Friday, January 05, 2007

Tagliatelle with Porcini and Sage

Late summer and early autumn the woods all over Europe are liberally sprinkled with wild mushrooms of every kind, one of the best of which is known as porcini in Italy and the mighty cep in France. They look for all the world like the mushrooms of fairy tales, their thick creamy stalks and large umbrella shaped heads absolutely had to be the model used for the plaster ones they sell in garden centres to go with your gnomes. When available fresh they are seriously substantial - in Rome I once shared a single mushroom as a starter and it was magical - and more than enough with pasta to follow.

The rest of the year they are available dried - a completely different kettle of fish, if you will. Good quality dried porcini have a multitude of uses and are well worth searching out. Larger, darker pieces with a strong aroma are a good indication that you have found what you are looking for, you don't want too many slices of stalk and you don't want to see lots of tiny holes because that indicates they have been infested with larvae at some point. I once opened a vacuum sealed tub and tipped the contents into a bowl only to watch teeny critters run for freedom as I started to add hot water. One of the best signs of good dried porcini is scent, perfume, aroma - call it what you will - but when you unseal the container you should be hit with a fabulous cloud of dark forest essence - deep, rich and seductive. It will translate into flavour in the final dish.

This recipe comes from the River Cafe Pasta Pocket Book and is a wonderful melding of tastes to create a really sumptuous bowl of pasta. The chilli adds a prickle of heat, the lemon cuts through the richness of butter and cream, the porcini and sage add depth - an amazing concoction. My sweetheart is not, in general, one for lemon in savoury dishes but with this he was practically licking the bowl.

Tagliatelle with Porcini and Sage

350g dried egg tagliatelle
35g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 200ml hot water for 20 minutes
8 fresh sage leaves, finely sliced
100g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
4 tbs double cream
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
50g Parmesan, freshly grated

Drain the porcini, keeping back the water. Rinse the now soft porcini in a sieve under a running tap to remove any grit. Roughly chop. Strain the soaking liquid through a sieve lined with kitchen paper to remove the grit.

Melt the butter in a thick bottomed pan, add the garlic , sage and chilli and fry gently until the garlic is lightly coloured. Add the porcini and stir to combine. Cook for 15 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of the soaking liquid to keep the porcini moist if necessary. When the porcini are soft, stir in the cream, lemon zest and juice and season.
Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. Add to the sauce and toss. Stir in the Parmesan and serve.

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