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Porcini, Pork & Peppers Pasta

Porcini, Pork & Peppers Pasta
  

Porcini mushrooms! Someone once called them "one of God's greatest gifts to humanity" and I certainly concur. Although the fresh ones are almost never available in the U.S., a good dried porcini is worth every cent of the $30 to $40 a pound they usually cost. Meaty, aromatic and versatile, they can be used alone or in combination with fresh mushrooms, to which they add a deep, almost smokey flavor. And while the flavor is delicate, it has enough power to stand out in a combination like this one, and to hold its own in the presence of a big-flavored red wine. I buy them in large jars so I'm never without a supply on hand since I cook with them every chance I get.

This dish is typical of a way that I use up leftover meats. It works well with beef or chicken, with minor modifications, but this week I had some leftover cooked pork. The combination of the meaty porcini mushrooms with the tender, flavorful pork was a winner.

1 lb roast pork
1 medium onion, sliced vertically into little crescents
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 tomato, peeled and seeded and sliced in narrow wedges (or 1 T tomato paste)
1 C red wine
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 lb fresh linguine
1 sweet red pepper, cored and sliced vertically
1/4 C parmeggiano reggiano, shredded
2 T basil, minced
2 T parsley, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
salt, hot sauce, to taste

Place the porcini in a small bowl, cover with water and microwave for 2 - 3 minutes. Let them stand in the hot water while you prepare the pork, onions and peppers.

Sauté onions slowly in olive oil in large heavy skillet, about 6 minutes, until starting to soften. Add peppers and raise heat and sauté two minutes more, stirring constantly, until the onions start to brown at the edges. Remove to a side plate.

Slice the pork very thinly. If the slices are larger than about 1-1/2" across, cut in 1/2 - 1" strips. Set aside.

Carefully lift the porcini from the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon, allowing them to drain for a few seconds over the liquid. Reserve the liquid.

Heat the skillet until hot but not smoking, add olive oil if necessary, then sauté the porcini, stirring. When their color darkens slightly and they start to dry out, add the wine, the tomato, the nutmeg and the reserved soaking liquid (pour through a fine sieve and do not use the very last few drops, to avoid the sediment that unavoidably comes along with the porcini). Over high heat, reduce the liquid to a slightly thick, gravy-like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the onions. Correct seasoning.

Cook the pasta al dente. Place the skillet on a medium flame and, with tongs, lift the pasta directly from the cooking water into the skillet, allowing a little bit of the pasta water to ride along.

Add the cheese, herbs, and garlic and toss to warm and combine the sauce with the pasta for about a minute. Turn into a warmed pasta bowl and garnish with minced fresh herbs. Serve with a salad, crusty French bread and a hearty red wine (I prefer a good Chianti with this).

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