Old memories, new memories on a plate

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I arranged a special date night and we took a little walk down memory lane...  

We went back to have dinner at a restaurant we used to go to frequently but haven't been to in about 9 years.  Before we got married and after, we often had dinner at a small Italian (Tuscan) restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, near where we lived at the time.  Being creatures of habit, we had a handful of favorite restaurants and went to them often.  This cozy little restaurant was our favorite Italian place; it was dark and cozy, and served wonderful food out of a teeny kitchen space. It's the restaurant where I developed my love of tomato-basil bruschetta and where I indulged in my already well-established love of pasta.
Something new I tasted and had to copy at home: Whole wheat linguine with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted walnuts, and basil.  So simple and tastes incredible!
Stepping back into the restaurant was a little like going back in time.  Nine years hadn't changed much at all.  We sat at the same, somewhat rickety, table and chairs, and we noticed almost all the same decor (even the menu cover was the same!) filling the space.  The same garlicky cannellini bean dip arrived with the bread basket.  

The place seemed a little more brightly lit and the wait staff was different - actually friendlier but ironically, the somewhat chilly personality of the waitresses there at the time was part of the charm of the place for us.  We chatted with our waiter that night and told him we hadn't been here in about nine years - incidentally, nearly the age of our little one - and we commiserated with him about the challenges of parenthood since he had a newborn at home.  He told us everything was essentially the same at the restaurant, still run by the same chef/owner.  We actually saw her arriving a little later, and she looked exactly the same!  Maybe nine years isn't such a long time after all.
Most of the ingredients for this pasta.  I used cremini and shiitaki mushrooms.
Of course, we had to order a lot of the same dishes we loved back then. I think all our old-favorites were still on the menu.  My husband had the spicy mussels to start, as he always did.  I had to have the tomato-basil bruschetta, a side we always ordered when we went there.  Happily, they still used the same crusty, rustic bread and manged to give it the familiar char and flavor I was so enamored with years ago.  My husband also had spaghettini with littleneck clams, another old-favorite, and still as good as we remembered.  If anything, the portions just got a little bigger and I'm not complaining.

But a few things have changed.  Me, for one.  I still love pasta but I'm no longer the girl who can (though she may want to) order and plow away a big bowl of bow tie pasta with cognac cream sauce.  My eating habits have veered towards the healthier (though still hearty) direction in the last couple of years.  So I ordered barbecued baby squid on arugula (which was utterly delicious) and choose the organic whole wheat pasta with wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and walnuts.  I'm not sure these dishes would have appealed to me much nine years ago but it's the kind of food that entices me now.
Really good olive oil and a generous amount of garlic flavor this dish.
And so I finally make my way to this pasta.  Something old, something new. This dish was definitely not on the menu nine years ago.  Happily, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, tasting even better than I'd hoped.  My husband readily agreed it was delicious and he is neither a huge fan of whole wheat pasta or of sun-dried tomatoes.  Nine years ago, I would not have said that I liked either of those things myself but things and people do change while some basic things stay the same. Good food is good food. And that, in turn, got me thinking about something I read over at The New York Times recently asking whether there really are foods we don't actually like or is it more a matter of food that we haven't liked yet.  It's something I've given some thought to in recent years as my taste buds and preferences have changed so much.  Just when I think I don't like a certain ingredient, I find that I was wrong because somewhere, someplace, I taste it differently and it makes me change my mind.  I really think there is a way to cook everything (or at least almost everything) to one's palate.
Please make this!  The toasted walnuts accentuate the nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta.  The mushrooms beef it up and the sun-dried tomatoes add sweetness and extra flavor.
I had such a lovely evening that night with my husband. There's nothing like sitting down to a relaxing, delicious meal and having a good chat.  It was also nice walking around the old hood and seeing all the changes while recognizing all the familiar sights at the same time.  And since eating that delicious whole wheat pasta dish, I've been thinking about how rewarding it was to try something new in familiar surroundings - mixing old and new with happy results.  

So I wanted to recreate the dish at home to celebrate that and because it was so surprisingly delicious.  I was fairly confident I could recreate it because it is fundamentally a very simple dish though with a very harmonious combination of flavors.  I could see as well as taste each ingredient separately and melded together: al-dente whole wheat pasta; really excellent olive oil; just enough garlic you taste but don't see; sun-dried tomatoes for a little chew, color and sweetness; walnuts for a lovely crunch; and as a last touch, a few pieces of basil to freshen it all up.  It is food at its best - simple and simply delicious.
Great hot and still good at room temperature, this is a good option when spring and summer eventually gets here.
Remaking this pasta at home might have been one of my smartest moves of 2013 so far!  It is that good, that satisfying!  I never would have expected myself to be touting a whole wheat, vegetarian pasta dish but the combination of flavors and textures is out of this world.  My husband devoured his share and I'll be making it often.  I really recommend this!


This is admittedly a lot of talk about a dinner date so let me focus on the actual recipe now.  I literally just made this for lunch today and couldn't wait to post it because it is so delicious!  

The recipe is based on what I saw and tasted that night at the restaurant and the mental notes I took. As with most savory cooking, feel free to change proportions up a bit or use different varieties of mushrooms to suit your preference.  I just hope you give it a try and love it as much as we do!
The friendly waiter told me this was made with whole wheat fettuccine before I ordered it but I looked at a few places and could not find whole wheat fettuccine anywhere.  I settled for linguine and I'm not altogether sure it wasn't linguine I had that night!  Linguine is perfectly fine and I'm thinking of experimenting with a short pasta for spring/summer picnic or travel food.  

The menu also noted wild mushrooms in the dish but I saw mostly the fairly standard cremini (or something very similar) mushrooms on my plate.  For my version, I bought what was available at the market: cremini and shiitaki mushrooms.  You can certainly use other varieties though I think having an anchor of slighter denser mushrooms like cremini or baby bellas is a good basis for this dish.  One last note: please toast the walnuts.  I did it simply by heating the walnuts, tossing them around, in a small skillet for a few minutes.  It adds such a heightened nuttiness to the dish and works incredibly well with the whole wheat pasta.
I got really excited when I was finishing up, tossing the pasta together in the pot, and it looked very much like what I had that night!  They definitely had a better olive oil than I used but I have to say my "knock-off" comes extremely close.  It is so good and will surely satisfy your pasta cravings.  The whole wheat pasta just works here; you wouldn't want to have it any other way. Seriously.
That's my walk down memory lane, along with a plate of pasta thrown in for good measure.  Maybe all my jabbering will make you think of an old favorite restaurant of yours, or one that holds a special memory.  And maybe you'll consider re-visiting it one day to see how things have changed, or not. I'm so glad we did, and I'll always continue to be grateful for restaurants and all the hardworking restaurant staff who make these moments and experiences possible.  


Recipe:

Whole Wheat Pasta with Mushrooms, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Walnuts
My rendition of a dish I recently enjoyed at a favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, NY

- Serves 2-3 - 

6 ounces whole wheat linguine (or other whole wheat pasta; I used De Cecco)
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
8 ounces mixed mushrooms (I used cremini and shiitaki), sliced
30 grams sun-dried tomatoes (a little over 1 ounce or about 3-4 tablespoons), coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
Coarse salt and pepper, for seasoning
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Place pasta into a large pot of boiling, salted, water to cook according to package instructions.

In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 3 garlic cloves in a pan or large skillet.  Add mushrooms and season lightly with salt and pepper; cook until softened, a few minutes.  Remove mushrooms to a plate.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the other 3 garlic cloves to the pan, heating for a minute or two.  Add sun-dried tomatoes and toss together. Place mushrooms back into the pan.

Add cooked pasta into the pan and toss together for about a minute.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water to moisten it up a bit more.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Remove from the heat, add toasted walnuts.  Give it one last toss and plate (removing garlic cloves, if desired), topping each with a bit of torn basil leaves.  Enjoy!





54 comments:

  1. Monica!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is suchhhhhhh an amazingggg pasta dish! and that little anecdote you shared! It's just BEAUTIFUL to read! This pasta recipe is just wholesome and I cannot wait to try!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

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    1. Aww....thank you, Samina! I really appreciate your sweet words. I hope you try it! I highly recommend it.

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  2. Such a lovely post Monica! This pasta looks wonderful. To be honest, I am not normally drawn to whole wheat pasta but looks utterly delicious and wholesome. I think I will add it to my shopping list, along with the sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Jo! I totally understand the reluctance against whole wheat pasta. I still can't imagine having it in say, linguine & clam sauce, but whole wheat pasta has really come a long way. And in this recipe, it is perfect. I wouldn't want to have it with regular pasta and that is saying a lot. I hope you try it and enjoy it.

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  3. What a sweet memory! The pasta looks marvelous!

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    1. Thank you, Angie. Maybe this tastes especially good because of all the memories...I don't know. ; )

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  4. Lovely story and a pasta that is simple and yet so delicious. I can't wait to try this vegetarian little wonder. I'm pinning this recipe!

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    1. Thank you so much!! I hope you try it and thanks for pinning. Have a great day!

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  5. I love the sound of the pasta - it is so simply perfect! And such a great combo with the sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, mushrooms and basil. I'm glad you re-created it to share with us! And I loved hearing your story - it's always so interesting to me how tastes and preferences change over time. This coming from the girl who used to absolutely hate anything with any spice - my how times have changed!

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    1. Thank you so much, Ashley! I think you would like this! With your short ribs on Friday night and this pasta yesterday, I was looking like a rock star in the kitchen. ; ) It it a rather long-winded story about a plate of pasta...but I can't help myself once in a while. And speaking of changing tastes, the old me would NOT recognize the me now. It is almost startling.
      Have a great Sunday!

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  6. I would enjoy this pasta as well...beautiful take on a restaurant recipe, Monica! :) ela

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  7. This pasta looks and sounds amazing, Monica! Your nostalgia date sounds so fun!

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    1. Reminiscing about happy memories is always fun and getting to re-visit in person is even better. And now we'll eat this pasta at home and have even more to talk about! : )

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful memories with us Monica! Your evening with your husband sounded just perfect and so glad you decided to recreate the pasta dish you had there. This looks amazing and I love the sound of everything in here from the whole wheat pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and mushrooms. Pinning - I love this beautiful wholesome dish and can't wait to try it :)

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    1. Thank you for reading, Kelly! It is always a treat to sit down with my husband to have a meal and a long chat. This pasta was an extra bonus - it's really so good! The wholesome, healthy part is a bonus. Thanks again and take care!

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  9. Great story and wonderful pasta!! I am crazy about all kinds of mushrooms and looking at this mushroom laden pasta dish already makes me excited. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. It's really tasty and easy to put together w/o a lot of ingredients. : )

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  10. Hi Monica,
    Wow! this really looks super delicious!

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  11. Aww Monica! That is so adorable, and I LOVE tomato basil bruschetta too! These are some great memories and I wish you two clearly many more like these. This pasta looks so good!

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    1. : ) Thanks, Jessica...I appreciate the good wishes!

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  12. What a lovely pasta dish! All those gorgeous ingredients that went into making this including the special something that only memories and experiences can create. The pictures are making my mouth water. It's breakfast time here but I long for pasta:-)

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    1. You're right - I think the place, the good memories, may have something to do with why this tastes so good to us! It can't hurt...but it really is a great blend of simple flavors. : )

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  13. What a lovely dish Monica! I know when you make it again those memories will definitely come back to whole wheat pasta! :)

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    1. haha - I never thought I'd have such glowing things to say about whole wheat pasta but here we are. I am happy to have more good memories and I'll take it any way I can get it. Thank you!

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  14. The simplest pasta dishes are the best! Your story reminds me of an Italian place we used to frequent in our neighbourhood in Texas. It was so good that we all still talk about the food when we go down memory lane, the kids especially! So glad you had a wonderful night with your hubby. So important to have those date nights :)

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    1. Thank you! We have date night at home on Fridays often...after the little one's bedtime...since it's not so easy to go out anymore. It is so nice...but it's wonderful to mix it up, dress up a bit, and get out of the house once in a while too. : )

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  15. What a great story, it is amazing how much we change, the little things that we don't really notice after a time. Beautiful dish too!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri. It really is crazy to look back and realize how much you've changed sometimes!

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  16. We have moved a lot throughout our marriage and it is always nice to go back to our old favorite places whenever we visit. It always brings back good memories. This dish looks divine! I love the sundried tomatoes and mushrooms!

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    1. I bet! I couldn't imagine moving around a lot...that must be very challenging.
      I never used to like sun dried tomatoes but I sure do now. : )

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  17. Awwh this was such a lovely post Monica! I'm so glad to know you and your husband had such a great evening. This pasta dish sounds amazing and I really like how healthy it is.
    Hope you're having a nice day dear! xx

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    1. Thank you, Consuelo! We do have a good time together. : ) Hope you're having a relaxing week.

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  18. Monica, I just made a pasta dish with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes recently and posted on my blog! My version has cream and yours is much "leaner" from what I can see. :) Love the idea of using nuts together with mushrooms and tomatoes!

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    1. Your pasta looks ridiculously good, Julia! There's definitely time/place for everything and it's good to have options. I was surprised by how much the walnuts added to this dish - it really accentuates and compliments the nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta beautifully. : )

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  19. I love pasta recipes like this: putting some good ingredients together and letting them shine.

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    1. Same here, same here. I wish I had such clarity to be able to do this on my own without recipes or tasting it somewhere else first...

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  20. Lovely post Monica :-) And a mouth-watering recipe... sounds very wholesome and flavourful!

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    1. Thank you, Aimee. I appreciate it.

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  21. It's so sweet that you guys went to one of your old dating spots! If you don't mind telling me, what restaurant is it?? I might have to drag The.Boy. :P

    Though I love the sound of a cognac cream sauce, I am all over this pasta! It's definitely the kind of thing I would order as well!

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    1. I did leave that little detail out, didn't I, Joanne? The place is called Tuscany Grill, in Bay Ridge, Bklyn...on 3rd Avenue. If you ever go, you have to let me know what you think! Maybe it's just us and the haze of memories we shroud that place in...
      This pasta is so good...please order it if you go. : )

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  22. Monica - congratulations on such a fantastic recipe! I could eat this hot, warm, or cold for any meal of the day. It is wonderful and beautiful. Great job!

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    1. Thanks, Tricia. I was thrilled it came out very close to what we had at the restaurant.

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  23. I am not usually a fan of whole wheat pasta, but as usual Monica, you have me looking a previously unappealing ingredients in a new way! This pasta sounds wonderful! I love sundried tomatoes for their chew and their flavor. Add mushrooms, garlic, and basil and this is pretty much my ideal pasta dish.

    I loved the story of your special date night. Shared history and fond memories are what bind people together. We rarely had date nights out when our kids were young. I remember clearly feeling like I would have the struggle (and expense) of babysitters forever. Then one day you wake up, and the kids are grown. :) Finding a balance between couple time and family time is (for me, anyway) a challenge. :)

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    1. You are very sweet, Wendy. I have really come around to whole wheat things but pasta can be a hard sell. I tell you though - it really works here. Don't skip the toasted walnuts. It accentuates the whole nutty theme and takes it to the level of awesome. : ) I hope you try it one day.

      When my son was an infant, I never thought we'd have a moment to ourselves again, let alone go out! Now 8 years have flown by. I'm lucky in that my sister and I take turns "babysitting" and my son gets to play with my niece and have a blast when we do go out. We do date night at home on Fridays a lot and I enjoy that, too...there's nothing like sitting at the table and having time to talk. It's also nice for all 3 of us to sit down as a family for meals and we do it all the time. As you said, the little one will be in college (knock on wood) before I know it!

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  24. Wow Monica, this pasta looks fabulous you made this whole wheat pasta looking really great especially with the story behind it...
    Hope you are enjoying your week :D

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    1. So glad you like it, Juliana. Thank you!

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  25. Thursday evening is kids swimming and we usually eat out (lack of time) or eat pasta... and I just decided that we'll try this! I just need to grab basil (I think I have walnuts in my pantry). So excited! I am the same way - I can appreciate more simple dish like this than heavy creamy sauce (okay I eat once in a while but not all the time anymore). I got all kinds of mushrooms in the fridge right now that I was going to make Japanese style mushroom pasta, but this is actually going to be a nice change! Can't wait. I love sun dried tomatoes with pasta... So happy I found this post this morning!

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    1. Thrilled to hear it, Nami! I'm sure you would make it amazingly delicious. You made me think of the Ferry Market and baskets of beautiful wild mushrooms they had for sale there...wish I had that to make this with. I also love Japanese style mushroom (wafu?) pasta.

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  26. I have never used whole wheat pasta before. But your pasta looks so tasty with the earthy mushrooms and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes. I am now convinced that I have to try this dish with whole wheat pasta. Thanks for sharing your story and recipe!

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    1. I'm so glad to convince you! ; ) Thank you, my friend.

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  27. Looks delicious Monica! You are right--9 years is a long time, and yet it's not. Amazing that the restaurant hasn't changed much--which is so unlike most places these days. And isn't it interesting how our tastes can evolve and change too? I wouldn't have liked whole wheat pasta either, but I've grown to like the nuttiness of whole grains a lot. Great that you were able to recreate this at home!

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    1. Hi Tiffany - thanks! We were a little surprised by how much the place was exactly the same, too! Glad for it. : ) And really happy to recreate this. I'm looking forward to making it often.

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