Meatless meals make for mouthwatering dishes

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

A baked mushroom pasta casserole can entice eaters to give meatless meals more than one try.

Local chefs I interviewed recently on top 2018 food trends cited farm-to-table and hyper-local eating as among the top locally enduring preferences for the coming year. Indeed, the most readily available ingredients featured at farmers markets are local produce.  In addition, many local restaurants grow their own produce or obtain it from neighboring gardens.  National pundits caught this trend too but called it a push for “plant based” food.

They must have meant meatless. 

More and more of us are practicing meat-free eating, often more than one time per week.  According to recently published market research 31% of Americans practice frequent meat-free eating. For instance, Meatless Mondays are the perfect antidote for a weekend filled with too many rich, often luxurious meals.  And, meatless meals in general are ideal for those who are health oriented or wish to lighten up, which are key benefits of incorporating plant-based ingredients.  Then there are Lenten practices which call for avoiding meat-based dishes during that season.

There are endless meatless recipes to choose from.  Meals centered around such recipes can be fun, delicious and so easy to eat that they make meals delightful and enjoyable for the entire family.

Here in Chester County, home of the mushroom capital of the world, it’s easy to get carried away with mushrooms.  They often are the focus of meatless eating in this area.   Their variety seems endless – reliable white buttons and criminis; flavorful shitakes; exotic oysters, trumpets, enoki, hen of the woods – you name it.   And to top it off, all those varieties are readily available at local grocers and specialty shops.

No matter what the variety, mushrooms offer a perfect foil for these meatless dishes.  Their earthy, almost-meaty taste and rich textures complement the other, more forward elements in a dish.  Mixing and matching makes for plenty of flavorful combinations.

Baked mushroom pasta casserole is just such a dish.  Easy to make, delicious and fine to be prepared in advance, it’s perfect for weeknight suppers when everyone in the household is on the run.  Choosing a short pasta shape such as penne, fusilli or gemelli insures that the lovely sauce permeates the entire dish.   If you’re really in a hurry, simply serve from the platter without baking.  It’s mouthwatering that way too.

So hop on down to the local grocery, grab a bag of mushrooms, a box of pasta and prepare to enjoy.


Baked Mushroom and Fettuccine Casserole



1½ pounds mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 sprigs each fresh rosemary and thyme

1 large onion or several shallots, diced

7 tbs unsalted butter

5 tbs flour

1½ cups heavy cream

2 tsp kosher or sea salt

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 32-oz carton of low-salt vegetable broth

1 pound fettuccine, cooked 1-2 minutes less than manufacturer’s instructions

½ cup grated Romano cheese

½ cup thinly sliced Fontina cheese


Melt 5 tbs butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When bubbling, add flour.  Whisk until mixture begins to brown like roux, about 3 minutes.  While whisking slowly pour in vegetable broth.  Continue until mixture thickens.  Stir in cream and add herbs.  Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tbs butter in a large skillet.  Add onions.  Cook till softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook till they are tender, about 5 – 8 minutes.  Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pasta according to directions.  If baking the dish, undercook pasta by a few minutes.  After draining, put pasta back into the large pot.  Stir in mushroom mixture.  Toss in Romano cheese.  Pour into casserole dish and top with Fontina cheese.  Bake ~30 minutes.  The baking step can be omitted with the dish being served right after the pasta mixture is added if desired.

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