A Mushroom Cream Sauce
This weekend we had friends over for a dinner party and I wanted to share with you the wild mushroom cream sauce that we served on a fine commercial penne pasta imported from Umbria, Italy. We were thinking of making our own homemade fettuccine pasta but I thought the penne would go better with this sauce and we really didn’t have the time to make homemade pasta too.
We served the pasta dish with roasted chicken thighs and legs that were just purchased that weekend at the farmers’ market. They were fresh, free-range chickens but I have no idea exactly how fresh. Next week, I’ll ask the owners exactly when the chickens are butchered but I can say these chickens taste much better than the chickens I buy at the supermarket.
Mushroom Capital of the World
If you do a search for “mushroom capital of the world” you are most likely going to find Kennett Square in Pennsylvania is that place and that’s where my weekly farmers’ market mushrooms come from. Kennett Square is considered the capital because according to Wikipedia, “the region produces over a million pounds of mushrooms a week.” That’s a lot of mushrooms!
The booth where I buy my mushrooms typically offer hen o’ the woods, oyster, shiitake, cremini and portobello mushrooms. They sell them in pairs so this week I picked up a couple of containers of oyster and shiitake for my wild mushroom sauce.
My wife wanted this sauce prepped and ready to go before our guests arrived so I did everything up to adding the cream, shut it down and waited for the guests to arrive and the pasta was 10 minutes from being al dente.
I used some pancetta that is basically an Italian form of bacon to give an additional layer of flavor, but if you wanted this to be vegetarian, you can leave it out. I made a big batch of this sauce for 8 people — the ingredients below are for 4 to 6 people but it really depends on how you are serving it. We served it as a side dish and not the main course so the portions were smaller.
This is a rather simple dish to prepare at home and the results are fantastic because the sauce is incredibly rich. You don’t need much to fill you up. I think you’re going to enjoy this one. I did.
Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce Recipe
2 ounces of pancetta or 2 strips of bacon - diced fine
2 tablespoons olive oil – more if needed
2 tablespoons butter
1 – 2 lbs. wild mushrooms - cleaned, stems removed & roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion - diced fine
4 cloves garlic - minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt & pepper - to taste
2 ½ cups heavy cream
1–2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes - more if you like it really hot (optional)
1 cup Parmesan cheese - freshly grated
How To Prepare At Home
Start by getting all your ingredients prepped before you start cooking. If you are serving this sauce with a pasta, get your water boiling.
Heat up a large fry pan over medium heat before you start adding ingredients. I like to use a very large pan so I can add the pasta to the sauce rather than the other way around. If you don’t have a large enough pan, you can always combine the pasta and the sauce in a large bowl.
When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of each the butter and the olive oil. When that gets hot but is not smoking or burning, add the pancetta and cook for a few minutes until the Italian bacon is slightly browned. Don’t burn the pancetta!
Next add the mushrooms and cook until they soften up. Mushrooms release a lot of liquid in the pan and cook down to nothing. You may be very surprised to see the difference in volume before and after you cook the mushrooms. Don’t worry, there will be plenty to give this sauce a great flavor. This should take about 6 – 8 minutes.
When the mushrooms are just about soft, push them to the sides of the pan and make some room in the middle of the pan for the onion. First add the other tablespoons of butter and oil, then the diced onion and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and fresh thyme and cook an additional 2 – 3 minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
Now add the cream, crank up the heat to high and bring the cream to a boil. Don’t be afraid to let the cream come to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let the sauce simmer. Here’s a good time to add the hot pepper flakes if you are using them.
You want to reduce the sauce to a consistency of your liking. You don’t want the sauce to thin but you don’t want it to thicken either. I find if it gets too thick, I can thin it with a little of the pasta water but try not letting it get to that point. Cookbooks will tell you to cook it until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Good advice but you should choose what’s best for you.
Remember, you are going to add 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and that will also help to thicken up the sauce.
Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
When the pasta is done and if your pan is big enough, add the pasta to the sauce and gently stir with a large kitchen spoon. You want to coat the pasta with the sauce and then serve. I like to have a little extra Parmesan cheese to serve at the table if people want it.
You can transfer the pasta and wild mushroom sauce to a large bowl and serve it family style or plate individually. Again, it really has more to do with how you are serving it. Enjoy!
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