SERVES 6 TO 8 FIRST-COURSE SERVINGS
Pennette is a type of macaroni that resembles small quill pens. They are either ridged (pennette rigate) or smooth, and vary in length. For this dish, a specialty of Tre Vaselle, a charming hotel and cooking school nestled among the Lungarotti vineyards of Torgiano, the pennette are no more than ¼-inch long. The method of browning the pasta first makes an unusual, but hearty dish.
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
5½ tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound pennette rigate
6 tablespoons brandy
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
3½ cups hot chicken broth
6 tablespoons heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fine sea salt to taste
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Place the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with cold water, and soak for about 30 minutes or until they are soft. Drain the porcini, dice them, and set aside. Reserve the liquid.
In a skillet at least 14 inches wide and 2 inches deep, heat 3½ tablespoons olive oil until hot. Add the pennette and brown quickly, about 7 or 8 minutes, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to burn them. They should look unevenly toasted. Add the brandy, continue to stir, and let the alcohol evaporate. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the porcini and shiitake mushrooms, and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the parsley, sauté 1 minute more, and set aside.
Return the skillet with the pennette to the heat. Add enough broth to almost cover them, plus ½ cup reserved soaking liquid. Stir the mixture well, bring to a boil, cover the pan, lower the heat, and cook for 6 or 7 minutes, stirring often. The pennette should be cooked only until very al dente, almost crunchy.
Uncover the pan, raise the heat, and let the remaining liquid almost totally evaporate. Add the mushroom and parsley mixture, combining well, then add the cream and cheese, and continue to stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the salt and pepper, mix well, and serve immediately.
Note: Use the smallest penne you can find; you probably won't be able to find the tiny variety that the recipe traditionally uses.
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