This rich, creamy pasta sauce was the result of an experiment. We wanted to make a creamy, mushroom-y pasta topping with no cream. We're trying to watch our diet a little better, and while we were eating pasta there was no need to indulge in cream, right?
The creaminess and thickness in a sauce can come through many methods. One of these is cream - the common ingredient of Alfredo and other cream sauces. Some pasta toppings, like carbonara, use eggs to thicken and give richness.
One lighter option is a roux, or flour-thickened, sauce. We had seen this dismissed as too difficult. Pshaw! A roux is nothing more than a little butter and flour, cooked over low heat until the flour grains swell. Then they are whisked together with hot liquid, the grains swell to thicken the sauce and voilá! You have thick, creamy pasta sauce without too much fat.
The bulk of this sauce is white wine, broth, and mushrooms. We don't use a lot of wild mushrooms - they are expensive, and just a few will do here to give flavor.
The result? Silky, thick and creamy pasta sauce - full of toothsome mushrooms and a little green parsley. The flavor of wine, wild mushrooms, and black pepper predominate - and it's not too fattening! Leaves you an excuse for plenty of cheese...
Wild Mushroom Pasta Sauce
1 1/2 ounce package wild mushrooms
1 cup chicken, vegetable or beef broth, boiling
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter, divided
3 8-ounce packages of white button or portobello mushrooms, washed and chopped
4 large shallots, minced
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped sage
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Crumble the dried mushrooms into a glass bowl or measuring cup and pour the boiling broth over them. Let steep for at least 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the drained liquid. Mix the drained liquid with the white wine.
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped button or portobello mushrooms and let sit, without stirring, for about four minutes or until they have thoroughly browned on one side. Stir and let them cook on the other side - again, without stirring - for about four minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, sage and steeped wild mushrooms. Turn the heat to low, and cook until they are all fragrant and soft.
Add the second tablespoon of butter and, when melted, add the flour. Stir rapidly, letting the flour thicken with the butter into a paste. Have a whisk ready! Slowly pour in the mushroom broth and white wine, whisking rapidly. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking, until the mixture thickens. It should thicken to the consistency of a thick gravy.
Add the chopped parsley, stirring until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately over pasta with plenty of fresh Parmesan.
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Originally published February 19, 2008