Autumn can be summed up with a plate of earthy mushrooms. The intense woody flavors bring a depth to dishes like no other ingredient; I love to add them to eggs, pasta, risottos, stews, and steaks—there’s really no dish that doesn’t taste better with mushrooms. So I was overjoyed when I flew home to Sonoma, California, for Thanksgiving and found my stepfather had gone mushroom hunting. Northern California is a wild mushroom haven: dedicated mushroom hunters forage in the woods for a variety of wild mushrooms but the prized find is the porcini. Also known as ceps, they are large, brown-capped mushrooms found in North America and Europe. (The Italians go crazy for the funghi porcini, and they appear in every fall dish.)They have a nutty flavor and a creamy texture.
Mushroom hunting attracts out the hard-core foodies; my stepdad gets up at 4am to drive two hours to a forest known for mushrooms, only to encounter dozens of other devoted foragers who are intent on locating the best mushrooms. (There’s no chit-chat; a quick nod to the fellow foragers and everyone races into the woods.) My stepdad returned with six large mushrooms—enough to eat fresh and then plenty to dry and eat all winter long.
This is a simple pasta that celebrates the intoxicating taste of porcinis: just a few ingredients are needed to highlight the incredible porcini. (A word to the wise: only forage with experienced mushroom hunters! There are toxic mushrooms out there and you don’t want to risk it. Check your local mushroom society for guidelines and tips for mushroom hunting in your area.) If you can't find fresh porcini you can substitute 1/4 cup dried, which are available in any good grocery or specialty food store.
FETTUCINE WITH FRESH PORCINI
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 small shallots, minced (1/2 small onion can be substituted)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large or 2 small fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced thinly
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Pinch nutmeg
- 1 pound fresh fettucine pasta
- Fresh minced parsley, for serving (optional)
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the shallots and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini and sauté 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the cream. Gently stir to combine. Add the nutmeg and gently stir. Turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan. Stir gently to combine; season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parsley if desired and serve immediately. Serves 4; this dish pairs perfectly with a Pinot Noir or a Barolo