If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love my garden. Even this year, when it hasn’t been that productive (I blame the early heat waves and the incredibly dry summer), I love going out to check on my plants every morning. It’s hard to put into words the way my garden makes me feel, but I figure other people feel the same way. Although it happens over and over again, I am simply dumbfounded that I can put a tiny fleck of seed into the ground and get a big, productive plant that will feed me delicious fruit or vegetables. Isn’t that just amazing?
Anyway, I thought my dad was the big gardener in my family (he was an agriculture major in college, is very active in his local p-patch, and can answer my “what is this plant?” text messages about 80% of the time), but it turns out my mom is pretty great at it too. She just put in a bunch of garden beds at her house and she has nearly 20 tomato plants. She has been sending me lots of pictures of all her produce, so I feel like I’ve been watching things grow alongside her. But I am in Seattle staying with her this week and when I see how excited she gets to show me her big prize tomato or her amazing cucumbers the size of my arm, I see where I get my wide-eyed awe from.
To celebrate tomato season (and you really should, at this point, be eating as many tomatoes as you can) and the fact that you can now turn on your oven without wanting to immediately die, make this pasta. Savory, rich, and bright, it captures some of my favorite flavors of the season.
A couple weeks ago, when Jonah and I made the cleanse chicken, we decided to use the carcass to make some chicken broth. Let me say this: if you own a slow-cooker, and are not using your leftover bones/carcasses to make broth, you are seriously missing out. If you’re going to make chicken breasts, just buy bone in chicken breasts, cook them how you normally would, and then after dinner, throw the bones and scraps into the slow cooker with some onions, carrots, salt, cover it all with water, and cook it on low overnight. You’ll immediately have the beginning of a delicious chicken soup, or in this case, mushroom risotto.
(My roommates made some delicious pork ribs last week, and once they finished eating, Jonah and I told them they should make some broth with the roasted bones. They did, and had about 6-8 cups of broth, and used it to make 2 different dinners post-ribs. Talk about using your ingredients to the fullest!)
Anyway, I knew I had some arborio rice in the cabinet, and was feeling nice and wintry, so I decided to make mushroom risotto. But as I was looking through my cookbooks, I came across a variation on mushroom risotto that included sage and pancetta. I was sold.
Mushroom Risotto with Pancetta and Sage
The Best New Recipe | Serves 4 as a main course
Note: Porcini mushrooms are expensive. If you want to try using some other mushrooms instead, and also using mushroom broth rather than chicken broth to add some of that earthy umami flavor, go for it. You can also easily make this recipe vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with mushroom broth, and eliminating the pancetta.
Note 2: My camera was dead when I cooked this, so I only have some mediocre iPhone photos. I’m sorry.
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed in a strainer under running water
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
2 3/4 cup water
4 Tbl butter
1 1/4 lbs cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, and cut into quarters (or sixths, if larger)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves 2-3 oz pancetta (I went with 3, because I like pancetta)
1 3/4 cups arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp fresh sage leaves
With kitchen twine, tie together the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and parsley sprigs. Put this bouquet in a pot with the porcini mushrooms, broth, soy sauce, and 2 1/2 cups water, and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are fully hydrated. Strain the broth, discard the herb bouquet, and set mushrooms aside. Put the broth back into the pot and keep warm over low heat. Mince the porcini mushrooms, and set aside.
In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbl of butter. After the butter stops foaming, add the cremini mushrooms, half of the onion, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the liquid from the mushrooms has cooked off and the mushrooms are browned, and add the garlic, cooking for a minute until fragrant. Put the cooked mushrooms into a bowl and set aside. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of water to the pan to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then pour this liquid into the pot with the broth.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the pancetta and 1 Tbl of butter for about 5 minutes, until the pancetta has rendered most of its fat. Add the rest of the chopped onions, and cook until the onions have softened and are translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes, or until the edges of the rice are transparent. Add the wine or vermouth to the pan, and stir, cooking until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the porcini mushrooms and roughly 2 cups of broth (or about 2 ladles full) and cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until the broth is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup or a ladle full of broth every 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more broth when the previous broth has been absorbed. The risotto is ready when the rice is cooked but has some bite to it at the center of the grain. You may not end up using all of the broth, so be sure to taste frequently for doneness. When the risotto is cooked to your liking, add the cremini mushrooms, the remaining 1 Tbl of butter, the parmesan, and chopped sage. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy with a nice glass of wine.
The leftovers are great as they are, but if you’re interested in a little revamp, form little cakes with the leftovers, and fry in some oil over medium heat. Top with a fried or poached egg for best result.
Porcini powder. Porcini powder? Yes. From the farmers market. I was told it was wonderful, and was given a little bag as a gift. But what to do with the stuff, that’s the question. I’m not sure I made the right choice… This pasta dish had so much going on in it that the porcini flavor was hiding. It was hiding behind the sourdough breadcrumbs and butter it had been sprinkled into, and under the pancetta it had been tossed with, and between the fresh pasta noodles it had been swirled around with.
All that being said, this dish was dang good, if I do say so myself. There were a few elements, and it took a few pans to get it all prepped. So no, this is not one of those magical one pot meals. Certainly not.
My dear friend Elsa was staying with us, and my friend Dylan came over for dinner, as well as Elsa’s friend Sarah, so we had help in manning all the pans. Tamar Adler said in The Everlasting Meal that there is value in, when a guest asks “is there anything I can do to help?” being able to say, “yes.” I have found that to be very true.
Think of this recipe as a guideline. Or a lightly painted upon canvas. You can remove, add, flavor, sprinkle, drizzle anything you like. I must say, though, that I used a different pasta recipe this time, and I liked it much better than the one I had been using. There’s something to be said for trying something new.
Fresh Pasta with Pancetta, Leeks, & Breadcrumbs with Porcini Powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large or 2 small leek(s), sliced and rinsed
1 small white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Pancetta – the amount is up to you. I like the pancetta that is thin, almost like prosciutto, though that isn’t what we used here. I think if we’d used the thinner kind, it would’ve clung to the noodles better.
Salt and pepper
To make the pasta, pulse the flour alone in a food processor a few times. In a bowl, beat the eggs and then add them to flour, and process until the dough forms a ball. If your dough is dry and looks like little pea sized pieces of dough, you can add water 1/2 tsp at a time. If it sticks to the bowl of the processor, add flour 1 Tbl at a time. When the dough has formed a ball, turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead for 1-2 minutes. Wrap the dough in saran wrap and set it aside for up to 2 hours to relax (at least 15 minutes). Then roll out the pasta as you usually do and cut it as you normally would.
In a pan over medium (or medium low), cook your pancetta, then set aside on a plate with a paper towel on it. Once the pancetta is removed, you can use that same pan to sautée the leeks, onion, and garlic, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. You may want to add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan to help keep things from sticking. But then again, maybe you won’t.
In another pan, melt some butter, then add the breadcrumbs and as much porcini powder as you feel like adding. Toast the breadcrumbs on low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
As things are moving along, get out a big pot, fill it with water and a healthy serving of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta (I like to cook fresh pasta in batches, as it makes it less likely to stick together). If you’re cooking fresh pasta, it really only needs to cook for a few minutes. I like to remove it when all the noodles are floating. Do you have a better method? I’d like to know it. If you’re cooking your pasta in batches, you can remove it with tongs into a colander to keep the water boiling on your stovetop.
Strain the pasta, put it in a bowl, and toss with all the various bits and pieces. Enjoy with a glass of buttery, nutty white wine and friends, around a table, on a sunny evening.