Recipe: Fettuccine with Mushroom Ragù

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Whether they hail from Alba or Asti, barberas tend to share a warmly rustic, earthy profile, striking dark, fruity chords, sometimes with notes of black truffle. Mushrooms, I thought, as I tasted. And pasta. Perhaps even a beefy red sauce. But mushrooms can also masquerade as that beefy red sauce, almost making a classic ragù a meatless one. Chopped cremini mushrooms, an unfancy variety that is a small step up in price from plain white mushrooms but a big one in terms of flavor, are the basis for the sauce. Tomato paste and black olive paste (tapenade) add some heft and complexity.

Time: 40 minutes


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, slivered

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 pound cremini mushrooms, very finely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon black olive paste (tapenade)

1/3 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon finely minced

fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces fresh fettuccine

Grated pecorino, preferably Tuscan, for serving

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat until they wilt and give up their juices. Do not let the juices evaporate. Stir in the tomato paste and tapenade. Add the wine, cook briefly, then season with the oregano, salt, and, generously, pepper. Remove from the heat.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine, stir to separate the strands, and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain. Transfer the pasta to the skillet. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Cook, gently folding the ingredients together, until the mushroom mixture has reheated and is evenly blended with the pasta. Add additional salt and pepper, if needed.

3. Serve with cheese on the side.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings 

Cook’s Notes : Alongside the pasta offer grated pecorino, Tuscan if possible. Why pecorino? The hard sheep’s milk cheese is piquant and acidic, not as sweet as Parmigiano-Reggiano, so it adds a stronger dimension to the rich egg pasta and its “meaty” mushroom sauce. Why Tuscan, since there are pecorinos from practically every region in Italy? It’s the variety I prefer.

© Wine With Food  by Eric Asimov and Florence Fabricant, Rizzoli New York, 2014.