Some of Italy's favorite pasta dishes are named after the women who traditionally made them, like Pasta alla Boscaiola.
In the fall, pasta alla boscaiola appears on the most rustic Tuscan trattoria menus. Its name implies mushrooms are a key component, with bosco meaning woods and a boscaiola meaning the woodcutter's wife. Presumably, back in the day, those working in the woods would forage for mushrooms for their meals. It's a dish synonymous with autumn when fresh, foraged mushrooms fill the markets and families go out on the weekend expeditions to collect funghi, armed with wide baskets.
The actual recipe changes from household to household, with fresh mushrooms being the only steady ingredient. Olives are common—another seasonal ingredient, as many Tuscans harvest their olives in the fall. Sausage can be replaced with pancetta, or left out all together. Cream very often features in this trattoria favorite, but it's no doubt a gluttonous modern addition. I prefer to use just a splash of it and not too much cheese so you can really taste the full flavor of the wild mushrooms.
In Tuscany, wild, fresh porcini mushrooms are the preference, but any wild mushroom—including chanterelles, chiodini (honey) mushrooms, and pine mushrooms—could be used. If you cannot get these, you can also use regular button mushrooms or Swiss browns and even oyster mushrooms or shimeji mushrooms work here (and a mixture of them is always a good idea). If you can't get fresh porcini, you could add some dried, soaked porcini mushrooms for extra flavor.
The best part of this pasta is it can pretty much be on your plate not much longer than the time it takes for the pasta the boil—an ideal fall quick fix.
And, in case you were wondering about other pasta dish's name origins, here's where a few of them came from:
Rome's spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish named for the wives of the carbonai, the charcoal burners who, for their work, would relocate themselves and their families to live in the mountains from spring to fall. The pasta's classic ingredients—eggs, pecorino cheese, and guanciale—are ones that are easy to conserve for long periods.
Rigatoni alla buttera is a hearty pasta dish named for the wives of butteri. These Maremman cowboys would make their tasty ragu not with beef (ironically, although they were raising cattle, they could not afford to eat it), but with whatever was on hand: sausage, pancetta, chicken livers, or, usually, a mixture.
Even spaghetti alla puttanesca is named for prostitutes in the Spanish quarter of Naples where the colorful dish of tomatoes, olives, and capers supposedly originated. Some find the name controversial and mysterious and there are many theories that attempt to explain its origin. Arthur Schwartz, in Naples at Table, proposes the dish looks like the colorful clothes the prostitutes wore to attract clients.
- 1/2 pound (approximately 250 grams) wild mushrooms (see note)
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and slightly flattened with the side of a kitchen knife
- 1 Italian (ideally pork and fennel) sausage, about 180 grams or 6 ounces
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine (or water)
- 1/4 cup good-quality olives (such as taggiasche olives)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
- 11 ounces (320 grams) short pasta, such as fusilli or penne
- grated Parmesan cheese, if desired
Tell us: Do you know the origins of your favorite pasta dish?