Pasta with Wild Mushroom and Clam Sauce
Flavors of earth and ocean, wild mushrooms and briny clams, are highlighted in a simple pasta sauce, and melded together through pancetta’s meaty goodness. Pancetta is usually sold in packages of thinly cut pre-sliced meat. I use this in a pinch, but try to buy pancetta from the deli counter. Ask for either a chunk of pancetta to hand slice and dice at home, or have the deli staff cut pancetta into slices like thick bacon. With thicker slices, more pancetta flavor comes through in the finished dish. Bacon may be substituted for pancetta; it adds pleasant smokiness.
2 pounds clams (about 3/4 cup cooked clam meat)
3 stalks and fronds from bulb fennel, roughly chopped, or 1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 ounces pancetta, cut in 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound cleaned and trimmed wild mushrooms, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
Reserved 1 cup of clam broth
3/4 pound gemelli, penne, or similarly shaped pasta
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Cook Clams: Wash clam shells to remove sand and dirt; discard any that won’t close or have broken shells. Put fennel, peppercorns, wine, and clams in pot with lid. Stir to evenly distribute ingredients. Cover, turn heat to medium, and cook just until clams open; this takes about 5 minutes (depending on how quickly burner heats).
When clams are all open, take pot off heat, let cool slightly, and remove clams from shells. Discard shells and any clams that didn’t open. Strain clam broth and vegetables through paper towel or coffee filter, discarding solids and reserving liquid.
Make Sauce: Sauté pancetta in olive oil until it begins to brown. Stir in onion and freshly ground black pepper, using moisture in onions to scrape up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Continue cooking until onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly, until mushrooms are well-browned on all sides. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add reserved clam broth, once again scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer slowly while pasta cooks.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until it’s al dente. Drain pasta. Stir pasta, reserved clams, and parsley into mushroom sauce. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread.