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 )
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.