The Tuscan approach to food is probably the closest of all to our idealized vision of perfect country cooking: ingredients produced locally, used in season or “put up” for winter, making them affordable, and because they do not travel, they are fresher, better tasting and more healthful. Tuscany happens to be blessed with some of the planet’s most exquisite produce, cheeses, meats and wines. This rustic sauce reflects the very essence of the region’s bounty.
Makes 6 Servings
- $2.06 per serving
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dried porcini mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms)
stalks of celery, diced
small onion, chopped
prosciutto ham (about 4-6 thin slices), cut in strips:
can (15 oz) Italian tomatoes, crushed or diced
gemelli pasta (or other short pasta)
parmesan cheese, grated
- salt and black pepper, to taste
Prep time: 15 minutes
(plus time for soaking mushrooms)
Cook time: 40 minutes
1. Soak mushrooms in a small bowl with just enough hot water to cover them (about 8 ounces) for 30 minutes. Then drain mushrooms but save the soaking liquid. Dry mushrooms on paper towel and roughly chop them.
2. In a large skillet, gently heat olive oil over low heat and add the mushrooms, celery, onion and prosciutto. Cook to soften the ingredients but not to brown them, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Now add the bay leaves, wine, tomatoes and half the mushroom soaking liquid to the skillet (avoiding any grit remaining in the soaking bowl). Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain a lazy simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the sauce cooks, place a large pot of water on high heat and bring it to a boil for the pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt and cover the pot.
4. Meanwhile remove bay leaves from the sauce and discard. The sauce should be nicely thickened but if it seems a little dry, add more "mushroom water" and a tablespoon or two of plain water if needed.
5. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Taste it for doneness and drain. Combine pasta and sauce in the skillet. Add the parmesan cheese and butter and mix well. Spoon pasta with sauce into 6 bowls and finish with a generous grind of black pepper. Buon appetito!
Dried porcini mushrooms (“piglets” in Italian) are full-flavored and concentrated. Other dried varieties will produce good results too. Save the soaking water and add some to the sauce during cooking for extra flavor. You are looking for a bold, thick, dark sauce that clings nicely to the pasta.
If you can't find gemelli, other short pasta like penne, cavatelli, rotini, rigatoni, and seashells hold a thick sauce as well.
Salt: the ham is salty enough to amply season the sauce. You won’t need more.
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