03 November 2008

The Anti-Abby meal

My friend Abby and I have a long history of eating together. You would have a long history of eating with us, too, if your parents had been fast friends since before you were born, and if they also decided to have most of the winter festival meals together for the vast majority of your childhood/early adulthood. Suffice it to say, we have a long history of food. (One of my sharpest memories of Thanksgiving when I was ten and her mother told me that she had alloted for about a half of a pound of potatoes for everyone except me, who needed about a pound and a half. Go figure.)

In our adult lives, though Abby and I have tastes that have diverged. She's been a strict vegetarian for a long time, doesn't like tomatoes, and doesn't like mushrooms. Abhors mushrooms.

As for me, I love mushrooms. I always have. I like eating them in all sorts of dishes, all sorts of ways. Sautéed, stuffed, fried, stewed, everything. The only ones I don't really appreciate are shiitakes, because they have a strange taste. They are also absurdly expensive. Mushrooms, to me, announce that I am eating some very homey food. Kind of like the sausage and mushroom penne gratin I made last night. Eating the mushrooms in it reminded me of the pasta, mushroom, peas and cream dish that my mom used to make when I was growing up--man, I loved eating that. I love the smell of mushrooms in cream (also, I just really love cream, let's be real), especially when there's something nice and salty providing a backbone for it. So this was just right. Just right for a time when we all need some comfort, something solid to chew on. There's been too much that's been up in the air.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, which called for lots of grated mozzarella, and to be baked. I didn't miss either step. This is the version I give below. Also, the original calls to be broiled for a few minutes, so the mozzarella on top browns and bubbles, but, as we don't have that, I would just keep it in the pot until everything has thickened up.

Sausage and Mushroom Penne (Gratin), adapted from Gourmet

1 lb dried penne
1/2 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 grated Parmasean

1. Cook penne in a pasta pot of boling water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high eat, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces, until no longer pink. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl, leaving fat in skillet.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to skillet along with mushrooms and garlic, then cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden.
4. Return sausage to skillet along with the cream, reserved cooking water, salt and pepper to taste, and boil over high heat, until thickened. Pour over pasta, add parmasean, and stir. Simmer until desired thickness.

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