That slight bite in the air — the one that makes you roll your shirtsleeves down, pull on a hat, and recognize the crunch of leaves as you walk — means a few very good things. First, the mosquitos will eventually die. Second, mushrooms are afoot. Third, it’s no longer a hideous proposition to boil a pot of pasta water.
I love mushrooms, and I’m hungry for them in all seasons, but I’m especially prone to craving them in the spring and fall, when the wild ones poke their caps through pine needles, leaves, and sand, announcing the changing seasons. In spite of my enthusiasm, I’m a mostly useless mushroom forager. So far this year, my excursions have consisted of gasping at cute, certainly toxic, toadstools, batting away mosquitos, and running home to safety.
For some people, at least, it is the season to snatch up dense boletes, meaty chicken-of-the-woods, and myriad other delights from beneath the scrub pines. If you have this gift, or if you have the gift of a reliable guide to come along on your foraging journey, you can make this recipe with almost any wild mushroom you find.
For those slightly less intrepid, practiced, or lucky among us, this recipe feels special even with the most mundane supermarket fungi. I like to mix crimini and oyster mushrooms, but any combination you can think of will produce surprisingly flavorful results, thanks to a few key kitchen secrets that I’m about to tell you.
First, miso butter. Once you make this for the first time, know that you will have to make a lot more of it. Buy miso that smells and tastes good to you on its own. The original version of this recipe, one of Yi Jun Lo’s on Food52, called for red miso, but when I set in to make it, I only had white, which is much mellower, so I bumped up the quantity quite a lot. The result was a lovely, creamy, umami-rich sauce with a bit of sweetness and more complexity than you’d ever expect in the mere minutes it takes to come together. This recipe is also a great reminder to keep softened butter around at all times, because you never know when you’ll want to combine it with something else.
The other trick here is one that may permanently change your pasta serving style. You will never, ever make pasta without saving a teacup of water for the sauce, nor will you dump the pasta water before you warm your serving bowls with a few ladles full. This will prime the bowls for the meal you’re about to pile into them, and ready them to be passed into hands that need a bit of warmth after foraging for mushrooms. What a comfort for eaters who forgot to bring a sweater or are still just beginning to welcome the chill in the air.
This pasta would be delicious with any additions — a few green peas, some grilled chicken or seafood, or simply more mushrooms than suggested. It’s hard to imagine a savory ingredient that wouldn’t thrive in this magic sauce.
Miso Mushroom Pasta
Serves 2 for dinner, doubles easily
7 oz. linguine or spaghetti
8 oz. mushrooms
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. white miso paste
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
5 garlic cloves
½ cup heavy cream
1 scallion, sliced fine
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta until just under al dente (a minute less than on the package directions). Save a teacup of the pasta water and ladle a few cups into each pasta bowl to warm them up. Then, drain the pasta and reserve. Don’t worry, you’ll warm it again with a final simmer in the finished sauce.
Chop or pull apart the mushrooms into large, bite-sized chunks. Heat a large frying pan or Dutch oven over high heat with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and sauté the mushrooms for 5 to 7 minutes until nicely browned. When they are done, add the vinegar to the pan with the mushrooms, give them a little toss, and set aside. It’s best to cook the mushrooms in 2 or 3 batches and not overcrowd the pan, to allow them to brown evenly.
Whisk the miso paste and butter in a small bowl until it comes together to form a smooth, fluffy paste. Marvel at how good they smell mixed together.
Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan you seared the mushrooms in, and stir-fry the minced garlic over medium heat until fragrant. Add the sautéed mushrooms. Then, add the miso-butter mixture and cream, and bring everything to a boil, stirring gently. Finally, add the cooked pasta to the sauce, as well as the cup of reserved pasta water, and stir until the pasta is well coated. Salt it to taste and cook for 1 or 2 minutes until the pasta is al dente, then remove from the heat.
Portion the pasta into two bowls, and top with sliced scallions and fresh-cracked black pepper.