The leaves crackle under my feet. Though it rained a few days prior, the ground still has that parched, early fall feel. I can sense its thirst: having just had its first taste of rainfall of the season, the earth is still yearning for its next big gulp of water. I awoke that morning with a childlike excitement, reminiscent of Christmas morning. I had scrambled out of bed, seven months pregnant with my first son, and scurried down the step ladder from the loft of our bedroom.
Most winters in Sonoma County bring several flushes of delicious, earthy, wild mushrooms, beginning shortly after the first fall rains with giant porcinis that pop up under the thick bed of oak leaves in our yard. I make a loop on our 2-acre property, my eyes glued to the ground, looking for even the slightest lift in the leaves that will signal the tender budding boletes—so sweet and mild that they are best eaten shaved raw with just a sprinkle of good salt and olive oil. I carry a small paring knife and a basket that is soon overflowing with the meaty mushrooms that will find their way into scrambled eggs, pastas, and salads in our kitchen at home as well as the restaurant. In Italy, mushrooms are as ubiquitous in the dishes of the regions in which they grow as pasta itself.
This recipe features four of the most common mushrooms found during the deep winter months here in Northern California: black trumpet, hedgehog, yellowfoot, and candy cap (which have an incredibly savory maple flavor).
1 cup cream
¼ cup fresh or dried candy caps
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 medium leek
2 Tbl. olive oil, plus more for serving
1 quart cleaned mixed wild mushrooms (excluding candy caps)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili flakes
1 thyme sprig
1 batch of Lowell’s everyday pasta dough
2 Tbl. butter
½ lemon, juiced
1 Tbl. chopped parsley
Salt, to taste
½ cup stock (mushroom, chicken or vegetable)
Set a large pot of water to boil. In a small saucepan, add cream and candy cap mushrooms, bringing to a simmer (never a boil). Simmer for 30 minutes and strain. While the cream is still hot, add to a high-powered blender with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Add a few grated scrapes of nutmeg and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, slice the leek lengthwise, beginning where the pale green starts (discard top third dark green section). Working cross-wise, slice into half-moons 1/8-inch thick. Place in cold water to clean any grit or sand, then strain. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot or sauté pan on medium-high, then add olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add remaining mixed mushrooms and sear until golden brown. Add leeks, cooking until tender for about another five minutes. Add garlic, chili flakes, and thyme, cooking for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add salt to taste.
Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente—around three to five minutes—and strain. While the pasta is cooking, add ½ cup stock of your choice or pasta water to mushroom mixture. Allow to reduce until most of the liquid is evaporated, then add butter, lemon, chopped parsley, and taste for seasoning. Add pasta to mushroom mixture, adjusting seasoning again if necessary. Toss to evenly distribute mushrooms. Place pasta in individual bowls, spooning mushrooms over the top. Drizzle with candy cap cream, additional grated cheese, and good olive oil.