I made this for the first time when I was really craving pasta but didn’t want to go through the effort of making a sauce. That day was the day I discovered that sometimes, when you just throw lots of savory deliciousness in a pan and add enough starchy pasta water, a sauce emerges like a phoenix from the ashes. I have made this dish half a dozen times since, and I never deviate from the haphazard recipe I threw together that first time.
A couple of notes about cooking pasta:
- Make sure to season the water generously before adding the pasta — every component of your dish should be flavorful, and the pasta itself is no exception.
- Add a few tablespoons of oil to your water before adding the pasta to make sure that it doesn’t clump up or stick together when cooking. Also, stir the pasta in the pot a few times in the first two minutes
- Always remember to set aside a bit of the starchy pasta water before draining the pot — it helps loosen up sauces like pesto or marinara or create sauces when you want to bind ingredients together.
- 1 pound of orecchiette pasta*
- 1½ pounds of pork sausage, casing removed
- 1 pound of mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1½ cups of parmesan cheese, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
- parsley for garnish
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, add three generous pinches of salt and about 2 tablespoons of oil to the water. Add pasta and cook until it is al dente, according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta, remove two cups of pasta water and set aside. After draining the pasta, return it to the pot and turn the heat off.
- In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. After 5 minutes, when the onions are soft, but haven't started to caramelize, add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Set the onion mixture aside.
- In the same skillet, over medium high heat, sauté the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do this in two or three batches so that the mushrooms have plenty of space in the pan as they cook. Set the mushrooms aside.
- In the same skillet, over medium-high heat, cook the pork sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is cooked through. Drain most of the fat from the pan.
- Add the mushrooms, sausage, and onion mixture to the pot with the drained pasta. Turn the heat on to medium-low and add a half cup of the starchy pasta water to the pot. Stir, and add half of the parmesan cheese. Add another half cup of pasta water and the remaining parmesan cheese. Stir everything together as a sauce forms. If needed, add more pasta water.
- Remove from heat, garnish with parsley and serve.