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.
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.
|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!
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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!