This pasta dish is inspired by the region of Abruzzo, among the most mountainous parts of Italy and home of some of the country’s most interesting cooking. In the forests of Abruzzo, foraging reigns supreme. And because mushroom season lasts a little longer than it does elsewhere, we have porcini galore for winter ragus.
The brilliance of this dish is the combination of veal, mushrooms and doppio concentrato tomato paste. Together, the three create a depth of flavor more often achieved by reducing sauce for hours on end. The secret is the umami in the dried mushrooms. I chop the porcini finely and incorporate them into a simple ragu of ground veal and tomato paste. But the important factor is the concentrated flavor of the tea created when soaking the dried fungus in hot water.
I use farfalle – literally “butterflies” – because they hold up to the hefty condiment, but even penne will do. This recipe just might eclipse chicken soup as our go-to comfort food this holiday season.
Farfalle Abruzzese with veal, porcini and spinach
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms,
soaked in 2 cups hot water for
f cup extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1a pounds ground veal shoulder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
f cup double-concentrated tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup basic tomato sauce
1a pounds farfalle pasta
8 ounces baby spinach, trimmed
a cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Drain the porcini, reserving the soaking liquid, and coarsely chop. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, and set it aside.
In a large skillet, add garlic to heated olive oil and cook over medium-high heat until it is lightly toasted. Add veal and chopped porcini, and cook, stirring, until the meat is well browned, about 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and add the tomato paste. Raise heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste turns a rust color, 5 minutes. Then add the wine and 1 cup of the strained porcini soaking liquid, and cook for 5 minutes, until wine is almost completely evaporated. Add the tomato sauce; reduce heat to a very low simmer.
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large spaghetti pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
Drop the farfalle into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, ladle v cup of the cooking water into the veal mixture. Stir the baby spinach into the veal mixture.
Drain the pasta and add it to the veal mixture. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated. Pour into a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, with the grated pecorino on the side. Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main.
Restaurateur Mario Batali’s latest book is “Molto Batali,” published by Ecco.