Pecorino Mushroom Pasta
It's been a long time, but I've finally been able to upload recipe. And I can attest that from a daily routine standpoint, this recipe/dish might be my favorite. With only a 15 prep/cook time and a remarkably easy implementation at any scale, pecorino mushroom pasta has got to be the pinnacle of the intersection of taste and brevity.
Although the traditional recipe is very simple, there are quite a few deviations I make to maximize efficiency and keep the dish somewhat healthy (I'm not the kind of person who likes so much cheese on their pasta that it's formed a distinct layer over the pasta). And I have to admit that when I eat mushrooms (or at least when my mom makes them), I'm really not much of a fan. But that's because a slow, stew-y cook in a pan extracts too much of the rich, mushroom-y flavor that I am put off by. Rather, a brief kiss in a hot oiled pan seems to keep in that intensity while also cooking the mushrooms through. It also gives a nice char to them if you hold them in a bit longer than directed.
I seriously cannot talk about pasta without mentioning the most important step in a pasta dish that truly makes it come together: adding pasta water. I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to just keep some of that starchy goodness to the side and drained out all the pasta. And when I do, it really does lack the coherent, binding aspect that such a simple dish needs. There's a difference between noodles, cheese and mushrooms and pecorino mushroom pasta.
As someone who eats spicy food pretty much daily, I am often put off by dishes that lack the similar intensity. But in this simple dish, I've found that all I had to do was add a literal metric ton of black pepper to compensate for the lack of variety of spice. There's truly something magical about woody, warm flavor black pepper gives to a dish that can veer on the bland side. Well, without further ado, here is the recipe:
12 ounces of long thin pasta (eg spaghetti or bucatini)
2 tsp black pepper (I do about 4 but it does start to get quite intense)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (I don't use butter, because I feel that pasta water actually does a better job in creating a rich mouthfeel)
10-15 Cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, quartered (if you cut them too small, they shrink up quite a bit in the pan)
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for garnish)
2 cups reserved pasta water (store 2 cups of the pasta cooking water for use later)
Few sticks of rosemary, chopped or whole
Salt - optional (I know salt is an integral part of every dish, but keep in mind that Pecorino Romano is really salty, so only go aggressive salt after you've added the cheese in)
Remove the stems and quarter the mushrooms.
Bring a large pot filled three-quarters of the way with water to a boil. Add one generous handful of salt (it's necessary that actual noodle has some flavor too). Add in the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than box instructions.
5 minutes later, heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. For a more intense peppery flavor, toast the black pepper for no more than 1.5 minutes - the pepper will burn and you will cough for two hours.
Add the olive oil. Once shimmering, add in the mushrooms. Do not move the mushrooms for the first 45 seconds. It is important to develop some char on the outside. After 45 seconds, toss the mushrooms vigorously.
After 5 minutes and once the pasta has finished reach "al dente," add in the pasta. Lower the pan to low heat.
Gently, add in the pasta water, a quarter cup at a time. Ensure that the pasta has been coated with the liquid before adding another. Once desired consistency is achieved, set aside remaining pasta water.
Add and stir in Pecorino Romano cheese.
Smother the pasta in some more black pepper.