It had been a while since I’d had pasta. An almost daily staple in my diet for most of my life, I pretty much stopped making it when I became more adventurous in the kitchen. A year ago I promised myself to really learn how to cook.  Not just a handful of dishes which I’d learn to cook to perfection but a wide repertoire culled from a variety of cuisines around the globe. I began with French food, as I assumed that French techniques were the foundation of much of Western cuisine. I was instantly enamored with it and my love for Italian food fell by the wayside.

What you see on this blog, however, is a small sampling of what I have been cooking. I’ve been dabbling in the foods of Thailand, China, the Middle East. I love all sorts of food, but because I really wanted to learn how to cook French food, I made it the focus of my blog.

Yet lately I have missed pasta and the limitless choices it offers at dinner. I have missed gnocchi, and crespelle, and creamy risottos. By immersing myself completely in the world of cooking and food, I have come to yearn not for the standard Italian American fare that was a staple in my diet for so many years but the real stuff, the authentic tastes specific to the various regions of Italy and almost unknown outside them.

Enter The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the Julia Child of Italian Cooking. This book is considered a classic for its truly authentic recipes and exploration of the regions of Italy, which each have their own culinary dialect. Though I have a collection of books on Italian cooking, this is the book I now turn to when I feel like cooking Italian. If I could only have one book on this simple yet wonderful cuisine, this would be the one.

This recipe is by no means complicated, but it is one of my favorites when I want the soothing comfort of a creamy pasta. I like to serve the sauce over a broader noodle like pappardelle or fettuccine

Mushroom, Ham, and Cream Sauce

Adapted from the Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons shallot or onion, chopped fine

salt

freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces boiled unsmoked ham, cut into narrow julienne strips

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

For tossing the pasta:

2 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Directions:

1) Put the shallot in a large skillet with butter and cook over medium heat until it becomes golden. Turn up the heat to high and add mushrooms. Do not crowd the pan; cook in batches if necessary. Cook the mushrooms until they have soaked up all the butter. Turn the heat down to low and add salt and pepper. Turn mushrooms over 2 or 3 times.

2) As soon as the mushrooms release their liquid, turn the heat up high and boil the liquid away, stirring frequently.

3) Turn the heat down to medium and cook the ham for about 1 minute. Add the cream and cook just long enough for it to become reduced and slightly thickened. Taste and correct salt and pepper.

4) Put the butter and cream for tossing the pasta into another pot and heat over low. When the butter melts, stir the butter and cream together. Transfer cooked pasta to the pot and toss to coat. Add half the mushroom sauce, tossing again. Add the 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, toss again and turn off heat. Pour the remainder of the mushroom sauce over the pasta and serve at once, with extra cheese on the side.

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