One dish you can find almost anywhere in Italy is pasta with porcini mushrooms. Porcini have an unbelievably rich, earthy flavor that makes them unlike any other kind of mushrooms. When they’re in season, the Italians gleefully use fresh porcini, which in the United States are rare and, for most of us, prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, it is just as authentic and almost as good to use dried porcini, which are more accessible.
For this dish, I use a mix of dried porcini and more inexpensive fresh mushrooms, like shiitake, oyster, or cremini mushrooms. The reconstituted dried mushrooms gives the dish that deep, earthy porcini flavor, and the soaking liquid adds additional depth, while the fresh mushrooms provide some body. The dish is finished with a splash of marsala wine, which always brings out the flavor of mushrooms, and an optional touch of half and half.
We were fortunate to have some good Italian egg noodles, which a friend had brought us back from Italy. But any pasta shape, long or short, works nicely here.
- 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms (or other strongly-flavored dried mushrooms)
- ½ pound pasta of your choice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ pound fresh mushrooms
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh oregano (or ½ teaspoon dried oregano)
- ¾ cup dry marsala wine or sherry
- ½ cup half and half (optional)
- Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them soak for at least 20 minutes or longer. Make sure to reserve the soaking liquid.
- Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. When it has boiled, add a handful of salt and the pasta.
- Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium heat and chop the herbs. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and butter with the mushrooms and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pan, and cook for a few minutes more until the mushrooms have softened. Add the wine and, with a wooden spoon, scrape any little mushroom bits off the bottom of the pan. Add about ¼ cup of the mushroom soaking liquid.
- When the pasta is about two minutes short of done (still quite chewy), remove it from the pot and add it to the saute pan with the mushrooms. Add the half and half and cook the pasta in the saute pan, adding more mushroom soaking liquid as needed to maintain your desired sauce consistency.
- Remove the pasta to a bowl and top with some more herbs, cracked black pepper, and grated parmigiano reggiano.