Paccheri with Morels and Porcini Mushrooms

It’s always good to have a few simple, fast and impressive recipes to hand to wow impromptu guests or to feed the family when your shopping was delayed by a glass of wine. Today’s dish looks like you must have slaved for hour over a slow simmering stock but does in fact take just 20 minutes to make, about the time it will take to soak your mushrooms.

The sauce itself is a model of simplicity and because we will be using the soaking water from the dried mushrooms, we don’t need any stock at all. I like to use morel and porcini mushrooms, mainly because both give an intensely flavourful soaking water, but you could use pretty much any dried mushroom. Even Chinese dried shiitake will give you a nice pasta, though I’d probably go the whole way and use rice wine instead of red wine and let it be an Asian version.

As for the pasta, you can of course use any shape you like, but I think paccheri or maltagliati work best. Spaghetti or fusilli just don’t seem right for this sauce, if you see what I mean. As for the meat part of the recipe, you can really use any meat you want, or even make it completely vegetarian (vegan, in fact!).

Paccheri with Dried Mushrooms

  • 150g minced beef, pork, chicken or diced fresh mushrooms
  • 10g dried morel mushrooms
  • 12g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 400ml hot water
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ big brown onion
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sprig marjoram, oregano or sage (anything but basil or dill, really)
  • 15g butter (or 1 Tbsp olive oil for that vegan option)
  • 15g flour
  • 50ml red wine
  • 250g dried Paccheri pasta

Soak your dried mushrooms in hot water for about 30 minutes. Longer is fine, but anything less might leave you with hard cores in your shrooms. While the mushers are soaking, you can leisurely make the rest of your sauce. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, peel and finely dice the onion and… well, and nothing else.

Once your mushrooms have soaked, remove them from the water, squeeze them and chop them up. I like to keep the morels in strips, but just roughly chop the porcinis, they will pretty much fall apart during the cooking anyway. If you want a grander version, you could get fresh porcini, dice them and add them. But do NOT replace the dried ones with fresh ones. It doesn’t work that way. You need that Bovril like soaking broth.

Heat one to two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and once the oil is smoking hot, add the minced meat and spread it out flat in the pan. Leave to fry for a minute, then break it up into bits and fry for another minute. You need to leave the mince alone, so it can get some colour. If you keep stirring all the time, it won’t brown. I make all my own mince, so there is no problem with it being watery. If your mince draws water, you will let that evaporate first. Once the mince is cooked and nicely brown, remove it from the pan and reserve.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the onions. Once they start to take colour, add the garlic and let that brown as well, then quickly toss in the mushrooms and the herb(s) and stir for a short minute. Season lightly with salt and black pepper and stir for another minute. There is a small danger of burning the garlic, so keep an eye on it and if necessary wet it with a tablespoon of wine. Now add the fried mince back to the pan and stir to mix.

Add your cut of butter, let it melt and sprinkle the flour over the whole thing. Continue to fry for a minute, then add the red wine. Stir in and add the soaking liquid from the mushrooms. Pour this in gently and make sure not to disturb (or add) the sand that will have settled at the bottom. You can pour it through a strainer, or pre-strain through a cloth, but it’s not really necessary. Sand is quite heavy and if you’re careful, you can easily see when you need to stop. Bring your sauce to a simmer and cook until it’s just thickened. You are looking for something that will just coat the pasta, not a sauce you can slice with a knife. It’s a common error, even in restaurants to have over-reduced sauces that may have great flavour, but are just too heavy to enjoy, so try to avoid that and keep the freshness in there!

Time to boil your pasta. If you’re clever, you will have a big pot of water on the boil already. Salt it lightly. That means a child’s handful to a big pot. If you have no child to hand, use a heaped tablespoon. Once that’ boiling properly, toss in your pasta and keep stirring for the first minute, just to make sure the pasta does not stick. Boil for as long as the manufacturer tells you to and then check. The guys at Rustichella, my favourite pasta after Cipriani (terribly expensive) and Benedetto Cavalieri (not sold in Malaysia), think that their paccheri will boil in 15 minutes, but they are very wrong. It took me almost 20. So fish one out and eat it. Don’t bite off a corner, or eat a small bit. You need to chew it all to see whether it’s cooked or not. This recipe want a slightly soft pasta. Not mushy, but softer than a proper al dente.

Take your pasta out of the water with a slotted spoon, or strainer straight into your plates or serving platter. Do not pour the water and pasta into a colander. That will drench the pasta with all the starch in the water, which is a bit like pouring wall paper glue over the pasta. Don’t worry if there is a little extra water in the bottom of the plates, it won’t matter at all. Spoon the sauce over, serve with a generous amount of grated cheese of your preference and you’re set.

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