Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Four cheese penne, and a year without resolutions

I'm not one for resolutions, but that doesn't mean I don't set out to do things. To me, resolutions, at least the ones I've tried to make (do sit-ups, write a novel, learn a foreign language), start out as proclamations far too lofty to be achieved by someone like me.  In addition to being lazy, I chafe against expectations. Saying I resolve to do something makes me feel anxious.

The things I really want to do I simply end up doing. The biggest decisions in my life so far-- adopting a puppy, shacking up with the husband (when he was the boyfriend) after a very brief courtship, getting married, starting my own business--have been easy for me. I guess I have a strong will, underneath my laziness.

Anyhow, that's all a digression from the point of this post which is to say, I have one thing I want to do this year which is to cook some new things. I am in a food rut, and there is no reason for it.

The rut became clear when I realized I hadn't posted in a little bit, in part because of the holidays, and in part because I haven't been cooking much. When I have cooked, it's been the same old suspects: roast chicken, simple pastas. I only had one new recipe to post about, something I made a few weeks ago, which was very delicious, but seemed kind of like a lot of other things I make: four cheese penne with wild mushrooms and thyme-scented breadcrumbs.

This was a recipe I got from the baking class I took last month; in addition to the sweets, we also enjoyed a savory lunch, including this pasta as well as a fennel and persimmon salad. I thought the pasta was divine and since I'm a mushroom fiend, I added even more mushrooms, an extra half pound on top of the original pound.

Admitting this now, it seems ridiculous. I'm not sure what got into me. But I remember eating the pasta during the class and thinking how wonderful it was and wouldn't it be even better with more mushrooms? Liz, my partner in crime for the day, agreed, as did the husband, when I ran the idea by him, so blame them for my madness.

Although the husband and I enjoyed the dish overall, my revised version left us each with a pile of mushrooms at the bottom of our bowls. So, too mushroomy. But don't let that dissuade you from the actual recipe, which was perfectly proportioned. I couldn't find one of the cheeses--Crescenza--but our teacher had warned us this might be tough to locate and mentioned Fontina would be a good substitute. The resulting pasta is creamy but not heavy or gooey--you would almost be surprised to learn that it contains four cheeses.

The breadcrumbs, of course, are what brings the dish home. Crunchy, golden, and infused with thyme--brilliant.

So hopefully this will be my last pasta recipe for a bit; I really do want to branch out. I won't resolve to do it, though, which just might increase the odds of it happening.

Four cheese penne with wild mushrooms and thyme-scented breadcrumbs
From Tante Marie

2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. mixed wild mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. sliced shallots
1 T. minced fresh thyme leaves, divided in half
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb penne or pennette
1/3 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 c. mascarpone (4 oz)
1/4 c. Gorgonzola ( 2 oz)
1/4 c. Crescenza (2 oz) (can sub Fontina)
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Regiano

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add butter and 1 T. olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 6-8 minutes. Add the shallots and half the thyme and continue cooking until the mushrooms release their liquid and the liquid evaporates, 4-5 minutes more. Sprinkle the mixture with salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.

In a small saute pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the breadcrumbs begin to lightly brown, stir in the remaining thyme. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Add the pasta to the pan with the mushrooms and place the pan over medium-low heat. Add mascarpone, Gorgonzola, and Crescneza and stir until the cheeses begin to melt and coat the pasta, adding a bit of the reserved pasta water as needed if the mixture is dry.

Transfer the pasta to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.


  1. I'm not big on resolutions myself...That pasta sounds so good and creamy.

  2. The pasta would be too mushroomy for me with one mushroom in it. : ) I like the original idea though!
    I think we should do away with resolutions and start making awesome lists of what we accomplished in the past year instead. How empowering would that be?

  3. Same here, not much for "proper" resolutions but definitely making food related ones, as in, new things to try :) Can't believe anything could be too mushroomy! Will try this pasta when it gets cooler, love the sound of thyme scented breadcrumbs.

  4. Bo: And it is!

    oneordinaryday: I like your idea--focus on the positive things you've already accomplished! I'm on board.

    Jessica: totally.

    shaz: I couldn't believe something could be too mushroomy either, but indeed it is possible.

  5. Holy four-cheese-moley! That looks beautiful. I agree with your comment about a resolution for no resolutions. Usually my resolutions include more bad habits (more wine, more cheese, etc.), but I do appreciate lofty goals. As for cutting shroomy flavor, I've rehydrated dried mushrooms like porcini, which have a pretty heady flavor, and use the liquid for the dish and use the mushrooms themselves for something else.

  6. Oh man, I bet this would be a great baked pasta dish as well! And anything with bread crumbs are good in my book! BTW, my resolution this year is to do everything I said I was going to do in 2010. That's right, 2011 is my do-over year because I wasn't that impressed by 2010. :) Happy new year HD!

  7. Mmm, this sounds good AND easy AND (semi-)healthy because there's no fattening white sauce base! Thanks for the crescenza substitute tip but I will have to find a gorgonzola sub as well because, try as I might, I canNOT learn to like blue cheese of any kind (and I won't resolve to, either!). - Pete

  8. sit-ups, shmit-ups. gimme cheese! and thyme-y breadcrumbs! this is an awesome dish--helllooooo 2011!

  9. denise: I like your style: why not resolve to do more of the things you love to do? That just makes sense!

    Ben: that's a familiar refrain--seems like a lot of people were happy to say goodbye to 2010. I hope 2011 is a great one for you!

    Pete: Hm, maybe goat cheese in place of the blue?

    grace: more breadcrumbs, fewer sit ups. Sounds good to me.

  10. I know exactly what you mean about solid expectations causing anxiety. But there's never anything wrong with branching out in the kitchen. Who needs a resolution to do that? Happy New Year to you!

  11. mmmm thyme-scented bread crumbs pulled me in. And don't worry about resolutions. I'm currently into inventing rather that resolving. Would love to hear more about your business.

  12. I swear I thought I commented on this post (hmmmm)..

    Happy New Year Hungry Dog! I am with you. I don't make new year resolutions anymore. If I am going to do something, I will do it. If I plan to do something, and I get lazy or don't, Jan 1 would not have made a difference.

    I think you had an amazing 2010! I think your 2011 will be pretty awesome too. I remember when you were writing about leaving your job, and staring your own business. Cheers to you!

    Looking forward to all your posts in 2011.


  13. camille: right? kitchen experimentation is always appropriate!

    agrigirl: the breadcrumbs really are lovely--they'd be good on all kinds of things! I'll email you about my work... :)

    Velva: Thank you! What a good memory you have, and what a loyal reader :) I hope 2011 will be great for all of us.

  14. Sounds like a perfect dish. I love those multi-cheese sauces, its the only sauce I will eat with whole wheat pasta (when I'm attempting to be healthy).