Thursday, January 27, 2011

Penne with Pancetta & Mushrooms

Recipe modified by Gretchen Wilson – April 2010
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published on – The Daily Dish newsletter on Monday, March 23, 2009.

I love pasta and I’m always on the lookout for a new dish with a cream sauce that isn’t too heavy.  This recipe found its way into my inbox via “The Daily Dish” newsletter at  This dish has everything I love – creamy sauce that doesn’t weigh down the pasta, salty pancetta to balance out the cream and mushrooms.  I can’t get enough mushrooms.

Picture published with recipe:

My finished product:

I always stand by my “don’t judge a recipe by the published picture” rule.  Is that mushed-up poop with that penne?

Mess:  Small

Start-to-Finish Time: Under an hour

Prep Work: Minimal and make your life easier by buying pre-sliced mushrooms & pre-minced garlic

Ease of Recipe: Easy to make with no difficult techniques or ingredients

Overall:  Excellent recipe – I would absolutely make this again

Recipe Information:
Servings Per Recipe: 4

Amount Per Serving
·         Calories: 549
·         Total Fat: 24.3g
·         Cholesterol: 67mg
·         Sodium: 306mg
·         Total Carbs: 66.7g
·         Dietary Fiber: 3.8g
·         Protein: 18.9g

It is four fairly large servings, so you could probably get six servings if you served with a large salad and crusty bread.  I cut calories by using wheat pasta and as little cheese as possible.

Changes denoted by red text

1 package (12 ounce) wheat penne pasta
1 package (3 ounce) pancetta bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 package (10 ounce) sliced white mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or to taste

Ingredient Notes:
Wheat Penne Pasta
  • In the event you can’t find penne (pronounced PEH-neh), good substitutes are mostaccioli, ziti or rigatoni.
  • Many an Italian has told me that wheat pasta is blasphemy.  Personally?  I can’t tell the difference.  However, the original recipe does call for traditional pasta, so feel free to use it in the event (a) you can’t find wheat penne or (b) you can’t bring yourself to eat the wheat.
  • Got a fancy cheese section in your deli/vegetable area of your grocery store?  Check for it there.
  • If you have a problem finding pancetta (pronounced pan-SHEH-tuh), you can always use prosciutto (pruh-SHOO-toh), an Italian ham which is a little easier to find & is usually in the deli case for slicing.  In a pinch, you can use un-smoked lean bacon too, but definitely make the effort to find either the pancetta or prosciutto. 
White Mushrooms
  • Save yourself some time & look for pre-sliced mushrooms.  I LOVE mushrooms, but to slice them is tedious.
  • I used white mushrooms, since that was what was pre-sliced.  You probably could get away with baby portabellas too, but I’d stay away from shitake or any mushroom that is strong.  It could easily overpower the dish.
Garlic – same with the garlic.  Since it isn’t the focus of the dish, the pre-minced you find in the vegetable section of your grocery store works fine.
Italian Seasoning – if you don’t have it in your pantry & don’t feel like buying some (spices are some of the most expensive items in the store) use a pinch each of oregano, basil and parsley.  You won’t know the difference.

Shredded Parmesan Cheese – the recipe called for grated, which has a significantly different texture.  I had some left over shredded and decided to use that up on my first bowl.  The difference?  I used less cheese (better for you) and had a light sauce instead of an overly creamy one.

One thing you’ll probably notice that I left the heavy cream instead of going with 2% or skim milk.  The reasons are:
  • It is ½ cup so it isn’t a large amount.
  • This sauce depends on the thickness of the cream to keep it from being watery.  Unlike a cream sauce that uses a thickening agent (flour or cornstarch) or cheese to make it thicker for pasta.
Equipment Needed
Pasta pot or large pot
Large skillet
Paper towel
Plate (for draining the pancetta)
Large spoons

Also, you’ll need someplace to pour the pancetta grease after you’ve finished cooking it. 

1)      Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  The current school of thought is that salting the water does not affect the sodium content of the dish & improves the flavor of the pasta.  I usually do not salt my pasta water & feel there is plenty of flavor in my dishes, but it is a personal preference.

2)      Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and set aside.

3)      Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat until browned but not crispy, about 5 minutes.  Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.  While cooking the pancetta, be patient & keep it over medium heat.  It is tempting to turn up the heat, but it isn’t as “sturdy” as regular bacon & can burn easily.

4)      Pour pancetta grease out of the skillet, and add butter.

5)      Increase heat to medium-high and stir in sliced mushrooms.  Cook and stir until the mushrooms have softened and released their liquid.  The mushrooms will take on a shriveled look and the liquid released will start to foam a little.  That is when you’ll know they are done.

6)      Add the minced garlic, and cook 2 more minutes.  Keep your eye on the garlic & keep stirring it!  It too can burn easily, especially on medium-high heat.  When you can smell it & it begins to turn golden-brown, it is done.

7)      Reduce heat to medium-low, and then stir in cream and Italian seasoning.  Since the garlic can burn easily, it might be a good idea to mix the Italian seasoning in with the cream before adding the garlic to the pan.  That way you can immediately turn down the heat & add the cream/seasoning mix.  Simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly.

8)      To serve, toss the cooked penne with the sauce, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

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