Friday, October 30, 2009

Farfalle with Porcini

Back before we left for Italy I got an e-mail from a friend with the 50 best things to eat in the world and where to eat them. One of the places listed Coco Lezzone in Florence, which the article (from The Guardian) said had the best down home Tuscan comfort food. Or something to that effect. I took note, and when we got to Florence, we looked it up. It was right around the block from our house, stuck in a tiny alleyway.

There was no sign, just a posted menu. It was a very traditional restaurant with long tables and home-style cooking. We had the juiciest arista di miale (pork roast) along with a pasta di funghi.

This is the pasta with porcini at Florence's Coco Lezzone. As I was eating it, I said several times, "This is delicious! Wait until you taste this! It's really delicious!" After I passed the plate to Chris, he took a bite and said, "This is delicious!" There's no other way to describe it.

It's the best version of pasta with porcini we've ever tasted, simplicity itself. This dish is a great example of how Tuscans use seasonal ingredients in the most direct way. Many versions are made with cream, but it's really not necessary. Florentines don't put Parmesan on porcini because it is too strong and overwhelms the delicate woodsy flavor, so serve it as is.

This version is full of buttery mushroom flavor, but it's not heavy. Though I know how impossible it is to come up with fresh porcini (and it's not October, and you can't run down to the San Ambrogio market), this is a recipe you're going to want to save and make when you do get your hands on these delicious fungi.

Farfalle with Porcini

Serves 2 generously

2 nice-sized porcini
a couple of handfuls of farfalle
1/4 cup (more to taste) good unsalted butter

Put on a pot of hot salted water and bring to a rolling boil.
Clean the porcini by rubbing with a damp cloth, trimming the dirtiest parts with a sharp knife. Cut it in 1 inch by 1/2 inch pieces. Melt a good chunk of the most flavorful butter you can find over medium heat in a roomy skillet. Add the porcini and toss. Add the farfalle to the pot and stir. Saute the mushrooms gently until they are soft and tender. Salt to taste. When the pasta is al dente, drain, reserving a little of the pasta water. Add the farfalle to the skillet with the mushrooms with a couple of tablespoons of the water. Cook for a few minutes over low heat, just until the farfalle is covered with butter and the flavors have melded. Add more butter to taste. Serve hot.

The big beautiful mushrooms known as "porcini" in Italy are known as "Steinpilz" in Germany and by the name boletus edulis everywhere. They are rarely found fresh in grocery stores, but are sometimes found in markets near where they grow. In October, they are for sale all over Italy, where they make an important distinction between the ones that grow in their forests and the ones imported from other countries. In the U.S., they grow in the forests under conifers.

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