Portobello Pasta

Mushrooms. Pasta. Marinara Sauce. Already sounding good? The "Portobello Pasta" name here is ever so slightly misleading because this is not just a plate of portobello mushrooms and noodles. Nor is it a pile of mushroom flavored spaghetti (I'll stick to spinach for that). Not even close. But as I didn't want to name this, "Ground Beef, Portobello Mushrooms, and Spinach Lasagna Type Dish," I came up with something a tad shorter. We can work with it.

My goal was to make a dish that had loads of vegetables and a good amount of protein. Portobello mushrooms are a really great meat alternative, or in this case, a protein bonus. The first time I tried them was on a pizza (there's this amazing pizza place around here that knocks it out of the park every time). Besides the fact I love mushrooms in general, portobellos are larger and have a meatier taste. Fun fact: I learned a few months ago that white, cremini, and portobellos are all of the same mushroom species. They're just at different stages in the life cycle. Here's an article with more on that.

I started off with a pound of grass fed beef. Yes, that is specific. But I've done some contemplating on this matter recently, and have decided to stick with the best possible option when I can. Can I tell what kind of beef is served at every restaurant? No. Will I be hungry enough at some point (or want to avoid being rude at someone's house) to cheat on this? Yes. When I can, though, I want to pick the most humane and healthy choice for meat.

Having been a person who bought a house  in need of many repairs on her own, I understand working with a budget, too. Higher quality comes with a higher price, but with good reason. Just like mass produced goods from China, cheap meat is produced the cheapest way, in mass quantities. But quality must come over quantity when it comes to food, and as someone who also supports the idea that animals deserve humane and ethical treatment, it's my intent to change old habits. I will buy grass fed beef, and I will make every effort to purchase from local butchers as opposed to mass producers. It's cleaner, safer, and more humane. The great thing is that buying local often is more cost efficient (we have this amazing market her called Freshfield Farms), as the transporting costs are lower locally. The statement, "We are what we eat," is true--if we are feeding our bodies from unhappy, poorly cared for and fed animals, what are we really absorbing? Ok, stepping off my tiny soapbox.

I sliced up the very well washed portobello mushrooms first. Did I say well washed? I rinsed them in vinegar and then water, then chopped them into fairly large size bits. I knew they would cook down.


I browned the ground beef with some chopped onion and minced garlic, then added in the portobellos and let them soften in the mix. Then, I added a bunch of fresh spinach. Spinach loses like, 97% of its volume as it wilts while cooking down, so what looks like a lot is actually only a little.


After 2-3 minutes of simmering, I threw in some halved cherry tomatoes. These were going to bake in the oven so I wasn't worried about cooking them for long.


In preparation for the cheese filling, I added some parsley, basil, garlic salt, white pepper, crushed red pepper, and turmeric to a medium bowl, then added in the cottage cheese, shredded parmesan, and an egg. Cottage cheese melts well in lasagna. Turmeric is a different choice, but I am a big fan in general and besides, it's super good for you.


And since I was using the crushed tomatoes, at this point my 3 components were ready. Just like a lasagna, I spread some sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish. I chose to use plain ol' crushed tomatoes from a carton for the sauce because this didn't need anything else. I did not want the extra sugar of a jarred sauce, and since I was already adding so much flavor to the dish with vegetables, meat, and seasoning, a homemade marinara with even more of the same just didn't make sense. There isn't a reason to over flavor.


Then came the layers. Pasta, followed by the meat mixture, then cheese filling (in this case, followed by some crumbled feta, because, FETA!). I repeated this 3 times until all the filling was used up. I sprinkled on some more shredded parmesan (this wound up being one very cheesy dish), covered the entire thing with some foil, and got this bad boy in the oven.


Check out that glorious final product. Good to go 45 minutes in. If you want the cheese browned, just take off the foil and leave it in a few more minutes. I was hungry enough to not care.


At last, I had my warm, cheesy pasta casserole ready to devour. The entire dish was very flavorful, and I'm glad I skipped out on doing anything to the tomato sauce. More often than we realize, simpler is just better. It's easy to get carried away with cooking. The spinach and tomatoes gave the meat a good flavor, and all the portobello bits were a delight. I did not really pick up on the turmeric, so I may use a bit more of that and the crushed red pepper on round 2.

I had a very odd thought while eating this, though, while I was intensely focused on all the flavors, enjoying the seasonings and gooey cheese. For the first time in my adult life, I thought, "This would be good with olives in it." That may not seem too shocking of a statement, but for a gal who is nearly repulsed by olives, this was a big deal. The few things I enjoy olives on include pizza and this amazing skirt steak dish my chef friend made a while back. Other than that, this is one Greek who just can't enjoy the oversalted, canned things we call olives. When I saw that black olives are now sold in "snack packs", I was horrified. Eating them...plain? No thank-you-very-much. Of course, I've heard fresh is way better straight from the source in Greece, but that's just one study I haven't been able to complete yet. Perhaps it was the saltiness that I craved? I can't really say. But as supreme pizza hits the mark with black olives, I think they would have fit in nicely here. Next time.

Portobello and Pasta Recipe

Ingredients:

3-4 cups cooked rotini
2 large portobello mushroom caps
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/8 cup sliced sweet pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes , halved
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta

1 carton crushed tomatoes (26 ounces)

Instructions:

Boil pasta according to package to at least al dente softness. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Brown ground beef in a large skillet with onion and garlic. Drain fat if needed, then add spinach and continue simmering for 3-5 minutes. Mix in cherry tomatoes and remove from heat. In a medium bowl, combine cottage cheese, egg, about 1 cup of the parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, turmeric, garlic salt, and white pepper. In a large casserole dish, spread some sauce in the bottom. Add a layer of noodles, followed by the ground beef and cheese mixture. Sprinkle on 2-3 tablespoons of crumbled feta, then repeat the sauce, beef, and cheese until all ingredients are used up. Top with sauce and shredded parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

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