Why It Works
- Cooking mushrooms in rendered sausage fat adds tons of flavor, boosted by a bit of soy sauce and lemon juice.
- The pasta and creamy sauce bake in the same skillet the mushrooms were cooked in, making for easy serving and cleanup.
You know what I love about cast iron, apart from its serious durability, its slick non-stick surface that requires almost no maintenance, its potential to store a huge amount of heat energy (and release it slowly), and its innate ability to make you look like a total badass?
I love that whenever I pull it out, it's almost always because I'm yearning for something simple and delicious, and that's what cast iron cooking is really all about.
This recipe starts off with crumbled Italian sausage cooked down in a bit of butter. I sauté a few types of mushrooms in the rendered fat, then flavor them with shallots, garlic, and a little bit of soy sauce and lemon juice (this helps bring out their savoriness while also lightening them up). They get finished in a simple creamy sauce flavored with parmesan cheese. Add some pasta, top it all off with crisp bread crumbs, and you've got yourself a one-skillet meal fit for normal everyday folks who perhaps might occasionally feel like kings.
Here are a few tips:
Mincing a shallot is just like mincing an onion (an onion for ants, that is). Trim off the root end, split the shallot in half lengthwise, peel off the skin, then start by making a series of parallel cuts that run parallel to the root-stem axis (make sure to leave the stem-end intact). Next, rotate the shallot and slice it into fine dice. I use two small shallots for this.
Next up: garlic. You can mince by hand, but it's much easier to just use a microplane. I prefer a microplane to a press as it does a better job of mincing without squeezing out too many juices.
Mushrooms cook down a lot, so I use a full pound of mixed mushrooms—portobello, oyster, and shiitake are a good blend, but really, any mix will do. Check out our guide to cleaning portobello, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms here.
For the sausage, slit it down the middle and remove the casing. Got some pent up aggression to let out? Good. So do I. Take it out on the sausage by mashing the bejeezus out of it using a potato masher when you're cooking it. This will help to break it up into very fine pieces (and is way easier than trying to do that with a wooden spoon).
Once the sausage is browned, transfer it to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, but make sure to leave all that glorious fat behind.
Next up, increase the heat to high, then add your sliced mushrooms. It will seem at first that you are adding way too many. Don't worry.
As the mushrooms cook until they start to release a ton of moisture and collapse down into the pan. That moisture will, in turn, eventually evaporate leaving your mushrooms and oil behind. This is when the real magic happens: unencumbered by their liquid, your mushrooms can now start to brown.
Make sure to let them brown thoroughly. I can't tell you the number of times an otherwise delicious meal was wrecked by improperly browned mushrooms. Then add the shallots and garlic.
Though soy sauce is typically an Asian ingredient, I use it in a ton of Western-style dishes, particularly those with mushrooms. It adds an intense savory quality to them that enhances their natural flavor. Lemon juice also perks them up.
You could use straight up half & half (or milk), but I prefer the flavor you get from using a mixture of both heavy cream and chicken stock (either store-bought low-sodium stock or homemade stock will do). I use a cup of cream and two cups of chicken stock.
The real trick is to add it nice and slow so that it doesn't lump up. Bring it to a boil and it should thicken nicely.
Once it's fully thickened, grate in a good amount of real parmesan cheese (and I'm talking the actual imported kind—skip the domestic stuff, none of it is worth using).
Stir in the rest of the parsley and chives then add the reserved sausage. Season everything to taste with salt and lots of black pepper.
If you are the type who keeps warm biscuits lying around, I would not begrudge you stopping right now to ladle some of this stuff over 'em and calling it a day.
But if you prefer to go on, the next step is to cook up some pasta. I used fresh pasta for these photos, but it works just fine with dried pasta as well, so long as it's a small, gnarled or tubular shape (all the better for trapping creamy sauce and bits of sausage and mushroom). The key is to slightly under-cook it, as it'll keep cooking in the pan. You'll also want to reserve some of the cooking water to adjust the consistency of your sauce.
Dump your sauce on top of your cooked pasta and stir it all together, adding extra cooking water as necessary. You're looking for a super loose (but not soupy) texture. The pasta will absorb a little more liquid and some sauce will evaporate as it bakes, so it's better to err on the side of too loose at this stage.
Transfer the mixture right back into the skillet and preheat your broiler to high.
Sprinkle the pasta with an even (and thick!) layer of the seasoned bread crumbs and transfer it to the broiler to brown and crisp. You'll want to keep it relatively far from the heating element—eight to 10 inches is optimal—so that you get even browning instead of singeing in spots. Even so, you'll want to peek in every once in a while and rotate the pan as necessary. It shouldn't take more than a couple minutes overall.
Now doesn't that look pretty? Use a big spoon to break through that crusty exterior and uncover the creamy, sausage-y, mushroom-packed joy hiding underneath.
I know a few folks (mostly relatives) who could use a bit more joy hiding underneath their crusty exteriors.
It's nice to try and serve each portion while keeping the breadcrumbs on top, but the truth is, I actually like mixing the bread crumbs in so that you get a nice variety of textures with each bite, the crisp crumbs crunching under your teeth unexpectedly.
I told you simple pleasures is what we were after here today, right?
1 cup panko-style bread crumbs
6 ounces grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
2 small shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces Italian sausage (mild or hot), removed from casings
1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, shiitake, and oyster), cleaned and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried ridged pasta such as rotini or campanelle
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and keep at a bare simmer. Combine bread crumbs, 2 ounces cheese, half of parsley, half of chives, 1/4 of shallots, 1/4 of garlic, and olive oil in a medium bowl and massage with hands until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add sausage and cook, mashing it with a potato masher or a wooden spoon until broken up and well browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a small bowl, leaving fat behind.
Increase heat to high, add mushrooms to skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to combine.
Add flour and cook, stirring, until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in chicken stock followed by heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining grated cheese until melted. Stir in remaining parsley and chives. Stir in sausage. Season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper.
Adjust rack to 10 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, removing it when still just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return to pot. Add mushroom mixture and stir to combine, adding liquid to adjust consistency. Pasta should be very loose but not soupy. Return to cast iron skillet and top with bread crumbs. Broil until golden brown, rotating pan as necessary, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 43g||55%|
|Saturated Fat 21g||104%|
|Total Carbohydrate 58g||21%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||45%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|