Duxelles—the French preparation made by sautéing heaps of minced mushrooms with aromatics and herbs—is typically schmeared onto toast points as a fancy appetizer or over a premium roast to make beef Wellington. But I recently discovered that its intensely savory, earthy profile and fine consistency also make it ideal as a pasta sauce base when you want the mushrooms to fully coat the pasta and not just rest in scatters around the bowl. Making duxelles is also a terrific way to maximize the flavor of everyday white mushrooms: They can form the bulk of the mixture and then you can add complexity with small amounts of other mushroooms.
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A food processor makes quick work of reducing all those mushrooms to a mince. Along with a pound of the white variety, I whizzed 1/4 ounce of nutty dried porcini, a shallot, and garlic; in less than a minute everything was finely chopped. (We typically soften dried mushrooms in hot water, but here I simply rinsed the umami-packed pieces.)
I put a dab of butter into a hot skillet and scraped in the white mushroom–porcini-aromatics mixture, sautéing until the juices evaporated. Off the heat, I drizzled in heavy cream—just 1/2 cup so as not to obscure the sultry flavors—and freshened things up with a squirt of lemon juice. Voilà: a dark, creamy double-mushroom sauce.
Creamy Pasta, Very Little Cream
For a rich, silky sauce with only 1/2 cup of cream, we cook 1 pound of campanelle in 5 cups of water—but we don’t drain it. Instead, when the pasta is al dente, we stir in an intensely flavored, cream-enriched mushroom duxelles. As the duxelles mixes with the starchy cooking liquid, the water binds with the cream, creating an emulsion.
Even with the cream, the sauce was too thick to go straight from pan to pasta. I could have thinned it with pasta water, but instead I boiled a pound of campanelle (Italian for “little bells”) in a small amount of water that (undrained) would become the sauce. (Via testing, I determined that 5 cups of water was the right amount.) When the pasta was just shy of al dente, I stirred in the creamy duxelles—along with an ounce of grated Pecorino Romano for salty pungency—and stirred vigorously. As my spoon moved, the watery mixture emulsified, creating a velvety sauce that coated every piece of the frilly‑edged campanelle.
The dish was incredibly satisfying, with alluring woodsiness, but texturally and visually it was a bit uninspiring. For the ultimate fungi experience, I tore maitakes, which have peppery undertones, into ragged pieces and seared them in olive oil. As they sizzled, the pieces shrank and turned deep brown, their feathery edges becoming elegantly light and crisp.
Crowned with the crispy maitakes and a shower of fresh parsley, this triple-mushroom pasta brought the house down, with decadence in every bite.