Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Life Is Like a Bowl of Pasta

Hello, fellow food people! I'm not completely over my jet lag-induced loopiness yet, but I'm getting better.  I've also managed to have some amazing meals in the few days that I've been here and may yet have another one today, if I ever get out of my pajamas.

In the meantime,  I wanted to share this recipe with you (or more accurately, this experiment) to encourage you to get jiggy in the kitchen and use whatever you've got lying around in your fridge or pantry. When I was just starting to cook, I always needed to work with a recipe, and truth be told, I'm still more comfortable doing so. I don't have any formal culinary training beyond a few recreational courses.  I may like to cook and eat, but I'm hardly a seasoned cook. Ooh, seasoned. See what I just did there? Sorry, residual loopiness.
As I was saying, I like working from a recipe and then tweaking said recipe afterwards based on my results. But since I've started to cook more regularly, I've become more comfortable experimenting and improvising. I still have my misses, of course, but the odds are steadily improving.

For instance, the day I was leaving for San Francisco, I still had all these fresh veggies that I didn't want to waste. So I made myself a salad for brunch and when I was done, I still had a package of mushrooms and a tomato left in there.  I also had some leftover wine and cheese spread, which hadn't gone over very well when I last served it. I didn't want to waste the very good cheese, extra virgin olive oil and wine I'd used, so I had kept the spread in the freezer until I could figure out what to do with it.

Now, you may smirk and think, "Sure, easy for you to say, because you just 'happened' to have all these things lying around," but that's beside the point.

Oh, and don't try to deny it; I KNOW you smirked.

But bear with me, because I'm here to tell you that cooking, like life, is much easier when you live by the following basic principles:

First, you need to learn the rules. Because you only get away with breaking them when you know why they're there in the first place.

Second, be prepared. In addition to your basic mise en place (foofy French phrase for prepping), you should also have some staples on hand that make last-minute creations doable.  These include garlic, onions, Parmesan cheese (which you can stick in the freezer), and pasta, to name just a few.

Third, invest in the future. When you have some time, make "building block" items in bulk and stick them in your freezer.  This includes stuff like marinara sauce, chicken stock, caramelized onions, pesto, tapenade, etc.

And fourth, make the most of what you've got. You could hold off on cooking because you haven't got exactly every ingredient your recipe calls for. And you could let stuff in your fridge go to waste, because that's not what your recipe specified. And you could either starve, freeload or order in, which is usually neither very good nor good for you.

OR. You could take the plunge and end up with a steaming bowl of whole wheat pasta studded with plump mushrooms and succulent chunks of tomato in a deliciously earthy broth redolent of garlic, wine and Parmesan cheese.

Your call.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Tomatoes in Parmesan Sauce

Yield: 2-3 servings
  • 200 grams whole wheat pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, for sauteing
  • 200 grams (1 package) mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 100 grams Parmesan cheese, grated
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • chopped basil for garnish (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Cooking Directions
  1. Prepare pasta according to package directions, and cook until nearly al dente. I usually bite through a strand to check for doneness. You want just a hint of crunch, as the pasta will continue to cook afterwards.
  2. While your pasta is cooking, sauté your mushrooms in olive oil over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until pasta is almost ready.
  3. Return skillet with mushrooms to flame (medium-high). Add wine and toss.
  4. Drain pasta and add to skillet. Add tomatoes and toss.
  5. Add cheese, and toss for 1-2 more minutes. Season to taste.
  6. Garnish with chopped basil (optional).
Note: This recipe attempts to capture what was basically an "everything but the kitchen sink and the cats" approach to pasta, so feel free to play fast and loose with your own variations.  Other vegetables and herbs would be great. Or maybe add some protein like chicken or a fried egg or maybe some truffle oil.  Which isn't a protein, I know, but just go with it.


  1. I see you used whole wheat pasta, but what version of noodle did you use, they are nice and thick?