Friends, I've held out as long as I can. I'm talking pasta in this post. And you can't talk about pasta and not talk about Italy. I was reminded this week by a dear friend that I have "really held back on the Italy stuff, which I know is hard for you." And y'all, it's true! My love of Italy is so real-if you've been around me for more than, say, half an hour, you've heard it and you know!
Pasta gets kind of a myriad of reactions these days, have y'all noticed that? Such a shame. Because in Italy (See? Here I go!), people eat it, enjoy it, and don't think twice about it. Because it is JUST a food. Like any other food. But stateside, people seem to attach this morality to it. This whole set of values about being "so bad" or "cheating" if they "indulge."
If you get just one thing out of this post, let it be that it's OKAY to enjoy pasta (and every other food). And food it more than just the nutrients it provides!
I'm so glad to have spent the time in Italy that I have; the experiences I've had there have actually been really formative (pasta pun not intended!) for me. Seeing the food culture there-it isn't one based on shame, judgment, rules, or stress. It's based on nourishment, love, joy, and creativity. The beauty of food. HOW CRAZY IS THAT?!
So, on to the actual recipe! This pasta this so luxurious but light at the same time. It lends itself to some fun adaptations but is simple enough to throw together on a busy evening, too. Let's talk ingredients:
Pasta: Use any shape you like! Have fun with this-remember, food is as creative and beautiful as much as it is filled with nutrition. My preference is to use pasta with ridges because the ridges help the sauce hold onto the pasta.
Mushrooms: the original recipe called for 3 types, but I decided to modify it based on what made sense grocery-wise. I used regular white button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms, but you could definitely substitute cremini/baby bella (the small brown ones) mushrooms or portabella mushrooms (the big ones-just make sure to use a spoon to remove the gills! See how-to here). Mushrooms are so nutrient dense! They have fiber and many vitamins and minerals, like any other vegetable. But the most interesting nutrient they provide, in my opinion, is Vitamin D. They are the only vegetable that is a source of Vitamin D and it's because mushroom growers use UV lights to add to the low levels of Vitamin D already present in mushrooms! Tell me that's not cool.
Thyme: It may feel tempting to forgo the "specialty" seasonings like fresh herbs or certain spices, but I can say from experience that it's worth your THYME (couldn't resist that one). Most grocery stores sell fairly small packages of fresh herbs since they are popular but not always needed in huge quantities. If you prefer, you can also buy dried herbs, as these have a long shelf-life. Just use about half of the quantity specified for the fresh variety. As the old saying goes, a little goes a long way. Here, you can use the thyme called for in the recipe and toss some of the leftover leaves into soup, scrambled eggs (trust me!), or in between slices of bread when making grilled cheese. There's a great tool here called the Loose Leaf for stemming the thyme before chopping it!
Crème Fraîche: Raise your hand if you've never heard of this. Well friends, prepare to meet your new secret weapon! Creme fraiche is a cheese-like product made by adding cultures (think yogurt, buttermilk) to heavy cream, and friends, it is heavenly! It is usually in the deli/specialty cheese section of grocery stores, and isn't too expensive considering a "dab will do ya!" I used the leftovers as a sour-cream type topping for fish tacos and stirred into a vinaigrette for pasta salad. If you can't find it, though, regular sour cream can work in this recipe.
Springtime Mushroom Pasta
Makes 4 small entree servings
4 ounces uncooked rigatoni pasta (or any other shape you fancy)
8 ounces shiitake or portabella mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used 1/2 regular olive oil, 1/2 garlic infused!)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
5 garlic cloves, minced (2 1/2 tsp if you prefer pre-chopped garlic)
8 ounces cremini or button mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or coconut aminos
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, optional for garnish
1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, making sure to add a pinch of salt once the water boils. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and set aside (for more details on this, check out this post); drain pasta.
2. While pasta cooks, remove stems from the shiitake mushrooms. If you're using portabella mushrooms, scrape out the black gills from the underside of portobella caps with a spoon; discard them. Cut each portobello cap in half; cut each half crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Cut shiitake caps into 1/2-inch slices.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add thyme and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cremini/button mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the shiitakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Depending on the pan you use, you may need to cook the mushrooms in two batches to keep them from steaming because the pan is crowded. As Julia Child said, "Don't crowd the mushrooms (see the below photo)!!"
4. Stir in the soy sauce and cook until absorbed. Stir in crème fraîche, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Add pasta; toss gently to coat. Stir in remaining cooking liquid as needed to reach desired consistency. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.