During a winter trip in Europe (too) many years ago, my husband and I established an enduring relationship with warming bowls of pasta with a creamy wild-mushroom sauce. Not too creamy–this sauce was earthy and chewy and a little wine-soaked, as were we. We still refer to it simply as “cèpes,” in reference to the French word for porcinis, and I try to recreate it fairly often and with varying degrees of success.
Though my own versions have made us fairly happy, they can’t truly approximate that sense of place, of sitting in a cozy restaurant on a snowy Italian afternoon and warming up with a simple (yet amazing) bowl of pasta. I no longer have to wing it, though. After years of cobbling it together, I finally have a recipe. This comes from Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, who run both Italian restaurants and an Italian cooking school in England, and whose beautiful new cookbook pays homage to the foods of Venice.
While I might still make my own inexpert cèpes from time to time, can I really resist a recipe with the words “Parmesan Cream”? Not a chance.
Paolo Lazzari, who runs a restaurant called Vini da Gigio, loves his food and is justly proud of his wine list. He runs the restaurant with his sister, Laura, and chef Davide. They took it on from their late parents to keep on the family tradition. Paolo is wheat intolerant so many of the dishes are low in gluten. Yet he is able to eat spelt (an ancient wheat). We tried his spelt pasta made with chanterelles and a cream of Parmesan made from the 24-month old variety, which is crumbly, dry and full of intense flavour. I really like this cheese cream and in fact it is a useful sauce for all sorts of dishes. A Venetian luxury would be to top with some shaved black truffle.
–Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, Venice
Hardie Grant Books
- 320 g (11¼ oz) dried spelt, wholewheat or white spaghetti
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
- sprig of rosemary
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 250 g (9 oz) chestnut or wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, sliced
- 10 g (1/2 oz) dried porcini soaked in 100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) water for 15 minutes (optional)
- extra-virgin olive oil, to serve
- For the Parmesan cream
- 50 g (2 oz) Parmesan, finely grated
- 100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) cream
- Put the spaghetti into a large pan of fiercely boiling well-salted water and stir through. Cook according to the packet instructions. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a high heat, add the garlic, rosemary and 4 sprigs of the thyme and cook for a 2 minutes. If using the porcini take them out of the water when soft and slice. Add all the mushrooms to the pan and fry them for 5–7 minutes until cooked through and the water has evaporated from them. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
- To make the cheese cream, melt the Parmesan into the cream in a small pan and keep over a very low heat.
- Drain the pasta as soon as it is ready and tip it into the mushroom mixture allowing a little of the cooking water to drip into the sauce to loosen it. Toss through and serve in warm bowls drizzled with the cheese cream, a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and the rest of the thyme leaves pulled from the stems.