Porcini-Cooked Rigatoni w/Tomatoes and More Porcini

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Nowadays, when I make a new recipe, there has to be something about it that really draws my interest. If it’s just a roast chicken with butter rubbed on it and some herbs stuffed under the skin? Eh, been there done that. But if it’s something really novel, but not overly novel, color me intrigued. Which is precisely the reaction I had when I saw Mark Ladner’s recipe for Calamarta Alla Boscaiolo in the new issue of Lucky Peach.

Here’s what pulled me in: you soak dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water. Ok, that’s not that new.

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Ah, but here’s the new part: you strain the liquid and use it to boil the pasta. That’s a totally genius idea. I had to try it.

On this particular night, I was cooking for vegetarians, so I left out one of the recipe’s featured ingredients: tuna. When I type it up below, you’ll see tuna there and if you’re a vegetarian, leave it out, but if not, it’s a good way to add protein to the dish.

Otherwise, the process is pretty straight-forward. You toast tomato paste in olive oil until it changes color:

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Then you add your cherry tomatoes and drained porcini and your “Calabrian chili pepper condiment” which I couldn’t find, so I used red chile flakes. (Sorry, Mark Ladner, I know you said in your headnote to seek out these eclectic ingredients, but I draw the line at Calabrian chili condiment. Next time!)

Meanwhile, you supplement the porcini liquid with more water and cook your pasta in it:

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Here’s a tip: add salt before it comes to a boil. I added a handful of salt at the boil, and the whole thing bubbled over. My guests politely ignored that fact.

As with classic pasta-making technique, you cook the pasta a minute less than you should and finish cooking it in the sauce so it soaks it all in. Because I didn’t use tuna, I felt like it was ok to grate some Parmesan cheese on at the end. It rounded things out nicely.

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Here’s the deal with this pasta: it has deep, deep flavor that comes from those earthy, dried porcini mushrooms. They’re a powerful, umami-packed ingredient. You last saw them on my blog when I made Daube de Boeuf; but here, because they’re pretty much in there by themselves, they really shine.

Thanks for the novel recipe, Lucky Peach. It didn’t disappoint.

Recipe: Calamarta Alla Boscaiolo

Summary: A Mark Ladner recipe from Lucky Peach.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a splash more to finish
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Sicilian tomato paste (I used regular tomato paste)
  • 1 12-ounce can cherry tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Calabrian chili pepper condiment (I used a teaspoon of red chile flakes)
  • 1/2 cup tuna packed in oil
  • 1 pound large-diameter rigatoni, or similar dried Italian pasta

Instructions

  1. Combine the porcini with enough water to cover in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil then drop the heat to a simmer and cook until the porcini are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Drain the porcini, reserving their cooking liquid in the pot you will eventually cook your pasta in. Top off with enough water to cook the pasta. (Ladner says, “I don’t use gallons of water, just enough to cover the pasta by an inch or two.”) Add a large pinch of salt and put it on the stove to boil.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. After a minute, add the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and the liquid they’re packed in, the chili condiment, and the drained porcini.
  4. Drop the pasta into the boiling water, while you cook the tomatoes and mushrooms for 5 to 10 minutes, just to bring the flavors together.
  5. Boil the rigatoni a minute shy of the recommended cooking time, then drain. Add the tuna to the sauce just before you’re about to add the pasta. (Says Ladner, “The tuna comes fully cooked in the jar, so you don’t want to hammer it or else it’ll become really chalky.”)
  6. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook, tossing and stirring, until the pasta is well-coated in the sauce. Add a splash more oil, toss once more, and serve. (Ladner says chopped fresh parsley “would be a welcome addition.”)

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

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