Magic pasta with mushrooms. For One. From THE SECRET OF COOKING

Magic Pasta 003

Magic pasta with mushrooms, garlic, cream and wine


When I first saw references to this all-in-one method of making pasta,I was sceptical. Surely it couldn’t be possible to cook the sauce and the pasta all at once in the same pan? It seemed to violate every rule in Italian cooking. But then I realised that the method is not really so far from a risotto. The bonus of this technique – aside from incredible speed and ease and minimal washing up – is that the pasta is seasoned by the sauce as it cooks and becomes deeply flavoured with wine, aromatics, stock – whatever you choose to add. It works with any shape of pasta – but a good quality brand makes a big difference here – and almost any combination of vegetables and other flavourings such as anchovies or cured meats. You just have to be careful to measure the ratio of pasta to water accurately, use a wide shallow frying pan or sauté pan (it won’t work in a tall narrow saucepan) and be generous with your seasoning.
This will never be my first-choice way to cook pasta. On leisurely evenings, I still prefer the time-honoured process of cooking the noodles and the sauce separately (a method which my youngest son now calls ‘Muggle Pasta’ to distinguish it from ‘Magic Pasta’). And yet, I can’t urge you strongly enough to learn this technique and have it in your head for when you are in a pinch and you need a hot meal right now.
On those days when time and/or energy are scarce, you can rely on this formula to pull you through. It’s a dish that is very kind on the cook and you feel you are somehow pulling off a miracle. I made a version of it with cauliflower and chorizo for a late lunch the day of my father-in-law’s socially distanced funeral. Because of the pandemic, there was no food after the funeral. Family members stood in a cold and empty car park trying to make gestures of love and sorrow to one another from behind our masks. When the children and I finally arrived home, we felt flat, grief-stricken and insatiably hungry. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down to a warming and savoury tangle of linguini with chorizo and flecks of saffron-yellow cauliflower. We were still sad but at least we didn’t feel quite so empty inside.
Actually, my favourite version of this pasta isn’t the cauliflower one but a variant made with mushrooms and garlic and cream and wine that tastes the way I remember Italian restaurant food tasting in Britain in the 1980s. It’s also a bit like the tinned mushroom soup my father was once so fond of; don’t let that put you off. It has a deep umami quality that comforts me to my core.

Photo by Matt Russell

photo by Matt Russell

Serves 1

120g mushrooms (I usually make it with chestnut but any kind will do, even plain old closed cup or button)

100g pasta, any kind that says on the packet that it will cook in 10 minutes (I favour linguini here but penne also works)

1–2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and grated A knob of unsalted butter

30g flat-leaf parsley, chopped

25ml white wine or vermouth

25ml double cream A squeeze of lemon Parmesan, to serve

Take the mushrooms and grate them coarsely on a box grater (or blitz them in a food processor). Put all the ingredients up to and including the white wine into a wide frying pan or sauté pan and add 1⁄3 teaspoon of salt and 400ml of water from a freshly boiled kettle. It will look wrong putting wet and dry ingredients together so haphazardly but have faith – it will all come together. Put over a high heat and bring to the boil with the lid on. Continue to simmer with the lid on for 5 minutes, checking and stirring every minute. Now remove the lid and cook for 3–5 minutes more with the lid off, stirring frequently with tongs or a wooden spoon. If it looks dry or if the pasta isn’t cooked, add another splash of water but you don’t want it to go too soupy. Creamy, yes; soupy, no. Continue to cook, testing pieces of pasta, until it is done to your liking. Add the cream and squeeze of lemon. Test for seasoning. Serve with the reserved parsley and Parmesan on top. Devour.