Valentine’s Day can sometimes be a challenge for the cook. Do I do a three-course dinner with a rich chocolate dessert or a one-dish favorite that respects the season and feels celebratory? This year, I will be reintroducing a former tradition: fresh pasta in a rich, velvety, mushroom sauce. I love that it’s full of an earthy, almost meaty flavor and is satisfying as a main course.
The growth of the California mushroom industry in recent years has been truly striking. We now have varieties of all the world’s great fungi, from Japan’s shiitake and shimeji oyster mushrooms, to the famous French varieties: morels and chanterelles. And recently, the first black truffle was harvested in Sonoma.
Use whatever seasonal mushrooms you can obtain, since the real excitement in this recipe comes from the mixture of fresh mushrooms. Most markets have fresh pasta. I think it adds a delicate note to this wintery dish.
Sometimes I add an ounce of dried porcini or morel mushrooms for an even richer mushroom flavor. If you want to do this, pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, and let them soften. Once softened, drain them through a fine strainer to remove any grit, coarsely chop them, and then add them to the mushroom sauce. You can add the mushroom liquid to the sauce.
Enjoy this luxurious dish, if made with cream, with a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir; and if made without cream, with cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.
Begin your meal with a simple green salad with slices of red radishes and bright red cherry tomatoes. For dessert, how about your favorite store-bought brownies, topped with coffee ice cream and a drizzle of hot fudge sauce? Seriously simple? You bet.
This is what I’ll be doing to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my husband. And just remember, this can be a day to celebrate your love with a dear friend, sibling, child, or even your parents. I think of it as a day to celebrate love in whatever way you like.
Fresh Pasta With Mushroom Sauce
Serves 2 to 3 as main course or 4 to 6 as first course
For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 medium shallots, finely minced
- 1/4 pound fresh oyster mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 pound regular white mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons tawny port
- 1/2 cup chicken or veal stock
- 1/2 cup whipping cream (optional; see Note)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper
For the Pasta
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 pound fresh pasta, cut into tagliatelle, linguine, or angel hair noodles
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
For the sauce: In a deep large saucepan, heat butter and oil until foaming. Add shallots and all mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly brown.
Add port, stock, and, if desired, cream. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning.
For the pasta: Add salt to large pot of boiling water. Add pasta and cook over high heat until al dente. Fresh pasta cooks quickly so watch carefully. It should take about 3 minutes. Drain well.
Toss hot pasta with mushroom sauce in pan with sauce and make sure pasta is well coated with the sauce. Transfer to individual pasta serving bowls and serve immediately. Pass Parmesan cheese separately.
Recipe Note: Cream gives a richer consistency and taste, but it is not necessary.