Pasta with Mushroom Ragu

Cook Date: November 14, 2020

Like pork and apples, mushrooms are a perfect Fall ingredient. What do you get when you cook down 1½ pounds of mushrooms with shallots, garlic, and thyme then serve it over pasta that was cooked in chicken stock and cream? I got the most delicious meal I’ve eaten in months. It’s perfect earthy comfort food for a cold and rainy Fall day. Cook it for someone you love.

We’ve been into mushrooms this Fall: bean curd with mushrooms in oyster sauce a couple of weeks ago, this dish, and we’ll be making mushroom risotto for our small Thanksgiving get together. Carla and I loved the pork chops and apples in cider sauce from the New York Times a few weeks ago; so, when their Mushroom Ragú Pasta recipe cropped up last week we were on it immediately. We used 3 types of mushrooms: chanterelle, crimini, and a powder of dried porcini.

Ingredients for Pasta with Mushroom Ragú

The recipe says this takes 30 minutes to cook. While that is accurate, it took me a while to chop the mushrooms into ¼-inch pieces, fine dice the shallots, and strip the thyme off all the stems. Well, the recipe called for ¼-inch cubes; my bits were larger but mostly under ½-inch.

Chopping mushrooms for mushroom ragú

While I did the prep in the afternoon, I thought to myself, this better be worth it. Spoiler alert: it was so totally worth it.

The recipe calls for some mushroom powder as an option. It’s not an option; if you make this please use the mushroom powder. Instead of buying mushroom powder, a tip in the recipe calls for grinding a few dried porcini mushrooms in your spice grinder or mortar and pestle. A package of dried porcini mushrooms is an ounce; we needed less than a quarter of that to get the requisite 1 teaspoon. Start with a few bits and add if you need more. The pieces in the picture below made about 1½ teaspoons worth – more than enough. It smells so earthy and gives that cooking liquid an extra kick.

Dried porcini mushrooms to be turned into mushroom powder

After a quick spin in the spice grinder…

Mushroom powder

The recipe calls for 3 shallots. But most shallots come in two halves wrapped together in their skin. Was I supposed to use 3 halves or 3 entire shallots? I’ve noticed that our produce here on the west coast is bigger than other parts of the country – notably Chicago. I split the difference and diced until I figured: that’s plenty..

Shallots ready for dicing

Finally I had everything prepped (a pound and a half is a lot of mushrooms!). I sat for a while to watch a bit of college football.

Pasta with mushroom ragu’ mis en place – minus the pasta

Instead of cooking the thin spaghetti in salted water as one normally would, this is cooked in a mixture of chicken stock, heavy cream, the mushroom powder, a teaspoon of thyme leaves, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Actually, I used a Tablespoon of kosher salt since my chicken stock has very little salt in it.

Often, when I cook pasta I use penne, but thinner-than-spaghetti noodles are called for here – it does a great job of holding that sauce from the cooking liquid. We couldn’t find angel hair pasta at the store so we settled for regular spaghetti.

While this dish would be good with canned chicken stock, the homemade variety knocks it out of the park. A chicken probably once walked through the factory where canned stock is made; I use a pound of chicken parts per quart of water. The result is silky and delicious. You can find a post on my easy-peazey-lemon-squeezy chicken stock here. Just want the recipe? I base mine on Mike Vrobel’s recipe from Dad Cooks Dinner. I use homemade chicken stock in a lot of my cooking. It’s my secret weapon.

Stir it all together and bring it to a simmer. I took a taste when it warmed up and got excited about dinner.

Pasta cooking sauce: chicken stock, cream, mushroom powder, salt, and thyme

This is a fun dinner to cook; I love when I watch ingredients render down. The mushrooms, shallots, garlic and a bit of thyme are sauté in ⅓ cup olive oil. It smelled so, so good.

Mushroom ragú ingredients just added to the sauté pan.

A few minutes later the moisture is driven out…

Finally we deglaze the pan with ⅓ cup Pinot Noir. The recipe calls for Marsala or Port with a dry red wine as an alternative.

Mushroom ragú looking for pasta.

As the ragú is almost done, add the spaghetti to the chicken stock / cream liquid. Be careful when adding the spaghetti; the strands are too long to fit in the pot. I used a set of tongs to dip one end of the pasta in and gently curl it as it softened. If you look closely at the picture below you can see broken pieces of the dry noodles on the cooktop.

Simmer for 7-9 minutes. You’ll need to mix it up frequently with the tongs to keep the pieces from sticking together or to the pan.

Spaghetti cooking in the chicken stock and cream liquid.

A lot of the liquid will be absorbed by the pasta. When I tasted a noodle or two to check for al dente my eyes rolled back in my head at the taste.

To serve, use the tongs to put some spaghetti in a pasta bowl, spoon some of the ragú on top and sprinkle the remaining thyme leaves over the top.

Dinner is served: Pasta with mushroom ragú

I’m not bragging: this is the NY Times recipe, not mine. I just followed along. Carla and I found it absolutely delicious. Seriously, the best thing we’ve cooked in months and months. We had to exercise self restraint to leave half for leftovers and not gobble it all up in 1 sitting.

Rating: ★★★★★ The full 5 stars – a rarity.

It’s easy to make although you’ll need some time for the prep. As we head into this third Corona virus wave, this is as good a way as any I can think of to pass the time. Cook this for someone you love.

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