comforting: mushroom and ricotta pasta

Where did April and the sunshine go?  Our first guests to our beach apartment have come and gone after three fun weeks of showing them our Sydney, wine country and our first domestic flight to explore the outback.  You can read more about that on my expat blog.  Mike and Tina arrived on Good Friday for what we thought was the rainiest Sydney weather ever until they left in the middle of what truly was the stormiest couple of days in decades yesterday and today.  Gale force winds and driving rain for over 48 hours with the most impressive high seas I have ever seen (9-10 meter swells).  Somehow, they safely got on their way back to the states and Greg made it to Kuala Lampur on Malaysia Airlines (the one carrier you really want to be on during basically a hurricane/cyclone). 

It is well and truly fall here.  The days are much shorter.  Sadly, my tan is fading.  The ocean is cooling a bit and my wetsuit (I really love that I have a wetsuit) has replaced all two piece options. The prevailing southerly winds (on normal days when it's not the storm of the century) are chilly (southerly winds are the cold ones which is just as strange as living on the Pacific Ocean and being on the East Coast). It's very strange and confusing to live with the opposite seasons.  I completely stumble over seasons in conversation going between hemispheres.  And unlike your excitement over the coming salad and grilling days,  my cooking is going back to the warm comfort foods.   This is not just because we have no heat in our apartment, but a warm stove or oven is tempting me to finally get back to the kitchen.  I've really struggled to spend any time in there.  It's still not feeling like mine and probably never will, but the spice rack is filling up and I'm getting a little rhythm to my food shopping and that's a good feeling.

For a pasta dish, this is not terribly heavy and is good with just a salad or a little grilled protein on the side.  We buy little lamb cutlets from the farmer who comes into Manly for the organic market every couple of weeks.  Lamb here is fantastic especially straight from the farmer.  I wrestle a little with the virtues of eating meat and lamb and veal are tough ones for me, but they are delicious.  There is a lovely farm stand that comes into the market every week with the best mushrooms.  I always buy a big paper bag full of the assorted ones and find a new way to enjoy them.  At home in the states, Meijer almost always has a good fancy blend in 8 or 10 ounce packages (maybe called gourmet? been too long to remember acurately).  One of the commercial markets makes a good fresh ricotta, but the packaged brands are perfectly fine for this dish.  As they say in Australia, the mushrooms are the star of this dish.  But fresh ricotta is very nice.  Try it if you haven't already.  This is an adaptation from Saveur magazine and it's just excellent.  Easy, quick and very tasty.  I have made it once with and once without the walnuts.  If I'm serving a little meat alongside, the walnuts seem a bit much and I leave them out.  I did get some really gorgeous walnuts at the market, but they are so good they are best eaten out of hand or with cheese.

Mushroom and Ricotta Pasta
6 T unsalted butter
2 lb. mixed mushrooms, such as chanterelles, cremini, hen of the woods, oyster, and porcini, cut into bite-size pieces (if you just have a nice box of baby bellas/creminis that's fine too)
1 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. pasta (pappardelle, linguini or even medium shapes whatever you like)
1 cup ricotta, fresh if you can find it
½ cup toasted walnut pieces, optional

Melt butter in a large skillet and cook mushrooms (possibly in batches if your skillet is not big enough for 2 pounds to cook without being crowded), 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper about 10-15 minutes stirring often until mushrooms are tender and golden.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (use at least 1 T of kosher salt in the water for the tastiest pasta). Cook pasta as directed until al dente, but before draining ladle out 1 C of the pasta water into a measuring cup to use in the sauce.  Drain the pasta and toss in a large bowl with the ricotta and 1/2 C of the reserved pasta water to combine. Use a little more pasta water if needed for the right consistency (fresh ricotta can be a bit thinner and need less water than packaged ricotta). Gently toss in the cooked mushrooms.  Garnish with a little more fresh thyme and the toasted walnuts, if desired.  

Serves 4-6 people


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