Food Spy: Tortiglioni with Asparagus & Porcini Mushrooms

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dried porcini soaking, asparagus julienned, fresh thyme

Where Food Spy ate: Enoliteca Ombrone in Suvereto, a town in the Tuscan Maremma.

What Food Spy ordered: Mezze maniche with asparagus, porcini mushrooms, and fresh thyme.

Presentation notes: A large bowl, about 80 grams circa of mezze maniche pasta in an earthy-colored, aromatic sauce sprinkled with fresh thyme.

Food Spy’s recipe for 4 people

350 grams (about 4 cups dry) of pasta such as mezza maniche, tortiglioni, or penne (Food Spy used tortiglioni)
50 grams (about 1.5 ounces) of dried porcini mushrooms
1 bunch of asparagus
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
flour
olive oil
salt & pepper

Instructions

Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Roughly chop the thyme and grate the cheese. Set both aside.

Rinse the asparagus. Cut off all of the tough ends, usually at least 2 inches, then slice the remaining stalks julienne style (see picture). Put the porcini in a bowl and cover with a ladle-full of pasta water. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the asparagus in the oil about 4 to 5 minutes on medium heat.

The porcini should be softer now. Cut them up a bit before adding them to the asparagus. You can do this directly in their liquid with a pair of kitchen scissors, or by lifting them out with a fork and then roughly chopping them on a board. Add the chopped porcini to the asparagus with about half of the liquid (which will be very brown). Salt and pepper the mixture and cook for a few more minutes.

The pasta water should be boiling now. Start cooking the pasta.

At this point Food Spy noticed the sauce was too liquidy. Maybe it was a mistake to add the porcini liquid? Food Spy decided to make a roux to thicken the sauce: Dissolve 2 Tablespoons of flour in ½ cup tepid water. Turn off the heat on the sauce pan for a few minutes while the pasta cooks. When the pasta is about 2 minutes from done, put the sauce back on medium heat and add the roux. Mix into the sauce gently but thoroughly. Salt again to taste. When the sauce is thick, somewhat gravy-like, turn off the heat and quickly drain the pasta, making sure to save about ½ cup of the pasta water. Toss all the pasta into the sauce pan and mix well. Add spoonfuls of the hot pasta water as needed to make sure you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Now add in the grated Parmesan and some of the thyme. Toss well. Serve with the remaining thyme sprinkled on top.

Whose was better? Food Spy’s roux was a stroke of genius, as any mushroom-based sauce will always benefit from a bit of creaminess. Yet the chef at Ombrone had an edge on Food Spy: the asparagus. Whereas the store-bought asparagus Food Spy used was clearly cultivated (and likely harvested too early), the dish served by Ombrone was prepared with wild, very tender and delicate asparagus (which might account for the price Food Spy paid for this exquisite dish).

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on Food Spy’s plate