Last Saturday was one of our typical whirlwinds. It included shopping in two different neighborhoods for birthday gifts, picking up and dropping off dry cleaning, a smash-and-grab run through Trader Joe’s, getting lunch fixings at our neighborhood Polish bakery and sausage shop, wrapping gifts, packaging said gifts for shipping and running to the downtown post office to mail them, with a detour by the library.
As dinnertime approached, we wanted something quick and easy, but also satisfying. This improvised dish delivered on all counts.
Lately, one-pot meals have become the gold standard for convenience. For some reason, it’s assumed that if you cook an entire meal in one pot (or one pan), it is automatically easier – and faster – than if you use multiple pans. Sometimes, that is the case. But sometimes, the only thing that’s easier – and faster – is having fewer pots and pans to clean up at the end.
Linguine with mushrooms and kale uses three pans, but the actual cooking is practically autopilot in terms of degree of difficulty. Time is measured in minutes, not hours or even half hours. And the only crucial timing is having the pasta finish cooking last.
What you gain from cooking the mushrooms and kale separately before combining them is the chance to use two different cooking techniques that best develop their separate flavors. (To cook the kale, I only slightly adapted Marion’s method for her sweet potato gnocchi with wilted kale.) When mixed together, the mushrooms and kale retain some of their individual identities while complementing each other beautifully.
This dish can easily be made vegetarian. Just leave out the pancetta. If you do, I would definitely add the optional Parmesan at the end to up the umami.
Linguine with mushrooms and kale
Mushrooms, kale and pasta are quickly cooked separately and combined at the end. Don’t worry about timing everything perfectly; mushrooms and kale can be gently reheated together as pasta finishes.
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons off-dry sherry, such as Amontillado (or port) [editor's note: may substitute cooking wine]
6 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used crimini – white buttons are fine, too)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or 2 strips bacon cut into matchsticks (optional)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces kale, rinsed, ribs removed and torn into medium pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dried linguine or other ribbon pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Start a large pot of water to boil for cooking pasta. Melt butter in a large, lidded saucepan over medium flame. Add salt and sherry [or cooking wine], swirling to combine. Add mushrooms and stir to coat them with the butter mixture. Cover pan and cook for 8 minutes; mushrooms will give off moisture, so don’t be concerned that there isn’t enough liquid in the pan. Remove lid and let cook for a few minutes, partially reducing liquid. Turn off heat, cover pan and set aside.
2. While the mushrooms are cooking, heat oil in a large, lidded sauté pan over a medium flame. Add pancetta or bacon, if using, and cook for 3 or so minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add kale to pan, in batches, if necessary, and toss to coat with oil. Cook until kale is wilted and reduced in volume, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat, cover pan and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. As pasta nears being done, add mushrooms to pan with kale and warm over low heat, stirring to combine. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water, and add most of it to mushroom/kale mixture, tossing to combine. Add remaining pasta a little at a time, until it looks like the right mix; you may not use all the pasta. If things look a little dry, add some of the reserved pasta water and toss to combine. Turn off heat and divide between two shallow bowls. Top with Parmesan cheese, if using. Serve.