Apparently, this method for cooking pasta came from the chef at the Hotel Tre Vasselle near Perugia – an establishment of some culinary renown in years gone by. We stayed there once for the weekend, as part of attending the International Chocolate Festival in Perugia sometime in the late nineties. Sadly, by that stage, The Tre Vasselle had sold out to the package tour market, and was already coasting along on the basis of its former reputation Sic Gloria Transit.
The method for pasta, though, remains uncompromised in any way. Pasta – a short tubular form is best for this, as it gets knocked around quite a bit in the process of stirring – is cooked in chicken stock, and then finished off with cream and a thick, coating sauce. Not only are more flavours absorbed along the way than with the traditional cooking method, but this way of doing it has the additional benefit of speed – rather than having to bring to boiling point a large pan of water, you merely have to heat a small saucepan of stock, and in the time that would normally be taken to heat the water, you actually have a dish finished to completion.
This particular recipe uses brandy and a mushroom sauce; I’m sure vermouth or something similar could be substituted for the brandy – you just want something with a slight ‘kick’ - as could any sauce that has a good thick coating consistency be used in place of the mushrooms.
Ingredients: Pennette (or similar pasta) for four people; 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil; a quarter cup of Brandy; 1 pint of Chicken Stock; a quarter cup of Cream; 250g mushrooms (either standard cultivated white-caps or something more exotic like Chanterelles or Trompetes de Mort – whatever you prefer); 2 cloves of Garlic; 30g Butter; Seasoning; 2 tablespoons of chopped Parsley.
1. Chop the mushrooms thinly. Melt the Butter in frying pan, and sauté the minced Garlic for a minute, before adding the sliced Mushrooms. Sauté over medium heat for five minutes, until the mushrooms have thrown off all their liquid, which has then been cooked away. Stir in the chopped Parsley and add Salt and Pepper to taste. Set aside.
2. In a large sauté pan, heat the Oil, then add the pasta, and stir it, to coat it in the hot Oil, for a minute. Add the Brandy, and stir vigorously.
3. In classic risotto style, add stock, a ladleful at a time, and add more as it is absorbed by the pasta. Maintain the heat under the pan just sufficiently to keep the stock bubbling slightly, and add more as required. Stir very regularly throughout the process – you will feel the pasta softening against the wooden spoon, as it cooks, as you do so. After about fifteen minutes it will be cooked practically to al dente (test it by biting into a piece).
4. Add the Cream, and stir for a further minute or two, just until the Cream has reduced to a good thick consistency, then stir in the Mushroom sauce. Test for seasoning and adjust if necessary.