Recipe: (Weeknight) (Almost) Vegan Mushroom and Spinach Pasta with Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Here’s a dish that came to mind while I was roaming the aisles of my local health food store; I’d been thinking of a mushroom pasta after having a really delicious agnolotti dish at my local spot that contained ali’i mushrooms. I honestly don’t even know what ali’i mushrooms are, and I don’t care because they are so damn good. (OK, I lied, I do care, they are also known as king oyster mushrooms.) I don’t think I have ever seen ali’i mushrooms for sale in a grocery store here, but I went in hoping for the best. It turns out they didn’t have any, but instead they had some gorgeous fresh shitakes. Did you know gorgeous fresh shitakes cost $16.99 a pound? That killed my plan to make a dish loaded with mushrooms, so instead, I walked away with about 5-6 of them, weighing in at a third of a pound. I picked up some organic baby spinach, a sweet onion, and then found an interesting spinach and garlic pasta in the bulk section. I have to say, there are so many options for pasta now that it is amazing; any dietary restriction can be satisfied. While I was in the bulk section, I also noticed some raw hulled pumpkin seeds. My plan had been to toast walnuts and add it to the pasta, but something about those green seeds called to me. I loaded up a bag with a good handful and a half, which only cost 53 cents.
- Garlic (I used 5 or 6 cloves, but we are a garlic-loving house. A normal recipe would say 2 or 3.)
- 1/2 Onion (This house also loves onion, so you can eyeball it to your preference. )
- Butter and/or Olive Oil (Start with 2 tbsp and increase by 1 tbsp at a time as needed)
- Thyme and Oregano (dried or fresh)
- 1/3 pound of mushrooms (It depends on what you have available at your store, but something a bit of color to it like baby bellas or shitakes. Even the plain old white ones would work.)
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds- hulled (You can substitute any other seeds you like, but the pumpkin looks nice and holds up well)
- Baby spinach (This stuff disappears as it heats up, so more than you think. I bought a 5 oz clamshell and used half of it.)
- Pasta (half a pound or so)
- 3/4 cup whole walnuts (optional)
- Optional if not vegan: chicken broth or bouillon (can substitute vegetable broth if desired), heavy cream (2-3 tablespoons)
Here’s what to do:
- Start boiling the water for your pasta. (Depending on what type of pasta you use and how long it takes to cook, you might want to wait a little on this step.)
- Mince up the garlic
- Chop the onion (I did large dice mixed with a few larger slices, because I like a little bit of visual texture.)
- Slice mushrooms in half inch slices (I remove the stems from mine so its only caps)
- If you are using the walnuts, preheat the oven to 350 or so and spread the walnuts on a baking sheet. I pop them in the oven immediately. *Nuts burn fast once they are hot, so be vigilant. Your nose will tell you when they are about to singe.*
- In a large saute pan, heat the butter and/or olive oil on medium heat.
- Add the garlic and onion, cook for around 2 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
- Add the mushrooms in, and stir to coat with the butter/oil. If needed, add more oil or butter at this stage to make sure there is a little liquid pulling all the flavors together.
- Sprinkle with thyme and oregano (I eyeball it, but I use more thyme than oregano in this dish). I do just a little salt here to get it into the mushrooms.
- Let everything cook and meld, til the mushrooms are soft and shiny. Add the pumpkin seeds here. Turn the heat down to medium low, and wait until your pasta is al dente.
- When pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve a little of the pasta liquid (1/2 cup) in the pot or in a separate container.
- Pour pasta and reserved liquid into the saute pan. If it doesn’t fit, dump the saute pan into your pasta pot.
- If you like, you can add chicken bouillon here to the liquid. (If you’re using broth, omit the 1/2 cup liquid.) (You don’t need any, but it adds flavor)
- Add your spinach to the pan and let it wilt in the liquid.
- Turn the heat up a little bit so you get a simmer going and give all the flavors a chance to mix and the pasta to get coated. Stir all the ingredients together.
- If you like, you can add a little heavy cream or cheese (dairy or vegan) right near the end to bring everything together and thicken up the sauce, though its not needed.
- Season with salt and fresh black pepper as you like.
Hopefully, you didn’t burn your walnuts and you can just toss them over top of your dish. They add a nice texture and flavor.
It took me only 25-30 minutes to make this dish, including prepwork, and its honestly really simple and delicious. The picture at the top is the only one I could manage, because I was starving and just wanted to start eating! Happy Eating!