Sometimes, you just get a craving for something. Now usually cravings are for a taste that you recognize, something that you’ve had before, often that is produced by your local pizza or pommes frites restaurant. Other times, the craving is not so simple.
I had just such a complex craving, beginning two days ago. I could start to see the tastes coming together in my head: pasta, yes, and mushrooms, definitely. I knew I wanted cream sauce as well. So there would be butter, and there would be thyme (because as I’ve discussed before, mushrooms love butter and thyme). But I could taste that dish in my head, and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So, I withstood the agony, and decided to let my thoughts develop. And then the next day, I realized: I wanted something sweet.
Something sweet? That can’t be right. How do you make pasta sauce sweet, and also edible? Well, for starters, a lot of things you eat — and a lot of pasta sauces — are slightly sweet, so it really isn’t such an outlandish idea. But how do you do it, and without just pouring some sugar in? Honey. Honey, my friends.
Honey is the star of this dish, yet it shouldn’t be so overpowering that you actually know that it’s there at all. It should bring out the earthiness of the mushrooms and the silkiness of the cream and make the whole thing taste slightly more extravagant (it helps when you are using star thistle honey that came in a little test tube sized sample). But, since we can’t have things tasting too extravagant or the dish gets boring, the dish got yet more spontaneous as I went along — first, a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper; next, a small pinch of some really fresh crushed red pepper flakes (both flakes and the idea to use them courtesy of my roomate Wills); and, finally, a nice dousing of lemon juice. Just like the honey, none of those finishing touches should be too obvious on their own. Still, the dish would taste markedly different without them.
And then, in an encore performance, they all show back up as the finishing finishing touches — the garnish on the dish when it is about to be served. All those things again (all in greater moderation, particularly the lemon juice) as well as some freshly shaved pecorino romano, and this dish is going to shine. Serve with a chardonnay and a green salad; that easy drinking wine is called easy drinking for a reason, often because of its notes of honey.
Mushroom Pappardelle with Honey-Lemon Cream Sauce
– XX pappardelle (wide egg noodles)
– 1 tablespoon butter
– 4 c. or so oyster mushrooms, sliced into varying chunks
– 1 ½ tablespoons thyme
– ½ – 1 cup white wine (if you have leftover, or if you buy a bottle to drink with)
– ½ c. heavy cream
– 1 ½ tablespoons honey
– juice of ½ lemon
– freshly ground black pepper
– couple pinches crushed red pepper flakes
1. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add mushrooms, sauté, stirring regularly, until browned on all sides.
3. Add salt, to taste.
4. Add thyme.
5. Add wine; bring to simmer. Simmer until wine is reduced to almost a glaze but still with some liquid in the pan, about 5-10 minutes.
6. Add cream; bring to simmer. Add honey, stir to combine. Simmer until sauce is beginning to thicken. Add almost all the lemon juice, reserving just a tiny amount. Stir to combine. Adjust salt and black pepper. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Continue simmering until sauce reaches desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.
7. Serve topped with shaved pecorino and more freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a small squeeze of lemon juice over the top.