“Today I had yet another run-in with that girl. You know that girl. Everyone knows that girl. She’s the one you’d love to hate. And it would be easy to, what with her gorgeous good looks, engaging smile and perfect hair, she’s asking for it. But what makes it hard is that she’s also witty, intelligent and caring to boot, a perfect angel. She has to be the most annoying person ever! And it is hard to avoid her, she’s so easy to run into. All you can do really is smile back. And you probably should anyway…..you’ll walk past that mirror in a couple of seconds, and she’ll be gone as quickly as she arrived, not forever, just for a while.”
I don’t know what to do with these few lines above that I wrote, nor do I know where they came from. Here I was sitting down to talk about a delicious pasta dish, and this is what popped into my head. Maybe someday that girl will get out of my head and on to paper, along with the rest of her tale. Maybe it will be ‘that guy’ or ‘that kid’ instead of ‘that girl’, I don’t know. But I swear that the amount of random topics that pop into my head and clamour for elaboration are getting to be a veritable pain in the posterior. I mean really, I had thought starting to write about food would focus all my creative energy in one direction. But talking about food hasn’t brought the serene peace of mental vacuum that I hoped it would. As truly as nature abhors that phenomenon, food ideas are multiplying and bringing their non-related friends to the raucous party. And so I digress like, but much worse than my college history professor, who was supposed to teach us about history of architecture, but mostly taught the history of himself. If you are what you eat, than I’ve got to start giving random drug tests to my spices. Have they been secretly doped? Or maybe there was something in those chips I ate earlier. I always knew the processed food would get me.
But getting back on point to the pasta, this dish came about after a party when we found ourselves in possession of some good bottles of white wine. I’ve mentioned my aversion to drinking unknown wine before but it rarely applies to cooking with it. So we used some in a pasta sauce, tasting and balancing flavours as we worked through the sauce and came up with something that we really liked. The wine, mushroom and garlic pairing is classic and the taste is incredibly deep and a vastly superior alternative to canned pasta sauces. Farfalle (also known as bow-tie or butterfly pasta) go very well with cream sauces. Though the cream here is really minimal, they still worked here. However, don’t think of this dish as pasta swimming in sauce. The sauce mostly just coats it.
Farfalle with mushroom and garlic sauce
Whole-wheat farfalle – 1 packet
Dried porcini mushrooms – 3 tbsp, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water (save the water)
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced
Shallots – 2 tbsp, chopped finely
Dried red chillies – 2, crushed to pieces
Fresh thyme – 3/4 tsp, leaves
White wine – 1 cup
Cream – turn of the pan (roughly 3 tbsp)
* Orange Blossom Honey – 1/2 to 3/4 tsp (see cook’s notes)
Pine nuts – handful, toasted
Olive Oil – 1-2 tsp
Basil – handful, torn into pieces
Parmesan – to grate over dish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Red chilli flakes – to sprinkle over serving
– If toasting raw pine nuts, heat them in a small pan on low heat until just lightly browned.
– In a large vessel, bring plenty of salted water to a boil. Cook farfalle as per directions on box until al dente.
– In a saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add crushed chillies and toss with a spoon until they splutter and their warm aroma wafts up.
– Add the garlic and cook gently until lightly browned.
– Add the shallots and cook them until they go translucent.
– Chop the reconstituted porcini mushrooms roughly and add them to the saucepan. Stir the mixture for a while to sweat the mushrooms.
– Add the wine and thyme and cook for a bit, stirring it in.
– Add the mushroom broth (water in which the mushrooms soaked and bring to a steady boil. Allow the alcohol to evaporate and the sauce to reduce slightly. Add salt and pepper.
– Add the cream and reduce the heat. Stir everything in together and allow sauce to continue to bubble, heat and thicken a bit. Add the honey, if using and stir to incorporate completely. Move off the heat.
– Drain cooked pasta and mix in torn basil leaves and pine nuts with it.
– Add the pasta to the sauce and toss so that the pasta is thoroughly coated with the sauce.
– Serve the pasta with fresh parmesan or pecorino grated over it, along with the red pepper flakes if you are using them. Or add more freshly ground black pepper.
The honey used here is a bit of a wild card. Our palate takes better to sweeter wines like Rieslings so that is what we tend to use. Sometimes we have gifted wine that is dryer and the honey helps mellow and balance its flavour very well. It has a deeper and less overpowering flavour than sugar and also helps along the thickening process more than sugar would. I recommend orange blossom honey because I am head over heels in love with the flavour. I’ve also used other artisanal (or just plain regular) honeys like blackberry and they seem to work, although they do slightly alter the flavour of the sauce. The way to use this ingredient would be to add it little by little, stirring in completely and tasting the sauce each time until it reaches a flavour point that you like. You shouldn’t be able to taste the honey separately. If you do than it hasn’t mixed in well enough yet. This will also happen if you use too much so be carefully to add a little bit at a time and stir thoroughly. Try it the first time you try this dish to get a handle on how much you like. If you are using sweeter wines like rieslings, you may not need it at all. The sweet wine will not make a sweet sauce, just give it a more rounded note.
To reconstitute dried porcini, pour hot water over the porcini mushrooms and let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Porcini mushrooms are very flavourful, but the broth is the true jewel here. It has a deep and complex flavour and using it in sauces makes them very hearty and rich. They are my favourite addition to sauces. If toasting raw pine nuts, watch them closely. They toast very quickly and tend to go from ‘just right’ to ‘burnt and bitter’ very easily. They work extremely well in this dish but in a pinch you could use toasted walnuts. Give this one a try. You’re sure to enjoy it. And may be your mind will wander to those places where you make up your own stories.