Penne à la Dominic

A couple of weeks ago, my mother bought one of those fantastic coupons you can find on Living Social or Groupon for a restaurant called Sam & Gabe’s in Des Moines. For $25, we got $50 worth of food — bitchin! I had heard of the place, but had never gone, so I was excited to give it a try. There is nothing I love more than poking my nose into new restaurants and judging them harshly.

I’m not going to go into a review of the place, it was good — nothing earth-shattering, and I’d happily go back, but this blog post is about a dish I was inspired to make at home based on their Penne Alla Sophia. Penne Alla Sophia is penne pasta with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and basil all tossed in a cream sauce. It was okay tasting, really nothing spectacular. The cream sauce was very heavy, but the ingredient combination was quite nice. (If you do go to Sam & Gabe’s be sure to get their chocolate and espresso torte — divinity on a plate.)

So, I decided to recreate it myself and change all of the things I thought could be improved and create my very own version, which I did, and it is fantastic. You may be wondering about the name, Pasta à la Dominic. Well, I French-ified it and named it after myself. No, my name is not Dominic, but when I become a celebrity in a few weeks time, I have decided to go by the nom de plume Dominic Grey. I have always loved the name Dominic ever since reading about the character of Dominique in The Fountainhead and I liked the initials DG, because they not only remind me of luxury, but of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I sympathize tremendously with that novel. I don’t spell grey with an “a” like everybody in America, never have, and I don’t really know why, just always have. When put together, Dominic Grey has such a nice ring to it. I don’t dislike my own name, Benjamin Phillips, but it is certainly a mouthful and Dominic Grey is much easier to say and a bit more exotic, I think, which I certainly like. So, anyway, I’ve named this pasta dish after my future self, which I will have on the menu at my vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood. I have no doubt that it will be a hotspot for celebrity altercations. I simply can’t wait!

So, Penne à la Dominic trumps Penne Alla Sophia. It is lighter, healthier, more delicious, certainly cheaper, and perfectly proportioned. I also like this dish because it is really rather meaty with the mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. I have been a vegetarian for about six months now, so it is always nice to have a dish that seems meaty and hearty even if there is no meat.

Anyway, let’s get cooking. This recipe serves exactly one for a well-proportioned dinner that will leave you satisfied, not stuffed. Here is what you are going to need:

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One serving of penne pasta. I use whole-wheat pasta because I think it tastes better and it is better for you. If you don’t have a kitchen scale at home, I highly recommend it as it is simple to get the exact proportion you need.

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About three mushrooms. Brush off any dirt or mud and remove the stems.

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Remove the stems because they are nasty!

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Slice the mushrooms rather thinly. They will shrink considerably during cooking, so if you like mushrooms — cut some more.

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Scant 1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes. I recently discovered my love for these delicious things. They are very meaty and incredibly flavorful.

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Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces.

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Peel a garlic clove or two and slice off the bottoms. [See the green sprout on the clove on the right? We are going to take care of that.]

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I have never seen one cooking show, not even my beloved Martha, teach viewers to degerm garlic. The green sprout in the center is very bitter and oftentimes hard to digest. Simply slice your garlic clove in half and with the tip of your knife, flip out the green center.

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I am going to use the Garlic Zoom my aunt bought me to chop the garlic. I love this little thing! I really dislike chopping garlic because it gets sticky and clings to the blade and then if you only have one clove it’s exhausting. Instead, you can just pop the cloves in here, roll it over your counter and…

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Voila! It is a modern day miracle.

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Now, grab a healthy handful of spinach. You could also use kale or chard instead of spinach as it will be coming into season (and in my garden) very soon!

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Shave a bit of parmigiano-reggiano or plain parmesan for garnish and finely grate about two tablespoons for the dish.

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Lastly, one tablespoon of healthy margarine (I use Smart Balance) or butter, if you must.

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Mise en place! (French for roughly: “everything in place.”) Having everything ready makes cooking simple and a lot of fun.

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Before you start cooking, toss some rustic bread and your beloved Martha Stewart dinner plate in the oven on a low temperature to heat up. This is a great tip — always warm your plates!

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Warm half a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet [about five minutes] on medium heat and then toss in the mushrooms. Generously salt. (I only use non-iodized salt, because I don’t like the taste of iodized salt, plus I like the coarse grind.) The mushrooms will absorb the oil and salt and then release it with their water in a few minutes.

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At the same time, dump your pasta into boiling salted water and cook according to the instructions on the box. By the way, don’t waste your olive oil in the water, it’s a myth that your pasta will stick without it.

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Cook mushrooms until they are browned and delicious.

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Toss in the sun-dried tomatoes and heat through.

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Throw in the spinach and watch the wilting magic!

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I could wilt spinach all day. I wish I were kidding…

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When your pasta is just about done, toss in the garlic and let cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. You do not want to brown the garlic — it gets bitter.

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Transfer your cooked pasta to the skillet, reserving the water. You’ll need a little bit.

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Toss in the cheese and stir until melted. Now take about 1/4 cup of the water and add slowly to the skillet until everything comes together.

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Just before plating, melt the margarine or butter.

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Plate beautifully, toss with the shaved parmigiano-reggiano, tear yourself a hunk of delicious bread, turn on some Italian music such as “Mambo Italiano,” or The Real Housewives of New Jersey and enjoy!

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Five minutes later…

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