Monday, June 4, 2012

Penne with Sage, Mushrooms, Sausage and Spinach

         There are times when I crave a bowl of pasta.
And in miserably rainy and surprisingly chilly New York, this may be one of them. But then I crave pasta no matter what the weather.
        Only a few days ago, when the temperature in New York hit 89 degrees, I think the heat got to me.  I really wanted a taste of this ultimate comfort food and as I searched around for something to cook, I came across a recipe in one of those “You asked for it” columns in Bon Appetit.  In these, diners wax poetic about memorable meals they’ve enjoyed all over the place.  The magazine then tracks them down and the chefs, happy for the publicity, jump at the chance to be showcased.  I’d love to give full credit for this dish to a restaurant called “Geranio” (722 King Street, Alexandria VA 22314 TEL: 703-548-0088).  But I am afraid I made changes too numerous to do that.  What I got from the restaurant’s recipe was something that every pasta lover could learn from: a rich base that made the whole dish phenomenally flavorful and satisfying. And it was awfully simple to do.

The Secret to the Sauce...
a red wine and beef broth reduction
         The secret here was taking a cup of red wine and 1 ½ cups of beef broth and reducing that mixture down to half its volume.  What you end up with is a sauce that is incredibly rich and which lends its flavor to the other ingredients, especially the assortment of fresh mushrooms.  This is no diet delight as it contains plenty of butter, the meat from several sausages and a nice helping of Reggiano Parmigiano.  I tried to compensate for this by making it with whole wheat penne and I added a couple of healthy handsful of fresh baby spinach.   
         I think it’s time to delve into the differences between whole wheat pasta and ‘white’ pasta. The whole grain pasta sports a ‘heart healthy’ label.  What accounts for this? There’s the tiniest calorie reduction from 200 to 180 a serving. Their low fat content applies to both. The protein count is identical.  And even the carbohydrates are almost on top of each other with our Whole Wheat version clocking in at 41 grams while the white flour penne come in at 42.  So the whole difference between the two is in one single area.  White Pasta contains 2 grams of fiber.  Whole Wheat has three times that amount.  That’s all 6 grams.  Big Whoop!  And what about the taste?  I would have to say that I tend to think the white stuff has the edge.  But if you like your pasta ‘al dente’, the whole wheat version gives you a far chewier bite than white.  It all comes down to how holier-than-thou one wants to be.  I think I’ll just continue to mix it up.  Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Penne with Sage, Mushrooms, Sausage and Spinach:
Serves 4.
1 1/2 cups low-salt beef broth
plus ¼ cup of beef broth for the mushrooms
1 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms (such as oyster, crimini, and stemmed shiitake), cut into large pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Sweet Italian Sausages, removed from their casing and crumbled.
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1 pound penne rigate
1 cup finely grated Parmesan (2 ounces), divided

Bring broth and wine to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until reduced to 1 cup, 15-18 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, ¼ cup of beef broth; season with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sausage bits to same skillet. Sauté until sausage begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add wine reduction, butter, and sage; simmer until liquid thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until almost tender but still firm to the bite. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

Stir pasta and 1/2 cup cheese into mushroom mixture. Stir over medium-high heat, adding water by tablespoonfuls if dry, until pasta is al dente and sauce thickens and clings to pasta, about 5 minutes. Fold in the spinach.  Season with salt and pepper. Transfer individual serving bowls. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over.


  1. I just got a very wonderful email from a reader in Alberta. I wanted to share it with you and also to remind you that I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to enter the conversation. Here's what I wanted to share with you...
    Good morning, Monte,

    I have been following your blog since February when I googled Jacques Pepin and up popped your blog with the recipe for his sausage and potato ragout. It sounded too simple to be as delicious as you said but I was intrigued and made it anyway. OMG!
    And so began my “love in” with your blog. Now, that’s what I call real cooking. Good quality food without fuss and pretense.
    I have since made many of your recipes and have yet to be disappointed. Yummy!

    Keep up the scrumptious work!

    Kate in Alberta, Canada

  2. Love, love, love your blog. You and I have many of the same old cookbooks - most of which I've yet to read much less try out. You've inspired me to dig them out and give them a go. I sure appreciate your posts and beautiful pictures. Thanks for brightening my days!

    KT in MS. who loves to "chew da fat" as they say in the south.

    1. Dear KT in great to hear from you! A lot of effort goes into this blog and it is really all worth it when I hear from readers like you. Keep on cooking! Monte

  3. KT in MS. and Kate in Alberta, Monte's blog is simply unmatched. Period. C: C:

    1. Did anyone ever have a better friend than Ana Fritz?????