This pasta dish is inspired by the region of Abruzzo, among the most mountainous regions in 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.
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FARFALLE ABRUZZESE WITH VEAL, PORCINI AND SPINACH
Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main.
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups hot water for 10 minutes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1½ pounds ground veal shoulder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup double-concentrated tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup basic tomato sauce (for quick results, try my Mario Batali pasta sauces)
1½ pounds farfalle pasta
8 ounces baby spinach, trimmed
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
• Drain the porcini, reserving the soaking liquid, and coarsely chop the porcini. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, and set it aside.
• In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until it is lightly toasted. Add the veal and the chopped porcini, and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the meat is well browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the tomato paste. Cook over high heat, 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 the wine has almost completely evaporated. Add the tomato sauce and reduce the 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, carefully ladle ¼ cup of the cooking water into the veal mixture. Stir the baby spinach into the veal mixture.
• Drain the pasta in a colander, 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.
SOURCE: Excerpted from Mario Batali's “Molto Batali” (ecco, 2011)