some salt and pepper.
After a couple of minutes, it should have reduced and turned a richer brown. If you timed it right, the pasta will be ready now, too, so drain it and add a blob of butter to melt into it.
We ate it with finely grated hard cheese (parmesan would be best but we used a mature cheddar) and truffle oil.
I can think of at least four ways to make this better:
1. Use tagliatelle rather than penne pasta. It just suits the sauce better, in some subtle way that I can’t nail down. (It also takes much less time to cook, so don’t start it off before the mushrooms.)
2. Use more exotic mushrooms (e.g., oyster mushrooms) and more different kinds of mushrooms, rather than the simple common-or-garden closed-cup mushrooms we got from Lidl.
3. Use dried porcini mushrooms: soak them in a little hot water for a while before you start cooking, the drain the infused water into the pan with the fried mushrooms before the cream; finely chop the porcini mushrooms and throw them in, too.
4. Call it “pasta alla funghi” instead of “mushroom pasta”.
But if these refinements are not to hand, don’t let it put you off. As it happenned on Saturday night, we had no tagliatelle, no interesting fresh mushrooms, no dried mushrooms at all, and for that matter no parmesan. Guess what? Even with penne, cheap nasty boring mushrooms and cheddar, it was still awesome.