Oh you can tell Autumn has arrived. Apart from the cold and crisp air, the sun setting earlier, the more and more compelling need of hibernation, and the fact that I’m getting a cold… Pasta is back!!
Yes, I know. After months of trying to be “healthy”, the number one staple of Italian cuisine stormed back into my life. And I couldn’t love it more. I mean, come on! Would you eat a refreshing cucumber and tomato salad when outside the weather is miserable and cold? I’m sorry, I wouldn’t. At the same time though, trying to be sensible, I allow myself to enjoy pasta only once a week, giving more space to other starches such as rice, barley and spelt.
Anyway, this recipe was my lunch last Sunday, a day dedicated to relax and Super Mario Sunshine (yes, I’m also kind of a geek). I had a pack of giant penne pasta sitting in the cupboard since a while (a story never heard on this blog), as well as a can of sliced button mushrooms in water. I think the recipe needs to be improved, especially because I realised I was lacking some fundamental ingredients WHILE I was cooking, but overall the result was not bad at all. I might add some hints and thoughts at the end of it, and I’ll definitely post an update in the future. For now though, I’ll stick to what I used.
INGREDIENTS (serves 2)
- 160g giant pasta (about 7 units per person)
- 1 can (300g) sliced button mushrooms in water
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Splash of white wine
- 1 heaped tablespoon cream cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
First, peel the clove of garlic, chop it roughly and tip it into a saucepan with the olive oil. Fry it and in the meantime drain the mushrooms from the water, keeping an eye on the garlic to prevent it from burning. Add the mushrooms to the pan, cook for 3-4 minutes (they are already boiled, so it won’t take long). Pour a splash of white wine onto the mushrooms, add spinach of salt and some pepper, and simmer until reduced.
It’s time to cook the pasta. Now, generally those big formats are made for pasta bakes, so you’ll find oven cooking times, which are generally longer than boiling ones. Hence, I won’t say cook according to packet instructions, because the boiling time is merely empirical. I found that the format I used cooks in approximately 15 minutes. I added one more unit to the pan for tasting (you won’t serve munched pasta to your guests, would you?) and tasted it time after time to get the right “al dente” texture. Oh, also add a tablespoon of olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking.
While the pasta is boiling, tip the cooked mushrooms in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and purée them. Return to the saucepan, and over a low heat spoon in the cream cheese. Stir until melted, if the sauce is too thick add a splash of warm water.
Drain the pasta, tip it on a plate, and spoon over the mushroom cream. Drizzle with olive oil and grind some fresh pepper.
Right. As I said at the beginning, this recipe definitely needs some improvements. I’ll discuss them in points.
- Canned vs. Fresh mushrooms. The texture of canned mushrooms is too rubbery in my opinion. They are very good sautéed and served over chicken breast, but to prepare a creamy pasta sauce I think fresh mushrooms are way better. Oh, and button mushrooms are quite pale, so the sauce does not stand out enough when spooned over the pasta. Next time I’ll try to mix fresh button mushrooms with some dry porcini soaked in water. They both add colour and flavour. And the water can be used to dilute the sauce if it’s too thick without losing any flavour.
- Onions. The sauce definitely needs onions in addition to the garlic to provide an earthier flavour.
- Cream cheese vs. Cream. Thickening a sauce with cream cheese is good if the base is courgettes, ham or smoked salmon. To me it didn’t work with mushrooms at all. Single or even double cream is the best option.
- Parsley. It’s a marriage made in heaven with mushrooms. The addition of fresh parsley is required.
As you can see, this first attempt has its flaws. It wasn’t disgusting, don’t get me wrong, but there is LARGE space for improvement. To be honest with you though, this was not the first time I tried to serve giant pasta in a non-baked way. I made it with vegetables and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan, and it wasn’t that bad either.
Do you have other suggestions on how to improve this recipe?