Mushrooms with pasta; or not far from truffles as the crow flies

If you take risks you’ll learn something new every day. Often it will be something that you shouldn’t have tried in the first place; occasionally you will hit on a winner.

I had been fiddling around with mushrooms, generally scorning their disappointing taste, and pronouncing to whomever wanted to listen, that their long-time attractive PR was wrong. They were over-rated, watery, over-priced; under-achievers.

What I did like about them was their blackness, that rich ebony hue of the crow that makes your eyes pop out. Classic blackness is such a delicious colour, perfect, startling, deep. But so often mushrooms turn into an insipid brown-grey sludge when cooked.

I started thinking. Was not the flavour dependent on the amount of water in the beasts, and, if you could remove the water without drying out the mushrooms, or worse, burning them, wouldn’t you end up with something very black, with a very intense flavour? Something like their very rich cousin, the truffle.

The truffle is the essence of the earth. Eating a truffle evokes an overall body sensation that is best equated with the turning of rich, damp compost. You are part of it, in smell, taste, feel and often body, slipping and sliding in thick, living mud. This is a truffle. Unfortunately, nobody I know can afford it.

What I wanted to do was to get as close as that with the ‘umble mushroom. Enter the microwave. Something about the microwave allows you to cook certain things entirely in their own moisture, so that the moisture departs before anything happens to its carrier. Thus, hallelujah, it was with mushrooms.

½kg of large capped mushrooms, gills open, and black – Don’t even consider fooling about with the closed, white button tops. Throw them on the compost. The very best mushies for this are field mushrooms, but that’s for autumn only.

bunch of parsley, leaves chopped very roughly, stalks tossed aside

½ cup thick beef stock, if you’ve got it – but who has these days? If you haven’t, the next best thing to perfect beef stock is real Madeira; and if you ain’t got that, go for a rich port, with plenty of body and not too much sugar. Not that either? Well any port will do. No? Then be damned, ¼ cup water.


black pepper

1 hot chilli, chopped finely. I can’t imagine any richly flavoured dish surviving without the kick of chilli.

enough curly, squiggly, twisted pasta for two

1 dessertspoon of fresh thyme leaves. If you do nothing with this recipe, at least file away the combination of mushrooms and fresh thyme. They go together like strawberries and cream.


Cut the stalks off the mushrooms and throw them into the pot for your next stock.


Lay the mushrooms out on a flat plate, not touching, and put them in the microwave. Cook on high for about 10 minutes, depending on the power of your machine, or until you can smell the rich mushroom aroma. Open the microwave and squeeze the mushrooms. They should have lost a lot of moisture and will be about half the size they started. They are done when they are just moist to the squeeze. They must not be bone dry, or you will have gone too far; nor still containing (relatively) large quantities of moisture. Imagine the mushrooms as a soaked washer. Then squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze. The washer will still feel wet, yet it won’t give up any more water. That’s what we want with the mushrooms.


Remove, and toss the getting-to-be-dried-out mushrooms into the

whizzer with the parsley, stock (or whatever), pinch of salt, several turns of black pepper and the chilli. Whizz the lot until you have a thick, black sludge, redolent of the earth. Set aside while you cook the pasta.

You might think it a little strange that you have spent so much effort removing moisture, only to put it back via the stock etc. The reason is simple: perfect beef stock and mushrooms are like two left-handed batsmen wearing helmets and batting 200 m away. You can’t tell them apart. The idea is that you get a double whammy of the mushroom/stock flavour.


Cook the pasta until just done, drain, and mix the sludge through until it is coating every nook and cranny. Sprinkle with the thyme and serve in white bowls. The funny thing is, this is just like pesto: you can’t eat too much of it. It doesn’t even need Parmesan.

WINE: What a hearty feed. You need a hearty wine - a traditional Australian shiraz with richness and warmth, like a good Hunter or McLaren Vale. Linde- mans, Hardys and Rothbury Estate are good bets.