I have been making versions of this dish ever since I was a student, so for quite some time. It makes sense that I started cooking it in those days because it is quick, adaptable and (very important to me at the time) relatively cheap. I definitely wasn’t going to splash out on food if I could spend my money on beer. It is also an easy dish to make, not requiring too much time in the kitchen, which also suited me just fine at the time. Not because I disliked cooking (although I was far from a foodie) but because most of the kitchens I cooked in back then were absolutely filthy. This was entirely due to my housemates’ sloppiness, of course. Nothing to do with me. 😉
In fact, I think it was the state of those kitchens that made me turn this dish from a meaty platter into a vegetarian one. Going vegetarian was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, but there was one particular students’ house I lived in where I genuinely didn’t think it was safe to prepare meat. Needless to say, I ate out a lot and didn’t live there for very long.
So this creamy mushroom tagliatelle had lots of things going for it when I was living in squalor but most importantly it was, and is, delicious. Which is the reason why I still cook it today. As to who gave me this recipe, I don’t really remember (did I mention the heavy drinking going on at the time?). I know a friend of mine, who later became a housemate, also cooked it but whether I got it from her or the other way round… It’s all a bit of a blur.
I said I have been making ‘versions’ of this dish, because it is very adaptable. I’ve made it with minced meat or mushrooms (or both), with frozen or fresh spinach, with Boursin cheese or discount faux-cream cheese or simply a splash of cream and some garlic. I’ve subbed the pine nuts with chopped walnuts or just left nuts out altogether. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I’ve always added a bit of heat in some form or other. I’ve used chilli oil, chilli flakes, etc, but these days I go for a fresh chilli. Deseeded, which I don’t usually do, but I don’t like to think of this as a spicy dish. The chilli just lifts the whole thing and anyway, spinach and chilli were meant to be together as far as I’m concerned.
Another thing I love about this dish is that it’s a great Tuesday night supper but also something I would confidently serve dinner guests.
For a vegan (or lighter) option: Add a large clove of grated garlic to the onions and chilli at the beginning, and instead of adding Boursin, stir in soy cream. I like Alpro Soya Light, which I use for pretty much every recipe that calls for single cream these days. Haven’t tried it in this dish yet, so I can’t give you exact measurements, but I think 100/125 ml should do it. And you’d want your pasta to be eggless, obviously. But you don’t need me telling you that.
One last thing: you could just throw in the raw mushrooms after you’ve cooked the onion and chilli and fry them like that. I certainly did when I was cooking in septic kitchens, but I really think that frying them separately makes all the difference.
So without further ado, here is my creamy mushroom, spinach and pine nut tagliatelle.
Serves 2 generously (easily doubled)
250 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
(garlic) olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
180 g tagliatelle
350 g frozen spinach (not creamed) , thawed and lightly drained
3 tbsp (30 g) pine nuts, toasted
80 g Boursin cheese, the garlic and herb variety
– Put a large pan of hot water (it saves time) on to boil.
– Fry the mushrooms in a largish frying pan. Sprinkling them with a bit of salt makes them yield their juices a bit quicker. Transfer to a plate and leave.
– The water should be boiling by now, so cook your tagliatelle while you make the sauce
– In your mushroom pan, fry the onion until translucent, then add the chilli and fry a little bit longer.
– Add the mushrooms and spinach and stir until everything is warmed through. Season to taste.
– Stir in the Boursin cheese.
– Drain the pasta when it is done, reserving half a cup (125 ml) of the starchy cooking liquid.
– Stir the pine nuts into the mushroom mixture, then add the pasta and mix. If it all seems a bit dry, add some of the pasta liquid.