October tinges this land of warm, watercolor-like hues.
This unexpected, but welcome, pleasant sunny weather delays dreams of cozy afternoons spent indoors, like a sleepy snooze to our fall alarm clocks. Time stands still like the oak leaves that a re surrendering to the season – their colors yellowing, in a fashion similar to that of people’s hair when they turn gray.As those leaves try to clasp onto the branches with their last breath of life, we enjoy making plans on how to use up the last droplets of sunlight.
But the air is indeed getting chillier, and we gladly turn on our ovens, ready to embrace new harvests and dust off our fall recipes as we would do for a seasonal wardrobe change.
In the Marche region’s inland,which thrives with products of the cold months, the hunt for truffles and porcini mushrooms started October 1st. Festivals dedicated to these gifts of nature start to take place, and the faint sunlight filtering through the misty woods on the Montefeltro area is the background of a season that does not even seem that cold, after all.
And now, let us imagine mushroom and truffle hunters offering their bountiful finds to lovely Elenore from Earthsprout, who kindly asked me to take part in her awesome blog!
I decided to make this pasta to celebrate a real Italian sunday meal, but with a vegan twist. It is rich, but all the ingredients are nice and clean and make for a truly warming sunday lunch or dinner that celebrates the season.
Of some other products of the late fall months I will talk about in the 1st issue of Provencial Magazine, which comes out in November (get your copy!). There, you will read the true story of the meeting between a farmer and a rich photographer, set in 1960, amidst the truffle and mushroom-laden woods of the Montefeltro area. It is an essay full of suggestive pictures permeated by the bright fall mood – some of which are the work of Paolo, a friend of mine (like this awesome picture of the trees and light shining through).
This vegan pasta bake takes full advantage of this season and this place, which is world-famous for porcini and truffle. Acqualagna, along with Alba, is the world capital of truffles.
But this is a story that I will talk about in the near future.
For now, all I am going to say is that my mom could not believe it when she tried this, and my dad even said it was better then the regular version. This vegan bechamel (which is widely used in Italy and is called ‘besciamella’) is certainly no novelty in the vegan food world, but here is my own version for you to enjoy. It can be made with either almond milk or hazelnut milk – hazelnuts are in season and we are blessed with two trees loaded with them.
‘Boscaiola’, the name of this style of pasta, derives from the word ‘bosco’, which means ‘woods, forest’ and indicates a pasta sauce with peas and mushrooms. In most cases, Boscaiola is made with either Prosciutto or sausage, but we will compensate the lack thereof with some wonderful truffle paste. Truffle paste is actually a mix of truffle and porcini mushrooms, otherwise the costs would be unapproachable (also have a look at this selection!), that you can find in most italian groceries and supermarkets – especially when the season is right. I know truffle paste can be on the pricey side, but a little goes a long way and you can use it as a weekend treat. If it is easier to find or cheaper, go ahead and use truffle oil instead. If you can’t find any, or for some reason do not want to use truffle, I encourage you to try this pasta all the same, omitting the truffle. The bechamel ties it all together in an intensely flavored concoction, and the sauce itself is delicious in its simplicity. You could try and use a combination of mushrooms – I recommend porcini and button.
This is Sunday comfort food at its best. I hope you can try out this pasta and make your sunday lunches a little more awesome, and bring into your homes a whiff of the wondeful smells of the Italian fall.
Vegan Shell Pasta Bake with Mushrooms & Truffle
For the pasta
200g Shell pasta, preferably the large kind
500g / 18 oz Cremini mushrooms, or a mix of porcini, champignons, button…
1 small yellow onion
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbsp truffle paste
1-2 tbsps fine breadcrumbs
Salt and Pepper
For the vegan bechamel
50g Extra virgin olive oil
5oo ml / 2 cups homemade almond or hazelnut milk
A good grating of nutmeg
1 tsp salt, or to taste
EXTRA: 1 tbsp nutritional yeast