My contribution to the latest Passion Fruits Farmers’ Market Challenge. Sad to report, despite the gorgeous array of mushrooms I plucked from the market, I wasn’t very inspired this week in the kitchen and–pathetically–failed to give these beauties some solo prime time a la Luke. It’s been a crazy week at work and as impressive as the funghi was, I needed something quick. So, yeah, Joe.  Why not a simple saute?

My quick kitchen default, in case you haven’t figured it out, is pasta, pasta, pasta. So, I opted to break these mushrooms up into large chunks, toss them in a very hot pan with olive oil, fresh thyme, some salt and pepper and sear until caramelized. I set them aside and decided to incorporate them into a pasta I was making, risotto-style.

I first learned of this technique years ago in the Times by Mark Bittman.  He revisited this approach  in a column last fall and I forgot about a very different–and ultimately rewarding–way to make pasta.

It’s straightforward risotto production but Arborio rice is supplanted with pasta, preferably something of the short-tube variety (penne, gemelli)  that makes stirring easy. Yes, you could also break apart spaghetti or linguini and prepare the dish similarly.

Also, this recipe is best made with homemade vegetable or chicken stock. You can use the canned or box varieties (In a pinch, I will reach for the Kitchen Basics line) but know that the dish is at its finest with a homemade stock. If you go with a store-bought stock, be sure to use a low-sodium variety so you may season according to your tastes.

Pasta with Mushrooms, Risotto Style
Variation on Mark Bittman’s Recipe (my notes/additions are in italics. I changed up the directions to reflect how I approached the recipe)
Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1 shallot or small onion, chopped (I used a medium-size yellow onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups crimini, shiitake or button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and cut into chunks|
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 pound cut penne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
3 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock)
Chopped fresh parsley, optional
Freshly grated Parmesan, optional.
*Please note the original recipe called for chicken. I kept this strictly vegetarian.

1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep skillet over high heat.

2. Toss in the mushrooms, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms brown and caramelize. Remove from pan.

3.  In the same pan on medium-high heat, add some additional olive oil along with the onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until onions and garlic become translucent but not browned.  Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, 2 to 3 minutes. Add a little salt and pepper, then wine. Stir and let liquid bubble away.

4. Ladle stock into skillet 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When liquid is just about evaporated, add more. Mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep heat at medium and stir frequently.

5. Begin tasting pasta 10 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tender but with a tiny bit of crunch. When pasta is about 3 to 4 minutes away from being done, add mushrooms and combine. Continue to cook until pasta is how you like it. Taste, adjust seasoning, garnish with parsley and Parmesan if using, and serve.