Nigella Lawson calls this “one of her proudest creations,” which is an interesting thing to say about a dish that only contains ten ingredients and three steps.
On the face of it, this is a ridiculously simple dish, the sort of thing you might throw together when you look in the cupboard and realize you forgot to go shopping. “Hmmmm… I’ve got pasta, mushrooms, and not much else…. Let’s make some food.”
As with so many simple dishes, though, it’s the quality of the ingredients that turns this from ho-hum to wow. You could use dried pasta, white mushrooms, and the jar of dried thyme that’s been on your shelf for a year, and it would still be perfectly edible.
To make it sing, though, get the best of each ingredient. Fresh pasta. Fresh garlic. And, of course, fresh thyme that you’ve snipped from the garden.
You can also mix it up by using different species of mushrooms. The original recipe calls for cremini mushrooms, but we recommend portobello for a heartier flavour. Botanically, cremini, portobello and white button mushrooms are all the same species, just picked at different growth stages. White are the youngest, cremini (also sold as chestnut or baby bella mushrooms) are older, and portobello are fully mature. That extra growing time gives them a heartier flavour.
But don’t be afraid to try something else entirely. This spring was an incredible year to harvest morel mushrooms – one of the few upsides of a cold, wet season – and you may still find some of them available in markets or specialty stores. (Whenever you use morels, it’s important to cook them – they can cause a mild stomach upset if eaten raw.) Chanterelles, pine mushrooms (matsutake), porcini, or other hearty mushrooms are all options which will bring a different flavour to this dish.
Even if you’re not using morels, try lightly sautéing the mushrooms and garlic, perhaps adding a splash of white wine before tossing everything with the pasta and other ingredients. This is a great recipe to use as a jumping off point: enjoy the journey.
8 ounces/4 cups finely sliced portobello or other mushrooms
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Small clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 sprigs fresh thyme stripped to give 1 teaspoon leaves
1 pound fresh linguine
1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves chopped, to give 1/2 cup
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice the mushrooms finely, and put them into a large bowl with the oil, salt, minced garlic, lemon juice and zest, and gorgeously scented thyme leaves.
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions and drain loosely retaining some water. Quickly put the pasta into the bowl with the mushroom mixture.
Toss everything together well, and then add the parsley, cheese and pepper before tossing again. Eat with joy in your heart.