Mountains of fresh snow lured us back up to our cabin after a mere week in the city. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon to discover our internet wasn’t working. This was President’s Day weekend, meaning we faced the possibility of being totally incommunicado until our local provider would be back in the office after the holiday. Steve tried all the rebooting tricks he knows, but no luck. As we were discussing our plight, Katharine stopped by to say hi, and reconnected us to the world wide web within minutes. She and her husband Tony have lived in this remote community for years and depend on the internet for work and keeping in touch. Clearly, they are experts, and happy to share their knowledge about wi-fi, and everything else us newbies need.
On the spur of the moment, we invited them to join us for dinner the next evening, and this is how many get togethers happen at the cabin. Entertaining is so easy here. No one has expectations of fancy meals that took hours or even days to prepare, nor a table set with company best (which can’t go in the dishwasher), or feels the need to dress up. Just good food, friends, and conversation. It’s all casual, effortless and so much fun! And this attitude leaves plenty of time to play in the snow.
Sunday afternoon, Steve, Katharine and I went snowshoeing, Tony took his magnificent sled dogs for a long adventure. Then I made a quick trip down the mountain to Bishop to shop for dinner. Our local Manor Market was stocked with everything we needed for a memorable pasta dinner–homemade Italian sausage, fresh and dried mushrooms, and good Parmesan cheese.
The recipe here is perfect for après winter sports when you crave something warm and filling. It’s based on one I developed for Bon Appetit Magazine, when I was the food editor there, and it’s been a favorite ever since. The combination of earthy mushrooms, spicy sausage and Parmesan cheese is rich and satisfying. Although the flavor packed sauce takes only about 30 minutes to make, it can be prepared a day or two ahead, and then finished while the pasta cooks.
To keep the evening easy, I put out crackers, a bowl of ricotta cheese mixed with a little olive oil and freshly cracked peppercorns, and another bowl with Trader Joe’s tapenade for nibbles. I love that tapenade. It makes a lively addition to a cheese tray, jazzes up egg salads, and transforms cheese sandwiches from ordinary to memorable.
As we recounted stories about our day over dinner, I basked in the joy of living in a neighborhood so small and remote, where people readily help each other, and become good friends from reaching out. And that became essential later in the week. Tune back in soon for that story.
Pasta with Mushrooms and Italian Sausage
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 to 1¼ pounds hot or sweet Italian turkey or pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 pound crimini or botton mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 1¼ pounds rotini or penne pasta
- 1 cup half and half
- 1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
- Chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Rinse the porcini mushrooms and place in a small bowl. Add 1 cup hot water, place a small plate or bowl on top of the mushrooms to keep them submerged. Let soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain the porcini, reserving the soaking liquid. Chop the porcini.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high. Scrape the sausage from its casing into the skillet. Cook until no longer pink, breaking up the sausage with the back of a fork, about 6 minutes.
- Add the fresh mushrooms and rosemary to the skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until the mushrooms begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini and wine. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 4 minutes.
- Add the broth and porcini soaking liquid to the skillet, discarding any sand at the bottom of the liquid. Simmer until the sauce is syrupy, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. (The sauce can be made to this point ahead. Let stand at room temperature up to 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.)
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. I find that the pasta reaches a pleasing consistency in a minute or two less than suggested on the package. Drain well. Return the pasta to the cooking pot.
- Meanwhile, reheat the sauce. Add the half and half and boil until thickened somewhat, about 4 minutes.
- Add the sauce to the pasta. Add 1½ cups grated Parmesan and mix well to coat the pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta among bowls or plates. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with additional Parmesan to sprinkle on top.