This deeply satisfying autumnal dish isn’t so much a pasta as a rich mushroom stew that would be just as wonderful with warm polenta, steamed rice, or other grains.
For the mushroom ragout
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
Salt and pepper
2 pounds wild or cultivated mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups Porcini Mushroom Broth (recipe follows), hot, or as needed
1 pound long ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
To prepare the ragout, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring well, until it begins to brown. Lower the heat to medium, season the onions with salt and pepper, and continue stirring until nicely caramelized, about 5 minutes. Remove the onion to a small bowl. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the heat to high. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Keep the heat high and sauté the mushrooms until they brown lightly. If juices accumulate in the pan, pour them off and reserve.
Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper, add the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the caramelized onion and the tomato paste, and stir well to coat the mushrooms and to dry the mixture slightly. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.
Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot mushroom broth, stirring well as the mixture thickens. Add another cup of hot broth and let the ragout cook for another 5 minutes. If it’s too thin, cook it a bit longer; if too thick, add a bit more broth. Taste for seasoning. (The ragout can be made a few hours ahead and reheated.)
To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Break the ziti into 6-inch lengths (or use cut ziti). Boil the pasta for about 10 minutes, or until on the firm side of al dente.
When the noodles are almost cooked, warm the olive oil or butter in a large wide skillet. Put in the garlic and stir; don’t let it brown. Add salt and pepper and turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta, add to the skillet along with the parsley, and mix well. Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl. Put the hot mushroom ragout in another serving bowl, and bring them both to the table.
Porcini Mushroom Broth
Put 3 cups water in a saucepan and add a bay leaf, a few slices of dried porcini mushrooms or 2 teaspoons dry porcini powder (see below), half a small onion, 1 small celery stalk, and a small carrot, peeled and chopped. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes; strain.
Variation: Dry Porcini Powder
Porcini powder is available at specialty shops, but it’s easy to make your own, to add intensity to the mushroom ragout or many other sauces or dishes. Dried porcini can sometimes be sandy. So, to get rid of any grit, soak a handful of them briefly in warm water, then blot them very well in a towel, put them on a baking sheet, and let them air-dry completely. When the mushrooms are dry, grind them up in a spice grinder and keep the powder in a jar in the freezer.