Rigatoni Pasta with Mushrooms, Sage and Brown Butter

We don't usually like to get up early on days off, but for a farmer's market, we gladly will. The farm-to-table experience is not something you can get in most grocery stores, where produce may have traveled as far as halfway around the world to sit on a Walmart shelf. This short distance from field to plate is evident in the way produce can look and taste: If you've ever eaten a homegrown, summer heirloom tomato, you'd know that it is a dimension away from those grown in any greenhouse. We enjoy farmer's markets because they encourage us to eat locally and seasonally.

What's more, if you were born with defective green thumbs-- like us-- it's all the more reason to go cherish, gawk and support the efforts of those who do posses them. Questions and conversation are also welcome; proud growers are usually more than happy to talk about their food. 

It's hard to walk among the aisles and tents and feel sleepy, even for the most enthusiastic of weekend snooze button hitters. All the colors, smells, and textures ignite the senses-- especially when spotting beautiful mushrooms in the corner of your eye.

On our last trip to the Old Market in Omaha, these yellow, pink, and white oyster mushrooms, along with a more rare find-- lion's mane, were the highlights of our visit. 

Pasta is a great vehicle to showcase mushrooms. In this recipe, the brown butter, crispy sage and Parmesan cheese gave the dish a distinct umami-ness, but not so much that they drowned the mushrooms' delicate, earthy flavors. Holy Toledo, it was divine, along with a cheap bottle of Maison Barboulot Cabernet-Syrah we found at Trader's Joe's. 

Measurements below are approximates. It's no sin to be heavy-handed with the butter and cheese.

Servings: 2-4
Prep Time:
Cooking Time:
- 3/4 pound of fresh mushrooms (pictured is lion's mane and oyster), sliced
- Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- 5 tablespoons of salted butter
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- Splash (or two) of dry sherry
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved
- Half pound of rigatoni pasta
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste 

1. Coat the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Brown mushrooms in batches until golden brown on both sides, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Transfer all cooked mushrooms to a plate and set aside. 

2. Lower heat to medium, and add more oil to same pan. Sweat chopped shallot until softened-- do not burn. Return mushrooms to the pan and add a splash or two of dry sherry, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, and allow the alcohol to evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper and take off heat.

3. Cook pasta according to package directions for 2 minutes short of al dente. 

In the meantime, melt butter in a small pan over medium heat. When the foam and milk solids begin to turn brown, lower heat and then carefully add sage leaves and fry until crispy, a few seconds. Do not wash sage beforehand-- they will splatter.

The butter will continue to brown, so watch it carefully. You want it to reach a hazelnut color, but not burnt. Immediately take off heat. 

Drain leaves on paper towels. 

4. Reheat mushrooms over medium-low heat. Transfer drained, under-cooked pasta to the pan with mushrooms and mix in the brown butter. Then add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to further coat pasta-- everything should be glossy.

Add a bit of reserved pasta water to loosen things up. Mix in lemon zest. 

5. Take off heat once everything is incorporate, warmed through and pasta reaches al dente. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Since this is a simple dish, achieving the correct balance of salt is important to bring out the subtle flavors in the other ingredients. If it tastes bland, add more salt.

Serve immediately with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the fried sage leaves on top.