January 27, 2017
Growing up, pasta was almost always served with a long-cooked Southern Italian ragu. Yes, there was the occasional sauce of vegetables sautéed in olive oil till they softened enough to make a sauce but those sauces were the exception to the rule.
These days, a long-cooked ragu is still the epitome of pasta cooking for me but far more often I make quicker sauces. Pasta with mushrooms is one of them.
In my last post, I introduced nepita, an herb used in Italy that is really not commonly available in the US. Nepita pairs really well with mushrooms. The nepita that I use is from plants that we grow from seeds we brought back from Italy in 1996. I’m so concerned that one day our nepita won’t make it through the winter and reappear in the spring that we’ve taken to backing it up the way other folks back up their data.
Over the years we’ve gifted nepita plants to friends who like to garden. Should a disaster ever befall our nepita, there should still be a clone of it somewhere with enough seeds that we can germinate another plant or two. For an herb that I’ve only known for 20 years, it’s become an integral part of my kitchen.
While there’s no real substitute for nepita, there are lots of herbs that go well with mushrooms. In this rendition, I’ve called for basil and oregano, the combination that I usually use when I don’t have nepita. Marjoram also works well, with or without a pinch of thyme, but marjoram is a relatively uncommon herb in Italian cooking.
Herbs are not a major player in this dish. Though nepita is distinctive, there are so many layers of flavor from the dried porcini, onion, garlic, and marsala that the lack of nepita isn’t really a big deal. Basil and oregano work well and, in fact, are what I used before that 1996 trip to Tuscany where I discovered nepita.
Pasta ai Funghi was one of the courses I served at my father-in-law’s birthday dinner last week. Here are a couple of pictures of that dinner from our home in Palm Springs.