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WhenI was around six years old I thought mushrooms were more delicious than sweeties. My idea of transgressive indulgence was to cycle down the street on my wobbly bicycle to the butcher in the village to buy half a pound on my mother’s account (without her permission).
I would lie on the lawn on a scratchy tartan travel rug with my cat Pilchard, nose deep into some deeply unsuitable book lifted from my parents’ bookshelves, dipping into the paper bag of raw mushrooms, which would be hidden under a corner of my skirt when I thought anyone was coming over.
Bright white and almost crisp, they were so freshly picked that there was only a faint earthy smell; I’ve never lost the love of breaking the bright white caps in half to reveal delicate fawn pink gills.
And then there were cooked mushrooms. Always fried in plenty of bubbling salted butter on the hot plate of the AGA, I would steal burning hot browned slices out of the frying pan, too greedy and impatient to wait for them to be served up for breakfast.
When I moved away to university one of the first cookbooks I bought was Jane Grigson’s The Mushroom Feast. I ate mushrooms in every guise for weeks, and her recipe for mushroom soup, adapted from Elizabeth David’s Potage aux Champignons a la Bressane, has been my standby for some twenty years now; my version is in my cookbook (and on this site from back in 2009 here .
I could happily eat mushrooms for each meal of the day – and frequently do. And, over the years, I have accumulated vast supplies of mushroom and truffle enhanced condiments, from the classic Geo Watkin’s Mushroom Ketchup, which adds depth to stews, to the three I use in this recipe to give a rich umami depth to what is a very standard mushroom cream sauce.
The first is truffle mustard. I’ve always added a splodge of Dijon into creamy sauces; it works as a thickener as well as adding a slight heat. (Try it in macaroni cheese – my recipe here.) The truffled white Dijon I use in this recipe from Moutarde de Maille is quite something: pumped fresh in stores, and described as au Chablis et aux brisures de truffe noire, it adds complexity and deliciousness.
The second is porcini powder, ground dried cep mushrooms, which essentially brings a massive thwack of mushroom-umami goodness to any sauce. (Mine came from Selfridge’s Food Hall but you can buy it easily online.)
The third is a little jar I found lurking behind my spice collection – Aix et Terra Camargue salt scented with tiny flecks of black truffle.
None of these condiments are essential for this recipe, but, when added either singly or all together, give this sauce a quite extraordinary mushroom depth.
The most important thing about this recipe is to taste as you add the flavourings. (Don’t forget, of course, you’ll need to use less normal salt when you season at the end if you do use truffle salt.)
You can use pretty much any pasta – I used egg noodles as that is what I happened to have at hand. I think tagliatelle would be wonderful, as would linguine or capellini (angel hair). (About 75gm dried, 100gm fresh per person.)
INGREDIENTS (to serve two, but can easily be doubled)
2 nests of tagliatelle or egg noodles
250gms Chestnut mushrooms
large knob Butter
One bunch Spring Onions, chopped, including the green part (scallions)
150mls Double cream ((heavy cream)
Optional: heaped teaspoon porcini powder, large pinch truffle salt
1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard (truffled, if you have it)
Sea salt & black pepper
A bunch of flat leaf parsley
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. (Lots of salt in the cooking water)
Chop the mushrooms into wide pieces (including stems).
In a large frying pan melt the butter until it bubbles, throw in the chopped spring onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until softened.
Add the chestnut mushrooms and cook over a medium to high heat until the mushrooms are both browned and softened.
Stir in a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and, if you are using them, the truffle salt and porcini powder.
Mix everything together, and then pour in the double cream.
Bring the cream to a simmer and bubble for a couple of minutes until the sauce has thickened.
When the pasta is cooked remove a couple of ladles of the cooking water into a mug, and then drain the pasta.
Add a small ladle of the cooking water to the mushroom sauce and stir through.
Taste the sauce and add salt and black pepper to taste
Tip the drained pasta into the pan and combine it thoroughly with the mushroom sauce.
If, by some chance, you are delayed at this point, perhaps by a ‘phone call, small child, or a knock on the door, I find that when you come back to the pan, stirring in the leftover extra ladle of the cooking water, over a gentle heat, will thin the now over-thickened sauce.
To serve, divide between two bowls, sprinkle with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley, and eat immediately.
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Blue & White insect plates: Vintage Coalport Cairo (plenty on eBay here)
Large White Pasta Dish: Matalan Home Chicago Pasta Bowl £4 (gifted)
Organic Cotton Tablecloth: H&M Home Conscious in Dusky Green £12.99
Striped Napkins: The White Company (similar this season here.)
Frying Pan:Green Pan Non-Stick Frying Pan
Casserole:Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron Round Casserole in Cotton (gifted)
Truffle Mustard: Moutarde de Maille Black Truffle Mustard with Chablis White Wine (gifted)
Porcini powder: Available at Waitrose, Selfridges, and on Amazon here
Truffle salt: Mine is Aix et Terra’s Camargue Salt with Black Truffle. Their lovely products (which also include a black truffled mustard are available here, and other brands of truffle salt are available on Amazon here