Crispy Mushroom Mascarpone Pasta

For those of you who don’t know me, my husband, two teenagers, and I have been caregivers for my now 85 year old parents for the last 6 years here in Mexico. Recently, we made the hard decision together that they needed to go back to Canada for many reasons. Unfortunately, the decision was made about a month before the world went crazy with Covid-19 and by the time the wheels were in motion, airports started shutting down, borders started closing, and we needed to get them home.

We booked a flight for them on a Saturday, had a little gathering on the Sunday, and on Monday they literally walked out of their house. Do you ever go on vacation with your house a mess? Can’t do it, right? It’s got to be somewhat tidy. What if people come by and think you’re a slob? And who wants to come home all relaxed to a messy house? Well, these brave people I call my parents walked out of the country and home they had been in for 6 years with barely time to give it a wave good-bye. It was a hard day.

In the month since then, while my sister was caring for them in Ontario and preparing them for their new life there, I had the job of emptying their (thank goodness rental) home, selling all their furniture, and packing up what they wanted to keep. Not the easiest job, especially during a pandemic. But we got it done and surprisingly, all the furniture and appliances sold and anything leftover was donated to those less fortunate. Which during these recent days, is a lot of people.

One bonus of all this is I inherited a few great items I am too cheap to buy for myself: kitchen-aid mixer, a little toaster oven (which is a big deal because my oven doesn’t have a range, it just seems to cook everything at 450 degrees), some great kitchen gadgets, and more. My mom, having been a lover of all food magazines for years also left behind about 50 magazines, mostly Bon Appetit and one called Food & Drink that we get (for free!) from the liquor stores in Ontario. There was no way I was going to trash all of those without going through them.  Finding any magazine in English down here that doesn’t cost $10 CAD is a dream.

So I spent my nights flipping through all of the magazines and ripping out ideas and recipes and inspiration. On Monday, the house was finally empty and cleaned. So as a gift to me, I decided I get to finally have some fun in the kitchen. I was so excited to try a recipe from a Bon Appetit magazine from November 2019 called White Pesto Pasta. It looked so easy and good and something a little different. I thought I had everything in the fridge.

I was wrong.

I was missing the main ingredient, ricotta. What to do. We live in the days of not running out to the store for an item or two. At this point, we are going out once a week for fruits and vegetables. But, I had my heart set on this pasta. Low and behold, I found mascarpone in the fridge, which I had been saving to make tiramisu for a friend. Mascarpone is an ingredient I use so rarely, but try and keep in the fridge because during the times I actually want to purchase it, it’s most likely nowhere to be found in our stores.

So I took the basic idea of that recipe, but kind of tore it to shreds also, and came up with a brand new one. Last year I finally learned how to make a great carbonara, and I wanted to make this sauce much like that one, silky and smooth with only starchy pasta water.

So, that’s what I did. And because I didn’t want my kids inhaling it all, I added some crispy mushrooms. The second I say mushrooms they run the other way. It’s my way of keeping food just for me.

Try it, I hope you like it as much as I did. It’s quite rich so you won’t need more than one helping. Try and serve it immediately after making. Much like carbonara, the sauce is best when eaten fresh.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TAB butter
  • 1 cup button mushroom, sliced
  • 6 slices of serrano ham or prosciutto, sliced
  • about a cup of baby spinach
  • 250 grams pasta of your choice
  • fresh grated parmesan for serving

DIRECTIONS:

In a small saucepan, lightly toast the walnuts on medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Add walnuts, garlic, mascarpone cheese, and the juice of half a lemon into a food processor and process until smooth.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Transfer mushrooms to saucepan, being careful not to crowd them.  Cook them on each side for about 3 minutes, they will turn nice and golden and look crispy. Once all mushrooms are done, transfer to small bowl. Take serrano or prosciutto and fry in same butter in pan for about 4-5 minutes until slightly crispy. Add to mushrooms.

Cook pasta to al dente in a large pot of salted water. IMPORTANT: save one cup of starchy water when draining.

In the large saucepan, toss together your noodles and the starchy water. Shake the pan a bit a few times for about 3 or 4 minutes. (This allows the noodle to retain starch and the sauce will stick better to the noodle). Transfer mascarpone mixture and spinach leaves into the pasta and stir to combine, shaking pan for a few minutes so the cheese and water combine and the spinach leaves wilt. Add mushrooms and ham and stir to combine and then season (some ham is saltier than others so I recommend seasoning right at the end). Remove from heat. Transfer to plates and top with freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

Serves 2.

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