Meaty Mushroom Pasta

mushroom pastaWarning: the foodstuffs here do not look at all like their components. This is a wonderful little guise for those who rabidly desire meat but venture into a tepidly omnivore household that leans toward herbivoraciousness. It’s an entirely mushroom-based pasta sauce, but with the right ingredients becomes rich, succulent, and fulfilling.

So, Ramadan came and went, and I surprised myself by how enthusiastically my body responded to the call. Like a horse fresh out of the gates, I galloped full stride into the blazing long days of fasting, somehow procuring during my first week alone at least 4 new recipes for dinner meals. Let us not discuss how the subsequent three weeks unfolded, with root canals and illnesses. But that first week was glorious! (and the last week, pretty good too.) For the unfamiliar, breaking fast during Ramadan consists of iftar, followed by the evening prayer, and then dinner. Traditional iftars vary from culture to culture, but are usually filled with much fanfare. I tried to change that for the husband and myself this year, especially since the fasting was so long (15+ hours) and the feasting so short. So we usually broke fast with a few dates and water (or Rooh Afza, a rose-water syrup which is sublime when mixed with water and a generous squeeze of lime). Dinner as such became the exciting mealtime (which typically included some fruit chaat because how can I deny myself the quintessential dish of my Ramadan experience).

So, one evening, feeling a bit experimental and highly vegetarian, I considered the heaping bag of mushrooms in my fridge and decided on a meaty mushroom pasta. Mushroom lovers will do back flips for this (though I would recommend for the vast majority who aren’t gymnasts not to try). I must remind myself to make this for my brother, a bona fide mushroom maniac. Then I can really give you the lowdown on whether it is satis-fungi-ing. Oh, so lame, Alya. So lame.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups chopped mushrooms (I used locally grown white or button mushrooms)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • ½ large yellow onion
  • 12-15 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup veggie or chicken broth (use beef broth for a heartier flavor)
  • Pasta of choice (3-4 servings)
  • 4 oz diced paneer
  • 4 tsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp red chili powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (garnish)
  • 3 stalks green onions, sliced askew/diagonally (garnish)
  • Salt to taste (1-2 tsp)

First, preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel the half-onion and the garlic cloves, and rub a small bit of olive oil on them, as well as the bell pepper. Tightly wrap the bell pepper and onion separately in aluminum foil; likewise wrap the collection of garlic in one large piece of foil. Place all three wraps inside the oven.

In a dutch oven or deep frying pan, heat a few tbsp of light olive oil to medium-high heat, and begin the sauté the mushrooms. This will take some time since they are in great abundance, but that’s roughly the amount of time you’ll need to roast the veggies in the oven as well. Win/win situation. Frequently stir the mushrooms so they all get coated and cooked by the olive oil. Eventually they will begin to release water; at this point reduce the heat to a bit less than medium and continue to cook until the water has evaporated. The shroomies will shrink in size and begin to brown considerably. Stir a bit longer so that the now dry mushrooms can sauté completely, an additional 3 minutes or so after the water is gone. Remove from heat and let it cool.

Check the veggies in the oven; they should be fully softened and cooked by about 20-25 minutes. Remove carefully from the oven (use a towel or glove!) and open the foil to let them cool.

Place mushrooms in a food processor and blend until mostly smooth, leaving it slightly chunky for taste. In the same deep pan or a large pot, add the broth of your choice (I used vegetable broth but a beef broth would work well for this I bet) and the mushroom blend. Now, combine the onion, pepper, and garlic in a food processor and blend until magically smooth (I don’t have a large processor else I imagine you might be able to combine all the vegetables and mushrooms at once). Add this to the pot, as well as the chili powder, oregano, and 1 tsp salt.

Bring to slow boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer, allowing all the flavors to meld together for 10 minutes.

Separately cook the pasta of your choice, drain and set aside. If you have paneer (Indian/Pakistani cheese), dice it up into small cubes and mix it into the cooked pasta—the heat will soften it. If you like it extremely soft, consider boiling it with the pasta as well. Check on your mushroom sauce; it should be thick and creamy, with a consistency not unlike chili/ground beef. Add the parmesan cheese, give it a last stir and taste (add more salt if needed) and then pour over the pasta. Garnish with the green onions and sprinkle additional parmesan cheese.

A simple recipe, but really hearty and fulfilling. We used a whole grain pasta with ridges so that the sauce really stuck to it. Good times, and not extremely heavy either.

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