Tagliatelle della Zia,following in nonna´ s footsteps

I can imagine what it must be like dining out with food bloggers like myself.Having insisted on all the dishes being photographed before anyone can start to eat, my co-diners then have to learn the art of dissecting food.I start picking out the ingredients so that I can replicate the dish at home, while they sit and watch or worse still, on the rare occasion when my palate fails me, I subject them to tasting the dish I have ordered in the endeavour to pick out a flavour I can not identify.How annoying it must be particularly for those who do not enjoy sharing a portion of something they have not ordered.You know who you are, the ones who pass on tapas so that you ensure you get a whole main dish all to yourselves. I find the idea of attempting to trap a memory of not only how a dish is presented on the plate, but what actually constitutes that dish a challenging exercise.If I can dream it I can make it.There are several memorable dishes that I have eaten over the years that I have never got around to making at home and one of these is a pasta dish made with mushrooms and cheese.Its called tagliatelle della Zia,obviously named after whoever she was.Judging by the widely differing recipes I found on the internet there was certainly more than one Zia.The dish has probably been handed down from nonna to nonna and been subjected to amendments along the way.
THE INSPIRATION:I ordered this particular dish at an office Christmas lunch in a bonkers Italian restaurant underneath the multi-storey car park just off Wigmore street, London.I am not normally a fan of themed restaurants, but in this case the re-creation of some of the sets from the famous film studios in Rome ,"Cinecitta Roma", left me speechless,and I therefore returned on many occasions thereafter to sample this same dish.40 years on I have been playing around with some home cooking involving Porcini mushrooms and I thought I would attempt to see if I could conjure up those tastes again.I cast myself back to the first time I ate this dish.The first memory always makes the most lasting impression and sometimes it is never quite the same the second time round.The pasta was tagliatelle,it contained fresh mushrooms , cheese and I guess, although not evidently visible, dried porcini mushrooms, which were what gave the dish its intensity.Its an old restaurant trick to re-hydrate the dried mushrooms and use the hydrating liquid only for the pasta sauce.The reconstituted mushrooms can then be reserved and provide for a delicious risotto con funghi.
I guessed sage leaves,nutmeg and white wine, and the creamy sauce was more than just double cream, so I would use mascarpone in my dish and perhaps a hint of Dolcelatte.Well I was now ready to melt butter and add chopped onion and porcini to pan.
THE TRICK:Fresh wild mushrooms if you can get them are very good in a sauce like this but they can be expensive.To cut the cost use half wild and half cultivated,or as many wild as you can afford.For true Italian authenticity the nutmeg gives this dish its deserved status.

Tagliatelle della zia ( as I remembered it )
Serves 4
15g / 1/2 oz / 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
25g /1 oz / 2 tbsp butter
1 small onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
225g / 8oz / 3 cups fresh mushrooms thinly sliced
fresh sage leaves,plus a few for garnish
125ml / 1/4 pint / 1/2 cup dry white wine
225g / 8 oz/ 2 cups tagliatelle, fresh or dried 
115g / 4oz 7 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
115g / 4oz Dolcelatte or Gorgonzola cheese crumbled (optional)
a generous grating of nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the dried Porcini in a small bowl with the dry white wine warmed to finger temperature.Leave to soak for 20 minutes.remove from the liquid and and squeeze the porcini over the bowl to extract as much liquid as possible.Strain the liquid and set it aside.Finely chop the porcini.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and chopped porcini and cook gently stirring for about 3 minutes or until the onion is soft. add the garlic and fresh mushrooms,chopped sage,salt and plenty of ground black pepper.Cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and juicy.Stir in the reserved soaking liquid and simmer.
Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water for about 10 minutes or until al dente
Meanwhile stir the mascarpone and gorgonzola into the mushroom sauce.Add the grated nutmeg.Heat through, stirring until the cheese have melted.Check for seasoning.Drain the pasta thoroughly,add to the sauce and toss to mix.Serve at once with more black pepper and if you like more grated nutmeg. Garnish with sage leaves.


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