Orecchiette Duxelles

I made a version of this dish this past weekend. Jeremy really wanted mushroom pasta, and this one certainly fit the bill. I used cremini mushrooms and white wine instead of cognac, and added a bit of gorgonzola at the end because I had it out to make a pear salad to accompany the pasta. Because we were out of eggs, I couldn’t make the fresh egg pasta, but boxed orecchiette proved to be a perfect substitute to cup all those little bits of mushroom and walnut. I halved these amounts for the two of us, and it made a perfect dinner with that salad of mine.

Pappardelle with Duxelles and Walnuts

“Duxelles were the first thing I learned to make in cooking school. This finely diced saute of mushrooms also makes a delicious pasta sauce. I’ve added walnuts to the sauce—an idea I picked up from chef Daniel Boulud, who uses this flavor combination in several of the mushroom dishes served at his New York restaurant, Restaurant Daniel.”

Unsalted butter
Olive oil
1 lb fresh mushrooms (porcini, chantarelle, oyster, cremini, portotbello, white button), stemmed and cut in small dice, stems reserved
4 shallots, finely chopped (peels reserved)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced (skins reserved)
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped (stems reserved)
3 small thyme sprigs, stemmed and leaves chopped (stems reserved)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
Generous splash of cognac (optional)
1 lb fresh egg pasta dough for pappardelle or dried orecchiette
About 1 C freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To make the mushroom broth: Heat 1 T each of butter and oil in a medium saucepan over med heat. Add the mushroom stems, shallot and garlic peelings and herb stems, and saute for a moment to release flavors. Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil; turn heat to low and simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes. Strain and season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat 1 T butter and 2 T oil over med heat. Add shallots and walnuts; saute until shallots are tender and walnuts are lightly toasted and nutty smelling, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until it becomes aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute until they give off some liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the cognac and let it bubble to cook out the alcohol. Add about 1/2 C of mushroom broth and simmer over low heat, uncovered, until the mushrooms are very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add herbs and taste for seasoning.

Cook the pasta until tender and drain well. Transfer to a serving bowl, add 1 T each of butter and oil and toss with a small handful of the grated cheese. Add the duxelles and toss again. Serve topped with additional cheese at the table.

Serves: Makes 4 main-course servings or 6 first-course servings

Notes: “A finely chopped saute of mushrooms makes a delicious filling for ravioli or cannelloni. To use as a filling, omit the mushroom broth from the recipe and add about 1/2 C untoasted bread crumbs and 1 large egg. Mix well and let cool before filling.

“I love a tablespoon or two of Gorgonzola dolce or Taleggio cheese melted into this mushroom sauce at the last minute. When the sauce is finished, turn off the heat, add the cheese, and stir until melted and well mixed.

“Cutting the mushrooms in thick slices gives the sauce an entirely different, more robust character, suitable for a sturdy pasta such as ziti or rigatoni.”

Source: Pasta Improvvisata, by Erica De Mane (p. 122-123)

Update 4/28/14: I didn’t mention it in the original post, but recipes like this, which call for finely chopping the mushroom and serving it over pasta with a lot of aromatics like garlic and thyme to mask the fungal flavor, played a big role in acclimating me to the texture and taste of mushrooms.

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