For a basic pasta dish using mostly pantry staples, this is just about as good as it gets.
Technically, I suppose mushrooms aren’t a pantry staple, but ever since I learned (from Cook’s Illustrated, I believe) that plain white button mushrooms actually get deeper, more mushroomy flavor from a longer stay in the fridge, I tend to keep them around.
Also, this recipe highlights one of my favorite ways to cook mushrooms: roasting them. They get browned and shriveled and intensified in a way that sauteeing just can’t match. Plus, various wild mushrooms cooked this way can get an almost smoked, bacony flavor. I highly recommend them.
I have kept Francis Lam’s original instructions as written—so it’s his recommendation for “saffron malloreddus” and water salted to the point of being like seawater, and his use of the word “baller.” But I concur in his exhortations to use both butter and saffron. Totally worth it.
Pasta with garlicky peas and roasted mushrooms
8 ounces white mushrooms
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed (a couple tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons butter (you can use olive oil instead, but butter makes it … special)
Pinch saffron (very optional, but very nice)
8 ounces pasta, some manner of short shape (bowties, pennette, you get the picture. Or saffron malloreddus, if you really want to be a baller.)
10 oz box frozen peas (or fresh, of course, if they’re in season)
½ cup white wine
1½ ounces parmesan cheese, grated fine
Chopped parsley, thyme, basil, rosemary or mint, to taste (optional, but nice)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Meanwhile, set three quarts of water on to boil, and salt it so it tastes nearly like sea water.
Rub the mushrooms clean of dirt with a towel or paper towel. Cut off the stems if they’re long (but use them). Quarter the mushrooms if they’re quarter-sized, and cut them in sixths if they’re half-dollar sized. Toss them in a bowl with salt, pepper and enough olive oil to coat lightly.
Heat a heavy pan, large enough to fit all the mushrooms comfortably in one layer, over high heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil to the pan, and when it’s hot enough to shimmer but not quite smoke, add the mushrooms. Let sear briefly, then transfer to oven.
Cut off half a clove of garlic and mince it very fine. Reserve it. Chop the rest, to somewhere between the size of a pea and a BB. In a pan large enough to hold all the peas, mushrooms and pasta, melt the butter over low heat and add the chopped garlic. Let it get friendly; you’re not trying to brown the garlic, but slowly infuse the butter with its flavor. Add saffron, if using. If the garlic starts to brown, take the pan off the heat.
Check on the mushrooms. Give the pan a toss. You’re looking for nice browning and, eventually, for them to have cooked and shrunken enough to be almost chewy, about 20-25 minutes total. Put back in oven and continue to roast.
Cook pasta in the boiling, salted water.
When the pasta is nearly done, put the garlic-butter pan back over high heat. Add the peas and heat through with a few tablespoons of pasta water. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Take the mushrooms from the oven and deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring to dissolve all the brown bits, and bring to a boil to cook off the alcohol. Add to the peas. Stir in the raw minced garlic and herbs, if using.
Drain the pasta once finished and add to the peas. Toss all together, stir in the cheese, taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and possibly a splash of olive oil, butter or more pasta water if it seems a little dry. Serve right away.