Pantry Cooking Goes Gourmet With Porcini and Cream Sauce Pasta

A restaurant-worthy dish that takes only minutes to make.
A restaurant-worthy dish that takes only minutes to make.

Wild porcinis have a short season and a hefty price tag.

But dried ones keep for ages, and are much more affordable especially because their concentrated flavor makes a little go a long way.

That’s why I love this recipe for “Porcini and Cream Pasta Sauce.”

You just combine items in your pantry and fridge to create a thoroughly restaurant-worthy dish.

The recipe is from “The Italian Cooking Course: (Kyle Books, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, wife-and-husband owners of two eponymous restaurants in England.

This hefty 512-page cookbook, geared toward both novice and more accomplished cooks, shows you how to make all manner of fresh pasta, even ones colored with cuttlefish ink, tomato paste or beets, as well as how to roll, cut, and form various shapes.

Dig into “Ligurian Pasta Coins with Marjarom, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts,” “Hare Ragu” with pappardelle, and “Seafood Lasagna.” There’s plenty more beyond pasta, too, including recipes for everything from “Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto” and “Veal Stuffed with Asparagus and Ham in White Wine Sauce” and “Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant” and “Grandmother’s Pine Nut and Custard Tart.”

Dried porcini.
Dried porcini.

For this porcini pasta, soak the dried mushrooms in cold water. Once they are softened, drain them but reserve the liquid to flavor the pasta.

Chop the porcini and saute in a pan with olive oil, garlic, diced chile, rosemary, thyme, and white wine. Add in a little of the mushroom soaking liquid, let reduce, then pour in a splash of heavy cream to create a light yet unctuous sauce.

Add cooked spaghetti to the sauce in the pan. Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

A meatless pasta dish that gains a meaty texture from all the mushrooms.
A meatless pasta dish that gains a meaty texture from all the mushrooms.
The 2021 Barra Reserve Chardonnay that I used in the dish and enjoyed while eating it.
The 2021 Barra Reserve Chardonnay that I used in the dish and enjoyed while eating it.

Since this pasta recipe is designed for 9 to 12 ounces of dried spaghetti, and I wanted to use up an entire 16-ounce bag of pasta, I decided to make 1 1/2 times the sauce, which worked out well.

There was just enough sauce to cling to every strand and turn it the color of a latte. The pasta is quite woodsy and nutty tasting, even a hint smoky. The mushrooms also add a meatiness to the dish. A final good grind of black pepper, and even a drop of high-quality truffle oil would not be out of the question to finish this dish, if you like.

For both cooking and pairing, I uncorked a bottle of 2021 Barra Reserve Chardonnay ($24), of which I received a sample. With a depiction of the historic oak tree that grows on its home ranch, these new labels by this Mendocino winery are carried on its line of wines that boast the California Certified Organic Farmers certification. The bottles also are sealed with recyclable Normacorc closures made from plant-based biopolymers derived from sugar cane.

While I might normally choose a Pinot Noir to go with this mushroomy dish, this Chardonnay that was barrel-fermented in 30 percent new French oak proved to have enough richness and a measured acidity to stand up to this pasta. It’s not aggressively oaky, but rather has a subtle toasted breadiness, along with vivid tastes of apple, pear, and creme brulee.

Cin cin to that.

Give this fabulous dish a twirl.
Give this fabulous dish a twirl.

Porcini and Cream Sauce Pasta

(Serves 3 to 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

1/2 to 1 chile, finely chopped (optional)

2 sprigs of rosemary

3 sprigs of thyme

1/3 cup white wine

9 to 12 ounces spaghetti (see Note)

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup Parmesan or percorino, grated

Soak the mushrooms in 2 cups cold water for 20 to 30 minutes. Toward the end of this time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Lift out the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside in a colander placed over a bowl. Strain the soaking water though a sieve into a measuring cup to use as stock. If needed, chop the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil, salt, and pepper in a large frying pan, add the garlic, chile (if using), and herbs, and cook briefly. Add the drained mushrooms, cook for 3 to 5 minutes, then pour in the wine and allow to reduce for a minute or two. Measure off 3/4 cup of the mushroom stock, and add to the pan, and reduce again for 10 minutes over a medium heat.

Add the pasta to a pot of salted boiling water. Add the cream to the sauce and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Heat through and, when the pasta is al dente, drain and toss it into the sauce in the frying pan. Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with the Parmesan or pecorino.

Note: To make this with a full 16 ounces of spaghetti, just make 1 1/2 times the amount of sauce.

Adapted from “The Italian Cooking Course” by Katie Caldesi with Giancarlo Caldesi

More Dishes to Make with Dried Porcini: Porcini Braised Chicken Legs by Naomi Pomeroy

And: Baked Scallops with Porcini Butter

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