Cascatelli with Mushroom Ragu

Chef notes

When I invented the cascatelli pasta shape, I wanted a shape that would hold a lot of sauce, and one that I could really sink my teeth into. This recipes showcases those features. The sauce sticks inside the space between the ruffles (which I call the “sauce trough”), and the mushrooms and extra thick pasta together make this dish as satisfying as a steak.

There are lots of mushroom stew or ragu recipes. The one that follows is a combination of several recipes I’ve prepared over the years. If you need any confirmation as to how delicious this preparation is, I will refer you to my friends who eagerly took home leftovers. Verdict: delicious even the day after.

Technique tip: Cooking mushrooms in batches gives them a nice sea and helps the water inside them evaporate, which ensures the most flavorful sauce.

Swap option: Cremini mushrooms are also known as “Baby Bellas.” If you can’t find wild mushrooms like oyster or king trumpet, just use extra creminis and shiitakes. If you can’t find dried porcini mushrooms you can skip that step, this recipe still has plenty of mushroom flavor! Also, you can use one medium yellow onion in place of the two shallots. Finally, if you can’t get cascatelli pasta, you can use fusilli, radiatori, cresto di gallo or campanelle instead.

Preparation

1.

Put dried porcinis in a small bowl, if using. Pour enough hot water over to cover (about 1 cup). Soak for 30 minutes. Place cheesecloth, coffee filter or paper towel in a strainer. Pour mushrooms into strainer. Reserve broth. Remove mushrooms from strainer, rinse and pat dry. Cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

2.

In a large, deep skillet or braising pan, melt butter and oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. You will have to do this in batches, so cook the oyster and king trumpet mushrooms separately from the others. Add more butter and oil as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the creminis and shiitakes along with all the juice. Combine oyster and trumpet and set aside.

3.

Add more butter and oil to the pan. Heat over medium heat. Sauté shallots and leeks until softened. Add garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes until tomato paste is caramelized and dark brown. Stir in thyme and red pepper. Stir in cremini and shitake mushrooms, with their juices, the porcinis and the white wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is reduced by a third. Pour in 1/2 cup of the porcini water and the chicken or vegetable broth. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If too watery or bland, continue to simmer for another few minutes. Set aside (this can be prepared ahead and reheated).

4.

Bring 4 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil. Cook cascatelli for 11 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain.

5.

Transfer pasta to deep sauté pan or braising pan. Turn heat to medium. Toss pasta with mushrooms. Stir in 1/2 cup pasta water and crème fraîche. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. If you want more sauce, add more pasta water. If you want your sauce thicker, raise heat briefly to reduce. Stir in oyster and king trumpet mushrooms. Stir in cheese and most of the parsley. Transfer to plates and garnish with the rest of the parsley. Serve with additional cheese and good-quality olive oil for drizzling.

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