remember those word problems back in math class where you’d be given a couple of variables and have to figure out how many combinations there were? yeah, i was never any good at those. i think there’s some pretty simple formula that you just memorize and then you always get that question right on the SAT but… i never did.
all that is to say, i’m not sure exactly how many variations of this creamy mushroom and spinach pasta there are, but, suffice to say, it’s quite the flexible recipe. we can make it gluten free or not. we can make it dairy free or not. we can make it vegetarian or not. so many choices!
my first experience with lentil pasta was just about exactly a year ago when my husband and i went camping and i scoured the stores for easy-to-prepare-but-not-filled-with-salt-and-unpronouncable-chemicals foods. needless to say, we ate the same thing a lot…
one of the things that we had several times were these lentil-pasta-with-dehydrated-bits-in-a-foil-packet things where you just boil water and the whole thing pretty much assembles itself from that point on. they were totally decent and i liked that the pasta was made of protein.
so when i saw red lentil pasta at trader joe’s recently, i grabbed a bag of it to try. verdict: yum! i like when penne/rigatoni/shells are thick and hearty (“toothsome”, i believe some would call it) so i liked the lentil penne. no one would mistake it for wheat penne, but i thought it was good, and plant-based protein is a fun benefit (as is the fact that it’s gluten free, if that’s important to you).
so, dairy, or the “creamy” part of “creamy mushroom and spinach pasta”. because i’ve been obsessed with it recently, i used my favorite creamy (cashew) garlic sauce (pretty soon we may have to give that sauce its own turn in the limelight, but for now, i’ll just keep linking to that broccoli white pizza). cashews + water + garlic + lemon juice = add this sauce to everything. i basically always have a little container of this in my fridge these days. so, no surprise, it ended up in this pasta. if you don’t share my enthusiasm for creamy garlic sauce, though, the original recipe for this pasta that i was working from called for cream cheese, so you could try that instead.
and finally, as i am wont to do, i threw some precooked garlic chicken sausage in here, because more protein (and garlic), more better. but you could certainly leave the sausage out, if you wanted a vegetarian/vegan version of this creamy mushroom and spinach pasta.
ok, so, that’s a bunch of choices, no? some number that my mathy friends have easily calculated already. and actually, as a bonus question, how many variations would there be if you also added spinach as a variable, since you can use either frozen or fresh spinach here? more variations than in the original problem, i know at least that much…
so many choices! all of them delicious (actually, i can’t personally vouch for the cream cheese version as i’m still mostly not eating dairy, but it seems like it would be good too)! ok, how about, “nearly and maybe even all of them delicious”? that’s almost as compelling, right? if you make this pasta and try the cream cheese option, let us know in the comments how it goes so we can refine our claim here…
- 12 oz. (340 g.) pasta, see notes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 oz. (227 g.) white button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 9 fl. oz. (scant 1 ¼ cups / 275 ml) low sodium chicken or vegetable broth, see notes
- ½ cup creamy garlic sauce OR 6 tablespoons cream cheese plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 7 oz. (200 g.) frozen chopped spinach OR fresh baby spinach
- 2 precooked garlic chicken sausages, sliced, optional
- cook the pasta according to the package directions. before draining the pasta, save about ¾ cup (6 fl. oz. / 175 ml) of the cooking water. i set a heat safe measuring cup in the strainer to remind myself.
- while the water is boiling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. add the mushrooms and sauté for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown and the liquid they released has evaporated. add the chicken sausage and cook for a minute or two (or longer, if you like the sausage to have more color/flavor and no one in your house protests). add the oregano and broth or concentrate and water. if you used 1 ¼ cups broth, let the broth reduce by half, 10 – 12 minutes. if you used the full amount of concentrate called for to make 1 ¼ cups broth but used just over ½ cup water, proceed to the next step.
- add the spinach and stir it around until it’s thawed (if frozen) or wilted (if fresh). add the creamy garlic sauce or cream cheese plus lemon juice. cook everything for 3 minutes, to make sure everything is heated through and to let the flavors blend.
- add the pasta, stir everything around, and decide if you need to add some of the pasta cooking water. i didn’t with the creamy garlic sauce, but imagine you would need at least some of the water if you used cream cheese. i’d start with about ½ cup and then add by the tablespoon from there, as you don’t want the pasta to absorb too much water and get soggy. serve immediately.
i tried trader joe’s red lentil (gluten free) penne for the first time with this recipe and quite enjoyed it.
because i like the flavor and and it’s convenient, i always use better than bouillon’s roasted chicken base reduced sodium. it’s especially convenient here because rather than taking 10 minutes to reduce broth, i just used less water (just over ½ cup / 5 fl oz. / 148 ml) with the normal amount of concentrate called for to make 1 ¼ cups broth. one caveat: it’s not labelled gluten free, so if that’s a concern, stick with what you know you tolerate.
especially with the lentil pasta + creamy garlic sauce combination, leftovers keep quite well for several days (in an airtight container in the fridge). the more liquidy your sauce right when you’re done combining everything, the more water the pasta will absorb as it sits and the soggier it will get.
adapted from ‘creamy spinach and mushroom pasta’ in perfect vegetarian.