Sometimes you can make a familiar dish—say, pasta with a mushroom sauce–and suddenly it tastes way better. Because you’ve made a few changes, whether deliberate or random, and the stars aligned in a good way.
That happened recently when I made fettuccine with mixed mushrooms and radicchio. To my surprise, the dish rose a notch above what I’d achieved before. The alchemy of a powerful trio–mushrooms, radicchio and green garlic—tasted divine, with just enough cream to bring out the flavor in every luxurious bite.
Russo’s, a local produce market, has a crazy-big display of cultivated mushrooms. I could have chosen maitake, oyster, trumpet or, for a splurge, chanterelles. I went for great-looking cremini and yellow hedgehog mushrooms, cheaper than chanterelles but with a similar flavor.
The fettuccine I planned to use was an artisanal brand and the radicchio looked deep red and fresh, free of that wan look imported heads acquire when produce staff peel off the darkened outer leaves, week after week.
To sum up: Primo ingredients make a difference.
The second difference was accidental. I thought I had turned off the heat under the sauce while on a Zoom call when in fact I had left it going strong. When a strong mushroom-garlic aroma wafted to where I was chatting, I ran to turn down the heat. The liquid had evaporated but the sauce hadn’t burned—though maybe it had come close. Instead, that hard saute had brought out a deliciously savory, almost caramelized flavor.
One more note: A pound of mushrooms to half a pound of pasta makes a very mushroom-dominant dish. In deference to the Italian rule of thumb that pasta sauces and toppings should not overpower the pasta, I would typically go lighter on mushrooms.
Tasting this dish, however, I can say that breaking the rules now and then isn’t wrong.
At least one of the mushroom varieties for this pasta dish should be a richly flavorful one such as shiitake, hedgehog or maitake. Or porcini, of course, if you are fortunate enough to have those. Be sure to follow the cooking instructions, giving the mushroom and green garlic mix a fierce saute to deepen flavors. You have a choice with the pasta quantity. For a mushroom-dense dish, go with 8 ounces; for a more traditional mushroom pasta, 12 ounces is preferable.
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms such as cremini, oyster, shiitake, hedgehog
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped green garlic or shallots or scallions
- 2 cups shredded radicchio
- ½ cup white wine or ¼ cup white wine and ¼ cup Marsala
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 8 to 12 ounces fettuccine or tagliatelle or other egg noodles
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Slice mushrooms in similar-sized pieces (this may call for quartering or halving larger mushrooms).
Melt butter with olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute until they soften, release liquid and then re-absorb it, about 10 minutes.
Stir in green garlic and raise heat to medium-high. Continue cooking until mushroom blend gives off a deeply savory, almost caramelized aroma. Stir in radicchio, cooking briefly until it wilts slightly.* Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add wine and, when it has almost evaporated, the cream. Reduce heat to low to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full of cold water and bring to a boil. Add a small handful of salt.
Add fettuccine and stir to separate strands. Cook until tender, which may be as little as 3 minutes.
Strain pasta, reserving at least 1 cup of cooking water. Add pasta to skillet (or, if there is not room, combine pasta and sauce in the empty saucepan). Simmer a few minutes, stirring gently while adding half the cheese and cooking liquid as needed for a saucy consistency.
Sprinkle servings with remaining cheese.
*The radicchio will darken as it cooks. If you prize that ruby-red color, reserve some to stir in near the end.
Note: An ounce of pancetta, finely diced and sauteed, would be a good addition to this sauce.
What could I substitute for the radicchio? Would spinach or kale work?
Spinach or kale leaves would be nice, or red cabbage. Just be sure to shred so it integrates with the other sauce ingredients.