A great way to cook your puffballs that just about anyone who likes a good bowl of pasta will enjoy is adding them to a simple ragu or wild mushroom pasta sauce.
Puffballs are often really large, and can be a little cumbersome to work with. Slicing them into big, chunky steaks is a good, tried and true preparation for them, but some people find the texture a little different, or don’t care for it, especially if they’re new to wild mushrooms. I know plenty of mushroom hunters who claim to pass them up too, but mostly the only way they’ve tried them is the aforementioned, or just cooked as-is in a slab on the grill.
Personally, I like them any old way, but a little technique can go a long way to making them appealing to puffball skeptics, which is a big part of this recipe.
The big takeaway here is browning the puffballs ever so slowly in butter or another fat, taking your time to let them get golden brown and cook off their natural water, of which they contain a good amount. It will take at least 30 minutes of gentle cooking to get them to where they need to be, but, after that’s done the sauce comes together pretty quick. It’s an easy thing to make ahead, and, once it’s done, you can store it for a few days in the fridge or freeze it for a rainy day.
You could also process and can this in a water bath, adding 1.5 teaspoons of lemon juice to the finished sauce before packing into jars (you would also want to multiply the recipe by at least 5 to make a decent-sized batch).
The finished product is simple, and nostalgic for me. If I close my eyes, I can taste the canned mushroom pasta sauce from a jar that my parents used to keep in the cupboard, just with a better flavor. Of course, you can add different mushrooms if you like, but it’s a pretty darn useful way to sneak those puffballs into a meal.
- 8 oz fresh puffball pristine, firm and pure white (frozen, cooked puffball can also be used)
- 5 oz 1 small yellow onion, diced ¼ inch
- 2 large cloves garlic finely chopped
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 4 oz unsalted butter plus more if the pan gets dry, and more for finishing if you like
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or your favorite herb, or a bit of crushed dried wild bergamot
- 12 oz cooked pasta or ~ half a one pound box of dry pasta
Slowly brown the puffballs
- Cut the puffball into roughly ½ inch slices, then cut them into cubes. In a wide pan, such as a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet, cook them in the butter on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes, or until they’re mostly golden brown and most of their liquid has cooked off. If the pan gets dry, add a little more butter during the process. Take your time here, you really want the puffballs as golden as possible.
- Meanwhile, remove two tomatoes from the can, and squeeze them over a bowl in the sink to remove their seeds, coarsely chop these tomatoes and set them aside. Puree the rest of the can of tomatoes in a blender, then pass them through a sieve to remove the seeds (optional but reccomded). Pour the puree into a bowl and reserve.
- Transfer the browned puffballs to a 2 qt or similar sized saucepot, add the onion and garlic, and cook for 10 minutes more, until the onion and garlic are soft. Add another knob of butter or a splash of water if the pan gets dry. Add the tomato paste and crushed red pepper and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Add the wine and cook it off, then add the tomato puree, turn the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in the herbs, double check the seasoning for salt and adjust as needed, then serve.
- To serve the sauce, heat the sauce in a large saute pan, double check the seasoning again, then add 8 oz of freshly cooked, hot pasta to the sauce.
- Mix the sauce around with the pasta and cook on low heat for a minute. If the pan gets dry, add a splash of pasta cooking water. Remove the noodles from the sauce into waiting, warmed bowls, spoon the excess sauce over each serving, and serve. Pass grated parmesan at the table.