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. This is my cue for when the mushrooms get good. I pretty much black out when I see perfectly round, tiny, chunky lil creminis for sale, and days later realized they would need to become something soon. To build a worthy first-of-fall meal around them, I did some math.
- Fall = cozy
- Cozy = creamy and earthy
- Earthy = shrooms!
- Mushrooms = a tucked-away forest cabin in the north with a roaring fire
- Fire = smoke
- Smoke = bacon
- Bacon = fat and fat needs acid
- Acid = tomato
- Tomato = pasta
Google search: pasta with smoky mushrooms sauce
just look at those burnished fall tones!
Although none 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 smoked pork (you can allegedly use sausage as well). 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 started with this version and did what all Italians do: modified it 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 throw a mix of whole and quartered cremini caps into the bacon fat until approaching totally crisp, and then mixing pulverized porcini powder into white wine to build the sauce. The tomatoes and bacon 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.
If this tells you anything about me, I recently busted my beloved rotary grater trying to grind a chunk of pecorino, and went out in rush hour to the Beverly Hills Williams-Sonoma yesterday to buy a new one. I ended up with this piece of equipment, which creates shaved mini (and mega) curls of parmesan so beautifully wispy and melty and delightful that if I wasn't so impressed with myself for the pasta success, I'd probably have cried.
Make this tonight with an earthy, spicy, red and get cozy with a cat. It's time for fall, y'all.
Effortful time: 15 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
- 8 oz. mezzi rigatoni
- 4 slices nitrate-free smoked bacon, chopped into small strips (can sub pancetta)
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cubed (or left whole if small)
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 14 oz. tomato puree (passata), preferably San Marzano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 heaping tsp. porcini powder, optional
- 1/3 cup heavy cream, at room temp (I microwaved mine for 15s)
- 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- Parmiggiano-reggiano, for serving
Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add chopped bacon and partially cover. Let the fat render almost fully, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to burn it.
While bacon is cooking, wipe and chop mushrooms. Discard crusty stems. Prepare your shroom infusion, if using: add porcini powder to the white wine and stir. I buy my porcini powder online at The Spice House of Chicago (it's also very good as a crust for steaks, in lentil stew, and in stroganoff), but you can also buy dried porcinis anywhere and just crush them with a rolling pin / destroy them in a food processor if you'd like to play along with me here. If not, just prep the wine.
Meanwhile, salt and heat a pot of water for pasta.
Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, but leave the fat. Immediately add mushrooms and turn heat to high. Add the salt (this aids both the browning and moisture loss you need) and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Turn to medium-low, add onions, and sweat for another 4 minutes until onions are transluscent.
Add garlic last until JUST golden. The moment that happens, deglaze with the white wine / white wine porcini infusion.
Pour in the tomato puree and add the thyme, and stir to combine bacon fats. Bring to a simmer, then turn down so the sauce is just barely bubbling, but definitely cooking. The sauce at this point will be a dirty, grungy brown with dark lumps in it. This is a good sign that you've built your earthy smoky 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.
Save 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain. Add the pasta directly to the sauce and stir to coat. Pour in the cream and heat for 3-4 more minutes, so that everything is evenly hot and the pasta is fully al dente. Adjust salt.
Tuck each lil mushroom and bacon chunk into a rigatoni hole, swirl in extra sauce, and marvel at what true compatibility looks like.