How can you forget those Nike "Just Do It" commercials? Swoosh! Check, done, yes! Wham, bam, just do it, it's done! It remains, in my opinion, of the greatest advertising slogans of all time, and it works so well precisely because it taps into our hidden frustrations. You know what I'm talking about. It's that lady in front of you at the deli who can't make up her mind whether she wants pastrami or egg salad. The guy on the freeway who just can't take that decisive step of pressing his gas pedal. The person at work who asks a million follow up questions about the simplest assignment without doing a minute of work. Even your favorite sports team, when they toss the ball to each other and never seem to get around to scoring. At home, at work, to your husband and your kids, we've all yelled "JUST DO IT." But because we live in a PC, polite society (or try to), we can't just go around yelling "just do it" to anyone and everyone, so we just grrrrrr it out in our minds, using our "inside voice," as one of my friends says. Besides, you know that no one would listen to you anyway, and that lady would take three times as long to pick out her sandwich (smoked turkey breast, tomatoes and avocado, for the curious). That's why when it comes to doing things myself, it's almost a relief to say "Just Do It" to someone (me) who will actually listen (to myself). Makes sense? No? Oh, I'm a Gemini, didn't I tell you? I talk to myself all the time, it's totally normal.
Anyway, here's the thing. Last week, while y'all were snug and cozy, like little maraschino cherries in a smooth, glass jar, anxiously anticipating my return, I made a pasta so stupendously delicious, that I will throw my polite society "inside voice" rules to the wind and tell you to JUST DO IT. Put away the tart pans for a moment (yes, I really just said that) and let a little penne, mushrooms and goat cheese take you to rich, creamy, dreamy pasta heaven. Now, I'll be the first to admit that this isn't one of those delicate-nibble-champagne-and-caviar sort of dishes. It's bold, it's rich, it's a shamelessly-reach-for-seconds-if-you're-still-standing kind of pasta. It can happily hang out in the oven for an additional 15 minutes if you need it to, and if you have any leftovers -- and you won't -- they are even better the next day. I imagine serving it to a bunch of good friends with a glass of red wine (sacrebleu, she said red wine with pasta!) and an arugula salad, and watching them all fall back into their chairs with a happy pasta and cheese hangover. Oh yeah, this is the life.
The recipe originally comes from Lisa's Kitchen, but I futzed around with it a little, so here's my own version of it.
Creamy, Dreamy Penne with Mushrooms
1 lb penne pasta (or rigatoni, but I like penne for this)
1 lb chopped mushrooms (I used white button mushrooms, but you can make it fancy with shiitake, portobello or porcini mushrooms, whatever's under hand)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
2 cups milk
4 oz goat cheese or feta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package until al dente. Drain, douse with cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute, then pour in the milk and bring to a boil, whisking continuously. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 min or so to thicken, whisking once in a while to prevent lumps. Season with salt and pepper.
With a little olive oil, sauté the onions and garlic in a large pan over medium-high heat until softened, for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, thyme and oregano and cook for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms give off liquid. Add the parsley and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350F and oil an 8x8 baking dish. Stir the sauce and the mushroom/onion/parsley mixture into the pasta until well incorporated. Crumble the goat cheese and stir gently into the pasta (don't overmix if you want to retain little creamy nuggets of warm goat cheese in the finished pasta). Layer 1/2 of the pasta in the baking dish, then sprinkle with 1/2 of the parmesan. Pile on the rest and sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. If you're going to bake it longer, just cover with foil so that it doesn't get too brown.