Mushrooms have a meaty taste and texture, making them a very good ingredient for vegetarian main courses. Pasta dishes with mushrooms in them seem substantial enough that even meat eaters walk away satisfied. So here is a good way to have a meatless dinner without sacrifice. And it is pretty quick and easy to prepare.
One evening, about 20 years ago, my father-in-law made a delicious pasta dish with a mushroom sauce. I have thought about that dish many times over the years with my mouth watering. I have looked for recipes that put a mushroom sauce over pasta, but none has come close to the beautiful taste of that dinner so many years ago. I have asked him for the recipe, but unfortunately he does not remember how he prepared it. While I still have not duplicated his recipe, I have experimented with tastes that I particularly enjoy with pasta and tried to come up with my own delicious version. While developing this recipe, I first prepared it using 1/4 cup of white wine, but I thought it lacked something, so I decided to try it with brandy instead. I have a good story about brandy in cooking: once I ate a chicken supper prepared by a friend. The chicken was unbelievably good, and apparently the reason was that she used an expensive brandy--she just looked in the liquor cabinet and grabbed what was in there, not really thinking about how expensive it was. That was when I realized how much of a difference high quality ingredients can make in cooking. Today, I used Remy Martin cognac, which is a very nice cognac, but since I only used a couple of tablespoons I don't feel that it was too wasteful. Anyway, this recipe makes enough for 2 generous portions. If you are making it for more people, just increase the ingredient measurements proportionately. It is very good!
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS butter
½ cup chopped leeks
1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped tomatoes (about 3 small)
1/8 tsp red chili flakes
2 TBS brandy
¼ cup heavy cream
scoop of water from pot of pasta cooking
¼ cup parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
handful of fresh parsley, grated
½ pound dried pasta, such as linguini, cooked OR 1 pound fresh gnocchi, cooked
Heat butter and olive oil together in medium skillet over medium low heat. When butter has melted, sauté leeks for a minute or two, stirring, then add mushrooms and cook until leeks and mushrooms have softened, stirring every so often. Add chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until tomatoes seem cooked and liquid has mostly evaporated. Add brandy, stir everything together, then add cream and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring. When sauce appears thick and creamy, turn off heat and taste for salt and pepper. Add a scoop of water from the pot of pasta cooking before you drain the pasta. I use one of the metal measuring cups that I used for the sauce ingredients, sprinkle a little water into the sauce and stir. You want it to be a nice consistency, not too thin, so you need to just use your judgement about how much water to sprinkle in. (You might need to turn the stove back on to make it the right consistency.) Put drained pasta into a serving bowl and toss with the sauce and the grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top. Serves 2.