As a child I was frequently summoned to accompany my aunt when she foraged for mushrooms. I carried the basket while she scouted. The aromas, flavors and pleasures of mushrooms—from foraging to cooking—slowly seeped into my soul and has remained with me for life. Even today, it’s an exhilarating experience to meander in the autumn forest and find clusters of coral-like Hen-of-the- Woods mushrooms nestled on the musty, humid ground.
This is a great recipe on its own, but if you can add a few ounces of grated black truffle, this dish will take you straight to Norcia, the Umbrian city of the norcino, or the Italian black truffle. The rich earth of Umbria not only produces the norcino but also Sagrantino di Montefalco, the only wine I would want to drink with this earthy dish.
Wine recommendations: Earth and fruit meet and create gustatory magic if you open a bottle of Arnaldo Caprai 1997 Sagrantino di Montefalco, a burly red with aromas ranging from blackberry jam to pine tar. Or you can try Sagrantino, Nebbiolo or Barbera noble reds from Piedmont. Look for Villa Sparina’s Monferrato Barbera, Sottimano’s Barbaresco and Jean Franco Scaglielano’s Le Grive.
- Â¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1Â½ pounds of assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced Â¼-inch thick(about 6 cups)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 cup vegetable stock or pasta cooking water
- Â¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scatter the garlic over the oil and cook, shaking the pan, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add as many of the mushrooms as will fit comfortably into the skillet. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss in the sage. Add the remaining mushrooms as the mushrooms in the skillet wilt and make room. Cook, stirring and tossing frequently until the mushrooms are sizzling and brown, about 10 minutes. (If the mushrooms have given off a lot of water during cooking, you’ll have to wait for that liquid to boil off before the mushrooms begin to brown.)
Stir the spaghetti into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 8 minutes.
Add the stock to the browned mushrooms, bring to a boil and lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes.
If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into the sauce in the skillet. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot and pour in the sauce. Toss in the parsley, bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring gently to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cheese and serve immediately in warm bowls.