Late summer mushroom pappardelle
By the end of the summer I’m ready for a change. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than being barefoot. I love eating fresh peaches and melons, jammy figs, tomatoes and eggplants, but after a particularly hot summer I’m ready for a change. I’m ready for autumn, for a chill in the air, for a warming cup of tea in the afternoon. I’m looking forward to wearing woolly hats and choosing scarves for outfits. And I’m especially looking forward to autumn fare.
Luckily at the end of August, mushroom gatherers are already out in the chestnut and oak woods looking for late summer funghi. One of the most beautiful mushrooms around are ovoli (named after their egg-like shape when they are young), or in English, Caesar’s mushrooms, apparently because the Ancient Romans were as fond of these as their modern counterparts. It is even thought that this mushroom, native to Italy, was distributed north of peninsula via the Roman armies as they still are found along Ancient Roman routes.
These beautiful mushrooms are characterised by their deep orange caps and lemon-yellow gills. As pretty as they are tasty, the best way to serve them is undoubtedly raw, sliced thinly and dressed only in some peppery extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. It is the most divine mushroom salad I have ever had.
But another nice way to have them is to turn them into a quick and tasty pasta dish. Sautéed with some nepitella, a wild Tuscan herb that likes to grow in cracks along less travelled paths (known as calamint in English), is the perfect partner to mushrooms. My husband’s grandmother used to always cook freshly picked mushrooms with nepitella, where a whole clove of garlic was also obligatory. The garlic really was simply a tradition – they used to say that just in case any of the mushrooms were poisonous impostors (there are several varieties of mushroom that look very similar to ovoli but are actually deadly), then the garlic would turn black to warn you. So far so good (but I wonder how many Tuscan housewives have actually reported their garlic turning black?).
This has to be one of the fastest and prettiest dishes ever. The rusty-orange capped mushrooms give out a beautiful yolk-coloured sauce, making the dish almost look like it is spiced with saffron. And the minty, wild Tuscan herbs make this smell amazing. If you want to dress this essentially simple, country dish up a bit, you can do it the way the Umbrians do – ovoli mushrooms with fresh truffles instead of the calamint.
Ovoli e nepitella pappardelle
For the pasta:
- 200 gr semolina di grano duro (Durum wheat flour)
- 100 gr of lukewarm water
For the mushrooms:
- 4 medium ovoli or Caesar’s mushrooms
- handful of fresh calamint
- 1 whole clove of garlic
- a dash of dry white wine
- knob of butter
- drizzle of olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- handful of grated Pecorino cheese
First prepare the pasta dough: mix the ingredients together little by little or until you get a nice soft dough, which is neither sticky nor crumbly (this all depends on the humidity, the flour, the water, etc so go bit by bit at first). Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is elastic. It’s important to use warm water otherwise the starch will not dissolve properly and you won’t get a nice elastic pasta. Let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
Then, cut the pasta into two portions, and on a surface dusted with flour, roll out each portion into a thin sheet, no more than 2mm thick. Dust the pasta with flour, fold the pasta sheet several times over itself (dusting each fold with flour so it doesn’t stick) and cut with a sharp knife into strips about 3cm wide to make long, flat pappardelle. Set aside while you put a large pot of water to boil.
In the meantime, prepare the mushrooms by cleaning them gently with a damp cloth; slice thinly. Sauté the mushroom slices with the whole garlic clove, a knob of butter and a dribble of olive oil. After a couple of minutes, add a dash of white wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Turn off the heat, throw in a handful of fresh calamint leaves (if you can’t find this herb, you can use fresh flat leaf parsley or mint or a mixture of both) and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and the pasta. It will only take 2-4 minutes to cook, depending on how thick you rolled out the pasta. Taste it to be sure!
Drain the pasta (saving a little bit of the water) and toss the pappardelle with the mushrooms. If it is a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately with some shaved Pecorino cheese.