How to feel fall AF in Los Angeles, a primer:
Light cinnamon scented candles the second night falls in your apartment. Turn up the air conditioner so you need a big fluffy blanket. Watch old seasons of Game of Thrones and drink medium-to-heavier-bodied red wines under that blanket. Sprinkle apple pie spice into your coffee and request "blood tones" at your next nail appointment. If you're ambitious, drive east into the mountains and put on a jacket. See the amber leaves emoji in real life! Smell the apple cider donuts baking down the street! Feel the crisp wind edged with a slight tang of burning that has nothing to do with raging mountain wildfires!
Because we skip from blazing summer directly to darkness and rain here, fall is somewhat open to this kind of interpretation. I prefer to start mine the second week of September, right when pumpkin spice starts showing up at Whole Foods but before the Christmas decorations come out — but true fall doesn’t start until December, when we get the first massive rain that drowns all my outdoor cacti. This is my cue to start mushrooming. I pretty much black out when I see perfectly round, tiny, chunky lil creminis for sale, and the rest of the ingredients I have need to get on board.
just look at those burnished fall tones!
Although this dish doesn’t have the iconic status of like, carbonara, turns out there are a number of authentic Italian recipes that fall under this general umbrella. The template is Pasta alla Boscaiola in Italy, a fall-symbolizing dish in Tuscan trattorias that's built almost exclusively to brag about your village's abundance of mushrooms. Its translation is "Woodsman's Pasta," which I assume is what led to the inclusion of the pork, but after that anything goes. Some people add olives or other fall-harvest vegetables. Many include cream; some include far more of it than others. People love to get in comment wars about whether the tomatoes are canon, but since I like the Tuscans and generally think they have good ideas, I did what all they do: started with the basics, modified it heavily, and then pretended my way was the right way all along.
This is a pasta that even my mushroom-hating boyfriend, who thinks $50 white truffle oil “smells like Warhammer modeling glue" and previously referred to my precious porcini salt as "dirt crystals," loved so much that not one beautiful shroom went down the disposal last night.
While the original calls for thinly sliced mushrooms, I chose instead to saute up some quartered cremini caps until approaching totally crisp, and then deglazing with vodka. The tomatoes and pork fat created a burnished, brownish mix on their own, which looked a hell of a lot better after I stirred in the cream (about half of what most recipes call for). Since I was using chunkier shrooms here, I chose a chunk-friendly pasta, mezzi rigatoni, but most tube shapes will work.
Make this tonight with an earthy, spicy, red and get cozy with a cat. It's time for deep fall, y'all.
Effortful time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
8 oz. mezzi rigatoni
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 links mild italian pork sausage, removed from casing
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup vodka
14 oz. San Marzano tomatoes — I used puree
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/3 cup heavy cream, not fridge-cold
1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Cracked black pepper
Parmiggiano-reggiano, for serving
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. De-case and add the sausage in bite-sized pieces. Stirring only once, brown the sausage for 5 minutes. It won’t be done — that is okay. Transfer to a bowl.
While that’s happening, clean and chop mushrooms. Discard crusty stems. Add the other 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pot, and toss the mushrooms in. Saute until mushrooms are browned and crisp with a sheen of infused pork fat, about 8 minutes.
Lower the heat to medium. Add the garlic and quickly cook until fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute. Deglaze with the vodka, scraping up the burny bits. Return the sausage to the pan.
Pour in the tomato puree and add the thyme and salt. Bring to a simmer, then turn down so the sauce is just barely bubbling, but definitely cooking. The sauce at this point will start to turn a dirty, grungy red-brown with dark lumps in it. This is a good sign that you've built your earthy flavors properly, like a true and proud woodsman. Stir often to keep things moving.
Right around now, you'll want to add your pasta. Undercook the pasta by about 2 1/2 - 3 minutes from package directions. It has to cook a second time in the sauce.
When pasta is done, add it directly to the sauce and stir to coat. Pour in the cream and heat for 3-4 more minutes, stirring often, so that everything is evenly hot and the pasta is fully al dente.
Top with freshly grated parm and parsley for freshness.
Tuck each lil mushroom and sausage chunk into a rigatoni hole, swirl in extra sauce, and marvel at what true compatibility looks like.