For the love of life

Connie Hanner

Vegetarians and other non-meat eaters rejoice!!!! A truly simple recipe that provides all the comfort of pasta (and yes, it's just as good with gluten free pasta) with the satisfying mouthfeel and texture of a silky, mushroom cream sauce. The best part, you don't have to go to the specialty food market because this gem calls for good old button mushrooms and other staples in your pantry.

This is without a doubt, the best damned meatless dish I have ever made. I made this up one day in desperation. In true working poor fashion I was running low on everything, no money to go buy anything and no gas money to get to the store anyway. So like most hard-working, honest poor folks, we make “do” with what we had. Now I make it on purpose. I have thought about putting meat in this dish and I really don’t think it would help it. I have never tried to make this with vegetable stock, but I don’t see why you couldn’t produce an excellent result if you did.

Ingredients:
14 ounces fresh mushrooms (you can tell they are fresh, if the caps are still attached to the stem)
½ a medium onion - sweated
8 ounces of dry rigatoni noodles (I have tried this with every tube pasta under the sun and a few flat ones, in times of desperation, and rigatoni is the noodle of choice)
8 ounces of evaporated milk
2 cups of beef stock
1 stick unsalted butter (you can use salted butter, just adjust the seasonings)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

A note about seasoning: This recipe requires the reduction of liquid to a significant state. Seasonings will intensify as you do this. This is the desired result. You want a very well-seasoned base so when you dilute it with the evaporated milk, the seasoning will be right. Tinker around with it until it suits you.


Directions:
Use a non-stick pan. This serves 4 hungry people. 


Divide one stick of butter into quarters.

Chop your onion and sweat the onion in ¼ of the stick of butter. When the onion is translucent and most of the butter has been absorbed, move the onions to a bowl and set aside.

Wipe your mushrooms off with a barely damp paper towel. Slice them as thin or as thick as you want. If you want more mushroom pieces in the pasta, I would slice them thinner. I would say ¼  inch slices, but don’t lose any sleep over the measurements.


Place half a stick of butter in your non-stick skillet and add the mushrooms. Do not salt or pepper this. On high heat, you will sauté the mushrooms until they are deep golden brown and most of the butter is absorbed into the mushrooms. If the mushrooms begin to dry out, add more butter, a pat at a time. This might take as much as 10 minutes depending on your stove, skillet, the moisture content in the mushroom, the alignment of Venus to Jupiter, etc. If your mushrooms start to dry out, add that last ¼ of butter. Sometimes you will need it, sometimes you won’t. The issue is to make sure that the mushrooms brown.

Once the mushrooms are brown, add the stock, onions, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar into the skillet. Bring this to a boil, then back down to a simmer. Simmer this until the liquid is reduced down to a consistency of a thick gravy. It will cling to the mushrooms. Don’t let it evaporate all the way. See the pictures for a good idea of how far down you want this. This process can take 30-40 minutes. Don’t rush this, you want that flavor to develop slowly.

Add the evaporated milk. Taste for seasoning. You still want it seasoned well, because the addition of the noodles further dilutes the seasoning. Taste, that’s what cooking is all about. Everyone is different. This is the way I like it, but if you are like my sister, she would double the seasoning and still put more on at the table. Let your taste buds be your final guide. Let this simmer away about 10 minutes until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the parsley, cover and let this sit off the heat while you are getting the noodles ready.

Boil the noodles in salted water to al dente (That means the pasts a little more than half done and still have a cheyw center). Pour a ½ ladle of pasta water into the mushroom gravy and stir. Drain the pasta and toss the hot noodles into the mushroom gravy, slap a lid on it and let it sit off the heat for about 10 minutes. This gives the gravy a chance to infuse the noodles.

After about 10 minutes, you can serve it up. Sprinkle with some good parmesan, make a nice green salad and serve with some crusty bread, you could do a lot worse on a budget…and I have. :)

BTW – the mushroom “gravy” is just about the best mushroom soup you will ever taste. Bonus – this is a two-fer recipe.

Mushroom Rigatoni