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Pasta alla Boscaiola (“woodsman-style pasta”) features a rich blend of mushrooms and bacon tossed with pasta in a silky garlic-herb tomato cream sauce. It’s earthy, smoky, creamy and unbelievably delicious.
If I could gather all of my favorite things into a single pasta dish, pasta alla boscaiola would be it. ♡
Somehow I never crossed paths with this classic Tuscan “woodsman-style” pasta until a few years ago. But the moment I saw its ingredients listed on the menu of our favorite cozy neighborhood artisan pasta shop, I knew instantly that this pasta would be love at first, savory, al dente bite. I mean, a rich blend of mushrooms (including Italy’s beloved porcini), chewy diced pancetta (or bacon or sausage), loads of sautéed shallots and garlic, chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, all tossed together with al dente pasta in a rich white wine tomato cream sauce and finished with a sprinkling of freshly-grated Parmesan?
COUNT ME IN.
This dish is unapologetically rich and indulgent and packed with bold mushroom flavor. And while there are countless regional variations on ways to prepare pasta alla boscaiola around Italy, this particular recipe that I’m sharing here today has become my personal favorite.
As I explain more below, boscaiola sauces are traditionally made with foraged mushrooms (hence the name, as bosca means “forest”). But since we live about as far away from the forest here as possible here in Barcelona’s city center, and fresh wild mushrooms can be difficult to come by, I’ve written this version instead using fresh baby bella and dried porcini mushrooms that are much more available to us here year-round. Dried porcinis also give us a extra bonus in this recipe because, in addition to being chopped and added to the pasta, we get to add the hot veggie broth used to soften them to the pasta sauce as well, which amps up the umami mushroom flavor in this dish even more. Yum.
I also love using salty, chewy diced pancetta in this recipe, but smoky thick-cut bacon or Italian sausage would work well here too. Or if you prefer to make this dish vegetarian, you can omit the meat altogether and I can vouch that it will still be delicious. I’ve also included lots of options for variations in the notes below, including how to make your version gluten-free or incorporate other add-ins traditionally used in pasta boscaiola around various parts of Italy. Whatever variation you choose, you really can’t go wrong here.
Bottom line, pasta alla boscaiola is total comfort food that has become a total favorite here in our home. So go round up some of your favorite mushrooms, and let’s cook a batch together!
Pasta alla Boscaiola FAQ
Once again, we have Italy with its rich food traditions to thank for this gem of a dish. So before we move onto the recipe, here are a few important things to learn first about pasta alla boscaiola…
- How do you pronounce boscaiola? First, let’s all get this right! It’s pronounced boh-skahy-OH-lah in Italian. Take a listen here.
- What does boscaiola mean? Boscaiola translates to mean “woodcutter” or “lumberjack” in Italian (or since it’s feminine, the term historically often used to refer to a woodcutter’s wife). The dish is said to have originally been inspired by the mushrooms, herbs and veggies that lumberjacks would bring home from the forest. Nowadays, there are countless variations of boscaiola sauces in Italy, but in the term generally refers to a sauce made with mushrooms, often foraged.
- Where did pasta alla boscaiola originate? Pasta alla boscaiola is said to have originated in the forests of the Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, but variations can be found all over the country.
- How do regional versions differ? From what I’ve read, pasta alla boscaiola always features mushrooms, but there is no standard recipe for the dish across Italy. Rather, variations from region to region (or trattoria to trattoria) can differ as to their inclusion of fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, cream, peas, olives, extra veggies, or sausage (vs pancetta or bacon), amongst other ingredients.
Pasta alla Boscaiola Ingredients
Before we get to the full pasta boscaiola recipe below, here are a few notes about the ingredients you will need for this recipe…
- Fresh mushrooms: I opted to simply use baby bella mushrooms, since they are easy to find at our neighborhood market. But a mix of fresh wild mushrooms (bonus points if they’re foraged!) would be more traditional and absolutely delicious in this recipe too.
- Dried porcini mushrooms: You will need one ounce of Italy’s beloved porcini mushrooms for this recipe, which I typically purchase dried and reconstitute in hot broth until softened. To make the most of their deep, nutty, earthy flavor, we will chop the mushrooms to add to the pasta and use some of that rich mushroom-y vegetable stock in the sauce.
- Vegetable broth: I used hot veggie broth to soften the mushrooms, but chicken or beef stock would work well too.
- Pancetta (or thick-cut bacon): As mentioned above, I love the salty flavor and chewy bite of diced pancetta in this recipe, but thick-cut bacon would work well if you are interested in a smokier flavor.
- Shallots and garlic: We will use lots of finely-chopped shallots and garlic to season the sauce, and sauté then in the leftover pancetta grease for extra flavor.
- Fresh herbs: I added lots of fresh rosemary and thyme, whose earthy flavors pair perfectly with the mushrooms.
- Seasonings: You will also need crushed red pepper flakes, fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to season the pasta.
- Dry white wine: I recommend a good dry white wine to deglaze the pan and add some extra depth of flavor to the sauce. See substitution note below, however, if you prefer not to cook with alcohol.
- Tomatoes: We will use a combination of crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted, if they are available to you) and tomato paste as the base for our tomato sauce.
- Pasta: I used mezzi rigatoni, but just about any pasta shape or noodle that you prefer can work in this recipe.
- Heavy cream: We will finish the sauce with a pour of heavy cream (or you can use half and half, if you prefer).
- Parmesan: And finally, I recommend sprinkling on lots of freshly-grated Parm on each serving. Always so good.
Here are a few ways that you are welcome to customize this pasta alla boscaiola recipe…
- Make it vegetarian: Omit the pancetta and use some extra olive oil or butter to sauté the veggies (in place of the pancetta grease).
- Make it gluten-free: Use a gluten-free pasta. The other ingredients should all be naturally gluten-free, but double-check the labels as always to be sure.
- Use sausage: Many traditional variations use ground Italian sausage in place of pancetta or bacon, which would also be delicious.
- Omit the wine: If you prefer to cook without alcohol, just add in an extra cup of broth plus a splash of red wine vinegar in place of the white wine.
- Add in some extras: Peas, olives, sun-dried tomatoes (in place of crushed) are also traditional ingredients you’re welcome to add in.
- Amp up the mushrooms: I typically actually make this recipe with a 1.5-ounce package of dried porcinis to intensify their flavor even more, which I find delicious. But since dried porcinis are typically sold in 1-ounce packages in the States (and they are significantly more expensive there), I reduced the amount slightly for this recipe. As mentioned above, you can also add more complex mushroom flavor by using a mix of fresh mushroom varieties instead of just one.
More Classic Italian Pasta Recipes
Looking for more classic Italian pasta recipes to try? Here are a few faves we always love in our home…
Pasta alla Boscaiola (“woodsman-style pasta”) features a rich blend of mushrooms and bacon tossed with pasta in a silky garlic-herb tomato cream sauce. See notes above for potential ingredient variations.
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 6 ounces pancetta (or thick-cut bacon), finely diced
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, quartered
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound uncooked pasta (I used mezzi rigatoni)
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- freshly-grated Parmesan, for topping
- Soften the mushrooms. In a medium saucepan, stir together the broth and dried porcini. Bring the stock to a simmer over high heat. Then reduce to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender.
- Heat the pasta water. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously-salted water to a boil for the pasta.
- Fry the pancetta. Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes or until the fat has rendered. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a clean plate and set aside. Leave about 1.5 tablespoons of the pancetta grease in the pan and discard the rest. (Or if there’s not enough grease, add a bit of olive oil at any point while sautéing the veggies.)
- Sauté the veggies. Add the quartered baby bella mushrooms to the pan and sauté in the pancetta grease, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add the shallots, garlic, rosemary, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, and a few twists of black pepper and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Continue the sauce. Gradually pour in the white wine and use a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, cooked pancetta and stir to combine.
- Chop the mushrooms. Meanwhile, transfer the cooked porcini mushrooms to a cutting board and roughly-chop them into bite-sized pieces. Transfer chopped mushrooms to the tomato sauce, along with 1 ½ cups of the porcini broth. (Be sure to filter the broth through a fine-mesh strainer to avoid any silt that may have gathered in the bottom of the pan.)
- Simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, or however long it takes the pasta to cook.
- Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until 1 minute shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Finish the pasta. Stir the cream into the tomato sauce. Then combine the tomato sauce and cooked pasta in the large stockpot and gently toss for 1-2 minutes until the pasta reaches al dente, adding in a few spoonfuls of the starchy pasta water at a time if needed to thin the sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve. Serve immediately with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.