For centuries, pasta has been considered a food of the common people due to its simple and abundant ingredients, ease of storage and affordability. That said, a well made pasta dish is far from the realm of common. Anybody who has eaten pasta in a fine Italian restaurant will affirm that in the right hands, this common food can be elevated to an art form. When a sauce with the right blend of flavors is tossed with freshly made pasta, it can come as close to perfection as any gourmet recipe out there. But what about those of us who aren’t chefs in Michelin-starred Italian restaurants? Though most of us don’t have the time to make our own fresh pasta, it only takes a little creativity to turn a box of fettuccine into a fast and fabulous weeknight meal.
It was Thomas Jefferson that helped give pasta an initial push into popularity. During an extended stay in Paris from 1784-1789, Jefferson ate what he called macaroni. Back then, the word could have referred to any shape of pasta. He enjoyed the dish so much that he returned to America with two cases in tow. When his supply ran out, he sent for reinforcements via a friend from Naples. During the late 19th century, when a large group of immigrants relocated from Italy to America (most from Naples), pasta became a common food in the States. We’ve been making a variety of pasta dishes in America ever since.
This recipe for Mushroom Pepper Pasta with Feta Goat Cheese Sauce is an easy weeknight meal. The cheese sauce is made with milk, not cream, which makes it lighter than a traditional Alfredo or cream sauce. I added lemon zest and cayenne to the sauce for a little extra zing. Seared mushrooms and bell pepper strips add color and flavor, making this a pretty and satisfying vegetarian entree. Mangia!
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- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil, plus more if needed for mushrooms
- 16 oz baby bella or button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 large bell peppers, cut into strips
- 1/4 cup water
- 16 oz fettuccine pasta (or your favorite variety of pasta)
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- 11 oz soft goat cheese (I use chèvre)
- 4 oz crumbled feta
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 tbsp of the grapeseed oil over high heat till hot. Sear the mushrooms in as many batches as necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, for me it takes 3 batches. To sear, add a single layer of mushrooms to the hot pan and let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes-- do not stir for the first 2 minutes-- then stir and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes till the mushrooms are golden brown. Add an additional ½ tbsp. of grapeseed oil and pinch of salt to each batch and cook until thoroughly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add ½ tbsp more of grapeseed oil to the pan and saute the peppers over high heat until tender. Add the cooked mushrooms back to pan and pour in 1/4 cup of water (if you like the flavor of wine you can use white wine for this step), scraping up the brown bits and loosening them from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the pan is nearly dry, then remove vegetables and set aside.
- Cook pasta in boiling salted water to desired tenderness.While pasta is cooking, wipe out your sauté pan and melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the cornstarch until smooth.
- Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute, then whisk in milk and raise heat to medium. Continue to whisk until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken.
- Reduce heat to low and whisk in the goat cheese, feta, cayenne and lemon zest. Allow the cheese to melt, stirring regularly until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. I usually add about ¼ tsp salt and a dash of pepper. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally until pasta is cooked.
- Strain the cooked pasta, rinse a little with cold water (just enough to keep the pasta from sticking) and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Toss with the warm cheese sauce and vegetables. For a nicer presentation, reserve the cooked vegetables and a little sauce. Toss the rest of the sauce with the pasta, then place the cooked vegetables on top and drizzle with the reserved sauce before serving. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.