Walking past the mushroom aisle the other day, I was reminded of last Fall in Rome. I actually stopped dead in my tracks. The display had such a variety of mushrooms that I forgot for a moment that it wasn’t Rome. They had Crimini (nothing out of the ordinary here), but also Chanterelles, and those little ones that look like a bunch of nails (called chiodi in Italian but I can’t think of their name in English). And, they even had Porcini mushrooms. Fresh Porcini mushrooms! Then reality hit. The slap to the face telling me I wasn’t in Rome was the price, $39.90 per pound. The clerk who was walking by, saw me shaking my head and laughing, asked if I needed help. I confirmed the price. “Yes, they are $39.90 a pound.” He said, with a smile. “Well, they don’t call this Whole Paycheck for nothing.” Oops, I did say that out loud. He seemed to be only a little offended, just that required of an employee. Then he laughed with me, and walked away. I did the same.
For the rest of the day, those mushrooms had me dreaming of Rome in Autumn. Last year, I spent August in Rome, then returned again in late September. I remember how different Rome was. In only 30 days, the new season had quickly swept out the oppressive heat, changed the color of the trees along the Tiber to light greens and yellows, and refreshed the entire city. The attitudes of the Romani were even more jovial (I’m sure an August of vacation at the beach didn’t hurt either). Fall quickly changed the landscape of the street markets, too. Pumpkins, chestnuts, and mushrooms dominated the vegetable stands. Fettuccine ai Funghi Porcini was written on chalkboards in almost all the trattorie, announcing it as the plate of the day.
Now back at home, I was determined to transport myself, once again through food, to Rome and had to make my own fettuccine ai funghi. I went back to the store. Instead of buying a pound, I found one smallish Porcini mushroom, a little under ¼ pound in weight. I also bought Chanterelles and Crimini mushrooms to make up the total amount I would need. When leaving the store, I had another Roman experience. Being the weekend before Thanksgiving in the U.S., I risked life, limb, and mushrooms to avoid harried and impatient drivers racing through the parking lot, not wanting to be delayed by anything, especially pedestrians.
In Rome, the dish is usually served with a fresh egg fettuccine . I used dried fettuccine instead, and everything turned out deliciously. It takes more time to shop for the ingredients than to make the dish. In the time it takes to make the pasta, the “sauce” will be ready.
Fettuccine with Mushrooms - Fettuccine ai Funghi
1 pound (450 grams) fettuccine
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
About 1 pound your favorite mushrooms (porcini, chanterelle, crimini, etc.) **
About ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup white wine (may also use Marsala or Madeira wine for a little added flavor)
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
**NOTE: You can substitute dried porcini mushrooms (because fresh is hard to find and expensive in the U.S.) Soak them in warm water, and then drain them before adding to the saute pan.
In a saucepot, bring about 8 cups of well-salted water to a rolling boil.
While the water is heating, clean the mushrooms with a dampened paper towel, then slice them to 1/4-inch thickness. In a sauté pan, heat the oil, garlic cloves and the pepper flakes (if using them). Once the oil is translucent, add the mushrooms. Salt the mushrooms to bring out their moisture and sauté for about five minutes on medium-high heat. (In the five minutes, the mushrooms will first absorb all the oil, then release their moisture, and then caramelize.)
While the mushrooms are cooking, drop the fettuccine into the boiling water and cook according to instructions.
Once the mushrooms have caramelized, deglaze them with the wine, initially over high heat, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes. When the fettuccine is about 2 minutes from being done, add a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the pasta water to the mushrooms. Drain the pasta and add it to the mushrooms. Add the butter and toss until everything is combined and the butter has melted. Remove the garlic cloves. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed (if you used the red pepper flakes, you may not need the black pepper). Garnish with chopped parsley and serve. Buon Appetito!
This post is part of WanderFood Wednesdays, travelers that love to eat.