Aside from the absence of spring morels, mushrooms have been only more prominent lately in my kitchen.
Formerly quite the carnivore, my 2-year-old son seems to have renounced a meat-heavy diet for vegetarianism. And as every vegetarian knows, mushrooms make a savory, hearty stand-in for meat, both taste- and texture-wise. They soak up any flavor a cook can devise, ensuring their adaptability to virtually any cuisine or penchant of the palate.
Just saute them in melted butter and sprinkle them with a bit of salt, and my son will eat a good half-pound in a sitting. Because his brother won’t touch them, I often separate the mushrooms from our main dish, depositing the lion’s share on the little guy’s high-chair tray, followed by pasta, rice, cheese, fruit or whatever else is on the menu.
This recipe’s instructions for roasting mushrooms, then mounding them onto classic cacio e pepe is perfect for my purposes. It would be a delectable preparation for those morels or the oyster mushrooms that Food 4 Less in Medford recently has started stocking.
As the Detroit Free press emphasized, use plenty of salt in the pasta-cooking water, a measure that becomes even more critical for a pasta with so few ingredients. Use at least 2 tablespoons salt in the cooking water, an essential part of the sauce for this dish. Pepper and cheese are its primary components, so use at least a tablespoon of freshly ground pepper and good-quality cheese. Pecorino Romano is traditional.
Cacio e Pepe With Roasted Mushrooms
1 pound maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms or cremini mushrooms
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon crushed red-pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
13 to 16 ounces tagliatelle pasta
8 ounces Parmesan, finely grated
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
To prepare the mushrooms, preheat oven to 400 F.
Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Break the maitake mushroom bunches in half and arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. If using cremini mushrooms, quarter them. Sprinkle the garlic, red-pepper flakes, salt and 1 tablespoon black pepper over mushrooms.
Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until mushrooms are slightly crispy on edges and cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.
Finely grate the Parmesan cheese into a large mixing bowl. Add the pepper and butter to bowl.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Add cooked pasta to bowl and drizzle with water until sauce reaches your desired thickness.
Top pasta with roasted mushrooms and additional Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from www.today.com.