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Mezze Maniche con Porcini, Mollica e Finocchietto -- Mezze Maniche with Porcini, Bread Crumbs, and Wild Fennel

Mezze Maniche are similar to penne but shorter and broader; in their absence use rigatoni. The porcini should be fresh; if you cannot find them use portabello mushrooms. The combination of anchovies and mushrooms is typical of both Liguria and Lazio. To serve 4 as a first course you'll need:

  • 14 ounces (350 g) mezze maniche
  • 12 ounces (300 g) fresh porcini
  • 3 salted anchovies
  • 2 ounces (50 g) coarse bread crumbs
  • The leaves from a few springs of wild fennel (or from the leafy fronds of bulb fennel, with some ground fennel seed added)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • A clove of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Set pasta water to boil.

Brush the dirt off the mushrooms, trim and discard the roots, and slice the mushrooms vertically. Rinse the anchovies, bone them, and pat the filets dry.

Crush the garlic clove and sauté it in a quarter cup of oil until it browns, then fish it out and discard it. Stir in the mushrooms, lower the flame, add the wine, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Crumble the anchovy filets into the pot and mix well; when they have dissolved check seasoning and add a generous grind of black pepper.

While the mushrooms are cooking, heat some more oil in a skillet and cook the breadcrumbs until golden, then remove them from the oil and drain them on absorbent paper. Combine them with the fennel.

Cook the pasta, season it with the mushroom sauce, and divvy it into your pasta bowls. Dust each with some of the breadcrumb mixture, and serve.

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