Pasta, mushrooms, ham & cream - a classic? - well no
Whilst pondering what I might cook for dinner from a fridge raid, I decided I would do a pretty ordinary dish of pasta, mushrooms and ham with cream. I have lots of mushrooms and lots of ham. Dare I say that the ham is the result of a tiny bit of panic buying on the part of my husband? He bought one of those hams that look a bit like a leg, but really isn't. But pretty large anyway. And yes it keeps, and yes you can do a lot of things with ham, but it can get a bit monotonous after a while. After all nobody is going to be dropping by for a quick scratch lunch of baguette and yummy delicatessens things like ham and salami. There are just two of us here.
Anyway I thought I would do this, what I consider to be, standard dish, and maybe do a blog on it at the same time. You know - the usual thing of a bit of history, regional variations, quotes from famous chefs reminiscing about pasta with mushrooms, ham and cream in the forests of Italy ... I thought it would probably have one of those names like carbonara, alfredo, norma and the rest.
But surprise, surprise - not at all.
First of all I took down all my Italian recipe books from the shelves - I have lots, from Elizabeth David to Jamie, and everything in between. I anticipated beautiful photographs from Italy the Beautiful Cookbook, studious versions from Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden and The Silver Spoon, and a cheery but slightly different version from Jamie, Delia and Nigel - but nothing. Not one single recipe for a pasta with mushrooms, cream and ham. Some came close but none had the definitive mix of ham, mushrooms and cream. I was prepared to accept one with some slight extra - like nutmeg for example, but not the more radical extremes. I was even prepared to accept pancetta rather than ham or bacon but again - nothing.
The next step, of course, was to take to the net. And there were indeed recipes there - and you will be able to find them easily enough, but nothing referring to it as a classic, or even a standard Italian dish. So no history today. I was amazed that people like Donna Hay, Delia and Jamie had nothing - yes they had things that were close but not quite what I meant. I mean - this is a dish that is very often found on the menu of your local Italian, or even just general café is it not?
Several of them added peas, which is a worthy, nutritious addition, and I may well do the same, but not what I thought of as the 'classic' dish that I had in mind.
I was about to give up when I found, not what I was looking for, but something different very interesting and sort of related from Nigel Slater that he calls Pasta with roast garlic, mushrooms and cream. Alas no picture because it's from Fast Food which has no pictures, and although The Guardian reprinted the recipe they did not think to cook it and produce a picture. Neither did the two or three bloggers who have made it and decreed it good. Which is odd. I also don't know why he refers to the garlic as roast, as it's not roasted but first boiled and then fried. Lots of garlic again, and no ham. But I guess you could add ham.
Jamie Oliver also has a version of this particular dish, but it's different. He just calls it Garlic mushroom pasta. Again no ham, and crème fraiche rather than cream, which I think Felicity Cloake said was inappropriate for Pasta carbonara - a close cousin and an actual classic.
By now I was getting a bit desperate and resorting to the 'common man' sources of Taste.com and delicious Magazine, where I found these two - neither of them quite the right thing, but probably worth a look when you want something to do with mushrooms. On the left is Tagliatelle with mushroom, bacon and walnut sauce from delicious and on the right Creamy shallot and mushroom fettuccine, which is probably from somewhere like Coles Magazine.
By now I had sort of given up and was just going to go ahead with a made up version when I thought of Robert Carrier and there in his Robert Carrier Cookbook is just what I am looking for. This is why he is possibly my favourite of all time. No picture of course. He was not big into pictures really, and nobody seems to be cooking their way through Robert Carrier like they do with Elizabeth David, Julia Child and Nigel Slater. He is not regarded in the same way as these luminaries - perhaps because:
"Flamboyant and wedded to luxury, Carrier was the Liberace of the domestic kitchen. According to culinary commentators, the higher echelons of the fooderati regarded him with disdain. His tongue-in-cheek self-promotion, his love of superlatives and his camp presentation challenged the boundaries of taste in postwar Britain. He persuaded the housewives of a recently rationed nation that cooking was fun, eating a pleasure and garlic a blessing." Polly Russell - Financial Times.
Anyway here is his recipe (sorry I can't be bothered today to look up the conversions for weights):
FETTUCINE WITH CREAM SAUCE AND MUSHROOMS
1 pound fettuccine
1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound ham, diced
1/4 pint double cream
2 egg yolks
freshly grated Parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sauté finely chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter until transparent; add sliced mushrooms and diced ham, and continue to cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring from time to time. Combine double cream, egg yolks, 1/4 pound butter, and freshly grated Parmesan, to taste, in the top of a double saucepan, and cook over water, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until sauce is thick and creamy. Do not let water under sauce come to a boil. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cook fettuccine in boiling salted water until al dente - tender but still firm; drain, mix with cream sauce, and toss. Garnish with ham, onion, mushrooms and freshly grated Parmesan. Serves 4.
And that's how you do it properly. But I will be lazy and not add the egg yolks, though I probably should. So much butter too. Which is perhaps why in the ingredients he just says butter - not a whole lot of butter. It's not a super healthy dish but so good. I'll try to be healthier. Less butter, and maybe some peas, and definitely no egg yolks. But there will be cheese and cream.