My friend has a new baby and with new babies comes joy and sleep deprivation and friends bringing you large containers of food. My friend the new mom was due for another round of such food deliveries. I asked her if she wanted anything specific, and she responded immediately. Did I remember that dish that our friend Nancy used to make? The mushroom pasta dish? That was what she wanted.
Nancy knew what dish I was referring to but she did not have an exact recipe to send me. She sent a list of the basic ingredients and a general overview of how she made it. She asked me to play with it and let her know what I came up with. Her recipe was simple enough. Saute some garlic in oil. Add mushrooms and cook through. Add some wine and let it reduce. Add cooked linguine, fontina cheese, parsley and some reserved pasta cooking liquid. Salt and pepper at the end. Be careful of clumping cheese.
There are times when I look at a recipe and instantly know that I will make it exactly as directed, with no changes, because there is an alchemical beauty evident in the instructions and I just want to experience the results. But there are other times when I immediately know I am going to mess with a whole bunch of things and this was one of those times.
First, I love a really well cooked mushroom but I am texture sensitive and an overcooked mushroom is a horror to me so I knew that the mushrooms were going to come out of the pan mid-sauce and go back in at the end.
Second, I suspected that her reported problem with clumping cheese was because something was missing to help bind it all together. I went online and perused a bunch of recipes for pasta with fontina. A lot of people were adding some cream to their sauce, but as soon as I saw one that was all about the butter, I knew what I was going to do. For me the difference between a cream sauce and a butter sauce is licking your fork versus licking your plate. So, that meant that the oil was getting nixed altogether in favor of mushrooms cooked in butter.
The result was a silky smooth sauce and mushrooms so good I could imagine sitting in front of a bowl of this pasta and becoming dismayed at the realization that you had eaten all the mushrooms first and now there were no more to have with your pasta. It made three large lunch/dinner size portions, though it could easily make five or six smaller portions served with some bread and a small salad. Next time, I will add more mushrooms.
One 16 oz. package of linguine noodles
Approx. 20 oz. crimini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced *
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, separated
One tbsp. crushed garlic, divided **
⅓ cup white wine ***
One large shallot, minced
One tsp. sea salt
8 oz. fontina cheese, cubed
½ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. (If you prefer to add salt to the water when cooking your pasta, you may want to reduce the salt added later in the recipe. I never add salt to the water when I am going to be using the cooking liquid later as I prefer more control over the saltiness of the final dish.)
While the pasta is cooking, you can slice your mushrooms, crush the garlic, mince the shallot, chop the parsley, and cube the cheese. (Though I only made it through the shallot prep before my pasta was done. I did the parsley and cheese while the mushrooms cooked.)
Melt 2 tbsp. of butter in a dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat. When melted, add ½ tbsp. of crushed garlic and let it cook for half a minute. Then add half of the sliced mushrooms. Let them saute, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes. Once cooked, remove the cooked mushrooms to a plate using a slotted spoon, leaving any liquid in the pan. Add another 2 tbsp. of butter and melt. Repeat previous steps with remaining ½ tbsp. of garlic and other half of mushrooms. (If I were adding another 10 oz. of mushrooms, I would probably do it three batches rather than upping the size of the two batches as the mushrooms cook nicely and evenly in this amount.)
Once the mushrooms are cooked and set aside, add the minced shallot to the pan and cook for about three minutes, stirring frequently. Add the wine and bring to a boil, then let it reduce by half. Once reduced, add the mushrooms back into the pan with the remaining butter, the reserved cooking liquid and the salt. Let it cook until the butter melts, stirring frequently.
Lower the heat and add the cooked pasta, cheese and parsley to the pan. Stir everything until the cheese melts completely and the sauce coats the noodles. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
* I bought two 10 oz. packages of mushrooms but definitely wished I had more in the final product. I might add a third package next time along with another 2 tbsp. of butter, which would bring the total butter in this recipe to one stick of butter. If that seems like too much butter to you, then I would recommend still starting with two tablespoons of butter for the first batch of mushrooms and using a smaller amount of butter for each successive addition of mushrooms to the pot.
** Jars of crushed garlic are one of my favorite kitchen shortcuts as I find mincing garlic incredibly tedious. If you prefer fresh garlic, you probably want about four large cloves, divided.
*** If you do not have wine around and want to cook this, you can substitute ⅓ cup of vegetable stock with a tsp. of white wine vinegar added to it. (This is my preferred shortcut when I am wineless.)