Pasta with Mushrooms, Lemon and Kale

I'm pretty stoked to tell you that we've managed to trade in the brown and gray of the still-winter midwest landscape for the vibrant colors of California spring!  Yes, that can only mean one thing... we're hanging out at the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen and breathing the ocean air of the Central Coast for a couple of weeks.  And when I say vibrant colors, I'm not even kidding.  Because of the torrential winter rains here, the wildflowers are partying as they haven't done in years.  It's taken a while for the eyes to adjust, but we're back to enjoying it all in technicolor.  

But Before we left home, I spent no small amount of time trying to put together a recipe to satisfy a certain wintertime craving I was having for mushroom pasta.   This is not an unfamiliar craving. Of course, pasta is always at the forefront of most of my cravings, and sometimes I need a mushroom.  This time I needed both; something vibrant and healthy and really mushroomy.  

Initially I made a couple of versions that included a creamy component, but I found them a bit too heavy which sort of muddled the mushroom experience.  And after a few more attempts, and some trial and error, this is what I came up with.

Turns out that when you combine just a few ingredients to maximize their effect on each other, you end up with some dang good eats.  And this, my friends, is definitely some very fine eats. And it's actually pretty easy to throw together.

While your pasta is cooking, (I used cellantani, which is sort of a corkscrew shape and very fun), you're just going to quickly saute some shallots, garlic, mushrooms and kale and then toss in the pasta with the lemon and parmesan and enough of the pasta cooking water to create a nice little sauce.

And then serve it up with a little more parmesan and wonder how you possibly got along without it all this time.  Here's the recipe...

Pasta with Mushrooms, Lemon and Kale

Click here for a printable recipe

This recipe works best with short pastas such as campanelle, penne rigate or cellantani.  Different pastas will absorb the sauce differently, so if you feel the need, add a little goat cheese into the pan if the sauce seems sparse.  Play with the ingredients and make it your own... more heat from the pepper, or less, more lemony if you like, and substitute zucchini or spinach for the kale.  Dried thyme can be substituted for the fresh, or leave it out altogether.  

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 small shallot, minced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested, juice of 1/2 of the lemon
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups thinly sliced kale
4 oz goat cheese (optional)
3/4 lb pasta (I used cellantani)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the pasta about one minute less than the package directions.  Reserve a large cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium high heat and add the crushed red pepper and shallots. Saute for a couple of minutes until the shallots are softened and then add the minced garlic and mushrooms.  Saute the mushrooms for about 5 minutes or until softened and cooked a bit. 

Add the sliced kale to the pan, along with salt and pepper and continue to cook until the kale is just wilted.

Stir the cooked pasta into the pan along with 1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice and the thyme leaves.  Taste for salt and pepper and add the reserved pasta water and the goat cheese and stir to create a little sauce.  Keep warm until ready to serve and then drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle the top with a little more grated parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.