Mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients because of how much meatiness they add to everything from stir-fries to soups. Here, they are combined with plenty of garlic and thyme, along with crispy shards of prosciutto for good measure. The result is a savory, earthy mushroom pasta that’s easy to make and just as easy to love.
But there’s one step that makes all the difference in how delicious this pasta can be: Take the time to caramelize the mushrooms.
How to Caramelize Mushrooms
Sautéing mushrooms is well and good, but caramelizing them really ups the ante in terms of flavor and texture. This one step takes this recipe (and other mushroom recipes) from good to great. And if you’re going to caramelize those cremini mushrooms (also known as Baby Bellas), you’ll want to know the secret to getting a perfect deep, golden brown crust: Cook the mushrooms in batches.
Cooking the mushrooms in batches may seem fussy, but it’s for good reason. Mushrooms need space to caramelize. Crowd all the mushrooms in the pan and the liquid they naturally release won’t have enough room to evaporate. This causes the mushrooms to steam rather than brown. Ideally, you want the mushrooms in a single-layer
I also recommend opting for bite-size mushroom quarters instead of thin slices. They’re easier to grab with a forkful of pasta and they match the pasta’s al dente-ness. Related: It’s worth noting that while we appreciate a good grocery-store shortcut, we think pre-sliced mushrooms aren’t worth it. They just don’t stay fresh as long as whole mushrooms, they’re more difficult to clean, and you’ll pay more (and produce more waste) for those inferior mushrooms, too.
A Few Additional Recipe Notes
You can easily make this recipe vegetarian by skipping the prosciutto and vegan by leaving out both the prosciutto and the Parmesan. If you do so, you might want to double-down on mushrooms. You can never have too many!
This recipe calls for campanelle and we’re partial to Sfoglini Trumpets. Made with organic semolina flour, they’re high in protein and fiber and have zero sugar.
Reprinted with permission from Mediterranean Every Day: Simple, Inspired Recipes for Feel-Good Food (Harvard Common Press, September 2020).
Caramelized Mushroom Pasta with Crispy Prosciutto
PREP TIME00 min
COOK TIME00 min
4 thin prosciutto slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
12 ounces campanelle, or other short pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
Heat a large, high-sided sauté. pan or skillet over medium heat. Add 2 prosciutto slices to the pan, in a single layer, and cook until they curl and are lightly browned underneath, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the prosciutto and let cook until browned on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer the prosciutto to a paper towel–lined plate and repeat with the remaining 2 slices.
Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the pan. Add half the mushrooms in a single layer (try to get as many cut-side down as you can, but don’t stress too much about it), and cook undisturbed until browned well on the bottom but not fully cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions for al dente, about 9 minutes.
Once the second batch of mushrooms is browned well on the bottom, return the rest of the mushrooms to the pan and add the garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms are fragrant and just tender, about 2 minutes more. Pour the wine into the pan and simmer, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan, until some but not all of the liquid has evaporated, 1 minute or less; remove from the heat.
When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup pasta water with a measuring cup, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta and reserved pasta water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook, tossing and stirring, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce thickens and coats the pasta, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Break the prosciutto into small pieces and stir half into the pasta. Serve garnished with the remaining prosciutto and shaved Parmesan.