Porcini mushrooms make me think of Lord of the Rings because they seem like the type of thick meaty mushroom that a hobbit would fry up with some eggs. (Yes, I admit my geekiness.)
Despite my small stature, I am not a hobbit. For me, a heap of porcini mushrooms with fresh pasta, served with a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and a slow-roasted tomato salad with bufala mozzarella and slivered basil defines a perfect summer meal.
There is a twist to this recipe, though. Instead of making the pasta with the traditional Tipo 00 (which can be hard to find) or, heavens forbid, all-purpose flour, we started with white whole wheat flour which is full of fiber and meets South Beach Diet rules. White whole wheat flour adds a nutty flavor to this pasta, making it reminiscent of hazelnuts, but with the bite of whole wheat. Fresh whole wheat pasta has none of the grittiness and blandness of whole wheat dried pasta. Instead, the pasta emerges from its boiling bath silky smooth with light brown flecks.
The one negative to using white whole wheat flour is that it takes more muscle power to get the dough into an elastic ball that can be stretched and rolled into pasta sheets. You could use a stand mixer with a dough hook or, like me, you could ask your husband to chivalrously step in to finish the kneading process.
Then, we let our Kitchen Aid pasta maker attachment do the hard work, thinning the golf-ball sized rounds of dough into tender, thin layers.
Because we cut the pasta by hand, it lacked the uniformity of store-bought pasta or even pasta cut by a fettucini attachment. But the uneven pasta added to the rustic feel of the dish.
Don't worry: I haven't forgotten the porcinis. I wish we could get the plump fresh porcinis in the United States that we found by the bushel in Montepulciano. Or, I would even be satisfied to find dried porcinis like the ones we purchased in Italy.
These were the last of the porcinis we purchased in Venice. We hoarded them, using them sparingly, because we knew that we would not get such mushrooms until we go to Italy again.
I almost hated to eat them. But, as they went into our bellies with the satin sheets of pasta, we toasted to ourselves and our memories of Tuscany.
White Whole Wheat Pasta with Porcinis
Pasta adapted from Pasta, by Barnes & Noble
Time: 2 1/2 hours to make fresh pasta; 30 minutes to make the pasta with porcinis
Serves: Pasta recipe makes pasta for 8 people (or plenty of leftover pasta); porcini sauce recipe is for 2 people
For the pasta:
2 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
For the porcini mushroom sauce:
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
1/8 cup onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
6 fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped basil
To make the pasta:
1. Mound the flour on a clean work surface and make a large deep well into the center. Crack the eggs into the well and add the salt.
2. Stir the eggs and salt together and then gradually incorporate the flour from the sides of the well. Work the ingredients together until it forms a rough and sticky ball. If dough is too sticky, add a small amount of flour. If dough is too dry, add a few drops of cold water.
3. Scrape the dough that sticks to the countertop or cutting board and press the dough into a rough ball and knead as you would bread. Knead for 5 minutes. Dough should be very smooth and elastic.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. [This is a good time to start soaking the porcinis.]
5. Unwrap the ball of dough and cut into 1/8 pieces (approximately large golf ball pieces), keeping the remainder wrapped in plastic wrap. [We found that the pasta tore if we used larger pieces of dough. If your pasta begins to tear as you roll it out, then try again with a smaller piece.] Flatten the piece of dough into a rough rectangle.
6. Following your pasta machine manufacturer's instructions, feed the flattened piece of dough into the machine. Fold the dough into thirds, then feed again into the machine. Repeat folding and rolling two additional times.
7. Increase the roller setting one notch. Sprinkle the pasta lightly with flour and feed through the rollers again, unfolded.
8. Turn the roller setting another notch and repeat the rolling, then continue without folding the dough until you get to the last setting [or until the pasta becomes so thin that it looks like it may tear. [I was not able to roll the pasta thinner than size 6 on my pasta machine which goes up to size 8.] Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.
9. Cut the pasta using a pizza cutter or sharp knife into tagliatelle, fettucini, or spaghetti.
10. To freeze pasta, place loosely in a large ziploc bag and place flat on a freezer shelf. Thaw frozen pasta for about 15 minutes before cooking in boiling water.
To make the pasta with porcinis:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt.
2. Fill a bowl with warm water and add 1/2 cup of red wine. Add dried porcinis to bowl. Let soak for 30 minutes.
3. Using a slotted spoon, remove soaked porcini from liquid (do not throw away the liquid) and saute porcinis in 1 teaspoon olive oil for approximately 4 minutes (until porcinis are cooked but not dry). Set aside.
4. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium-heat and add diced onions and sliced shitake mushrooms. Cook for 7-8 minutes until shitakes and onions are golden brown.
5. Add 1/2 cup of the porcini-soaking liquid into the pan with the onions and shitake mushrooms. Add reserved porcini mushrooms and half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and stir.
6. Place 1 cup fresh pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente. Watch the pasta carefully because it takes only two to three minutes for the pasta to cook to al dente.
7. Add porcini mushroom sauce to pasta and top with fresh parsley, basil, and grated parmigiano reggiano.
8. Optional: For the extra indulgence, top with sprinkles of truffle oil.