Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Blue cheese is one of those love it or hate it ingredients. I’m in the love camp. If I’m having a salad before dinner, most likely it’s topped with some crumbled blue cheese.

The Salemville brand has been on sale lately at Lowes Foods so I’ve been enjoying their Gorgonzola. So creamy with just the right amount of funk. Wouldn’t it be good in a pasta cream sauce? Hmm. But Jim is in the blue cheese hater camp, so there’s no use making something like that for dinner. Unless he’s not home for dinner.

And soon enough, Jim went away one long weekend for his annual deer hunting trip to the mountains. The tradition was started many years ago by his dad and his dad’s best friend. The sons and grandsons always went along. The old men are gone now, rest their sweet souls, but the sons carry on the tradition. I imagine lots of cussing, farting, and sports talk.

Gorgonzola Penne with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Walnuts (before the pasta) | Grabbing the Gusto

Gorgonzola Penne with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Walnuts (before the pasta) | Grabbing the Gusto

While my honey was off getting some venison for the freezer (three deer!), I was indulging in this rich, comforting pasta. Spinach salad was my inspiration. What makes a good spinach salad? Bacon, mushrooms, onions, and walnuts. I didn’t think of red bell pepper until later, but next time I’ll add a roasted one too.

Instead of spinach, I used tatsoi in this recipe. But since spinach is easier to find, it gets the co-star treatment in the title. Tatsoi with its dark, firm leaves is like spinach’s beefy older brother. The larger bunches have crunchy stems like bok choy. Tatsoi cooks quickly, like spinach, and can be used in place of spinach or other greens in all kinds of recipes.

How do you use gorgonzola in your kitchen?

Gorgonzola Penne with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Walnuts | Grabbing the Gusto

Gorgonzola Penne with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Walnuts

You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet (it can be small), large pot for pasta, large deep sauté pan, and colander.

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 10 ounces shiitake and/or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • 2 good-sized cloves garlic, diced
  • 7 to 8 ounces tatsoi or spinach leaves, sliced in 1/4” to 1/2” ribbons (about 7 cups)
  • 10 ounces whole wheat penne
  • 1 cup half and half or heavy cream
  • 1/2 tightly packed cup crumbled Gorgonzola
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

For the walnuts, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350. Or preheat a toaster oven. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Toast the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven or toaster oven until dark golden-brown, 6 to 8 minutes, just until they get fragrant and a bit darker, but don’t let them burn. Set aside.

Sauté bacon for a few minutes in a pan over medium-low heat. Add onion, and mushrooms, with a bit of olive oil if you need more fat in the pan, and sauté until just softening. Make a space in the middle of the pan and add the garlic plus a bit of oil on top of it. Cook one minute. Add spinach or tatsoi and stir everything together. Cook until the greens wilt.

Cook the penne according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 to 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta in the colander. Reserve more pasta water if you plan to have leftovers – stir it into the pasta before refrigerating to help retain creaminess.

Add the cream, Gorgonzola, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of salt to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the cooked pasta and walnuts. Cook, stirring constantly, until some of the sauce is absorbed by the pasta, about 2 minutes. If necessary, add some of the cooking water to moisten the pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chives, and serve.

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