Perugia restaurant, Missoula’s old-world culinary stronghold for over a decade, will soon make the transition from fine food to fond memory. Ray Risho, the founding father, officially retired over a year ago. Sons Abe and Sam, who carried on the tradition since then, are soon off to trod new paths. May 28 will be the restaurant’s last day of business.
What memories they’ve left behind! For me, tops were the Ports of Call World Cooking Series dinners, which took me all the way from Malaysia to Morocco, from Syria—the land of Ray’s parents—to Sicily (the only time I ever cried at opera). I’ll never forget Steak and Martini night, 10 cuts of meat cooked in one of eight sauces, alongside the biggest martini menu in Missoula. And, of course, family nights—Italian on Tuesday; Greek on Thursday—when the portions could feed a small nation.
I was at the Perugia bar one Tuesday when a woman came in for take-out. “Twenty bucks,” she said. “Me, my husband and kids get mushroom linguini.”
Linguini con Funghi e Formaggio, which means linguini with mushrooms and cheese, is Perugia’s most popular dish, according to Ray Risho. To help Missoula survive its upcoming lonely Tuesday nights, he agreed to show us how to make it.
We stood in Ray’s home kitchen, beside The Wolf, his big stove. Ray pulled on his chef’s coat. “My son Abe and I created this recipe,” he said.
I’ve been privy to recipes from Perugia’s binder. Unlike the food in which they result, these recipes are lean, just a few taut words. To follow them, you need to know that XVOO stands for extra-virgin olive oil, and how to fold, drizzle, glaze, wrap, shape, roll and net various stages of the meal.
While his quantities are geared for restaurant volume, Ray made a good-faith attempt to translate his recipe to a smaller scale. That meant getting a little technical. “To make a quantity that feeds two people, we want 3 cups of cooked pasta. A pound of dry pasta makes 8 cups. To end up with 3 cups, use 3/8 pound of dry pasta.”
Ray pulled his kitchen scale from the cabinet. “This is not really a laboratory dish, but a lot of people these days want laboratory specifications,” he said, winking as he weighed out 3/8 pound of linguini.
For non-technicians, this is a thick-but-not-enormous handful of linguini.
Ray heated two quarts of water, with 1/8 cup of salt, adding the pasta when it boiled.
While it cooked, Ray chopped fresh basil, oregano and parsley until he had 3/4 cup, lightly packed. He grated 1/3 cup of parmesan and romano cheese. He mashed five cloves of garlic. He sliced two cups of mushrooms: white button, crimini, portobello, morel, oyster and shitake.
If you don’t have all these different mushrooms, don’t worry. I’ll be in Alaska this summer on morel safari, and you can bet I’ll be cooking up a camp version of Linguini con Funghi e Formaggio with at least two cups of morels.
When the linguini was al dente (with just a receding sliver of dry, white center), Ray used a pasta claw to scoop the noodles from the boiling water into a dish, where he tossed them generously in 3 tablespoons olive oil, and set them aside.
In a large skillet (Ray used a wok), combine 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of pine nuts and the mashed garlic. Toss the nuts just until they start to brown. “A common mistake many cooks make,” says Ray, “is over-browning the nuts.” When they begin to turn color, add the mushrooms, tossing, tossing. Season with 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper and “a kiss of salt.”
When the fungus starts to brown, toss in the herbs, then the pasta, then add the juice of half a juicy lemon. (“Careful,” Risho cautions, “lemon seeds look like pine nuts.”)
After tossing in 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, Ray found the mixture “a little dry.” So he scooped 3 or 4 tablespoons of the starchy pasta water into the pasta, adding moisture and body.
Then he transferred the fragrant mixture onto a large plate, garnishing with a handful of pomegranate seeds and the rest of the grated cheese. He squeezed a quarter lemon over the loaded plate and placed the remaining quarter lemon on top.
“The red of the pomegranate, the green of the herbs, and the white of the cheese reflect the colors of the Italian flag,” Ray pointed out as we sat down to eat.
Ray is a master of using pomegranate seeds to unlock flavor. They add a tart kick that cuts through fat like fireworks in your mouth, not unlike a sip of wine. I savored the flavors as Ray discussed the theory involved.
“The fat carries the flavor. This flavor is a traditional Mediterranean, which is a combination of sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. Basil and pine nuts: sweet. Lemon and pomegranate: sour. Garlic and parsley: bitter. Cheese and salt: salt.”
Grazie, Ray Risho and family, for yet another lesson, and for years of culinary adventure and joy.