Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lima Bean, Artichoke & Mushroom Pasta

This is the kind of pasta you serve to the people you love most. It's comfort food, but it's not sloppy - it has the beautiful fragrance of tarragon, the pungent kick of garlic, and diverse textures to keep everyone interested. Few things are worse than soggy, homogeneous pasta dishes. Here you'll find the smooth but firm texture of lima beans (even smoother and much more delicate are flageolets, a sophisticated, pale green bean with the most buttery, light texture, if you're not a fan of the heavier nature of the lima bean). Then there's the fresh pop of the mushrooms, and the slippery toothsome artichoke hearts. The Parmesan adds the salt we all crave, and the whole thing comes together as a pasta dish neither you, nor your dining companions, will soon forget. 

The best part? You can feel free to customize this recipe to your tastes - more or less tarragon or garlic won't ruin the dish; it'll make it perfect for you. Although this can stand on its own, this pasta goes beautifully with garlic bread (this is assuming you aren't going for drinks with a hot date immediately after, or that your date is joining you for dinner - garlic is an ingredient best served to all or none). A crisp salad lightens the meal, and I would suggest a simple olive oil & balsamic dressing with a little orange juice to brighten it up.

Recipe (Serves 4)

4 cups (adjust depending on your hunger and if you’re serving salad and/or garlic bread) penne or other small pasta such as shells or bowties
Olive oil
3-6 cloves of garlic (depending on how social you want to be afterwards)
1 can of lime beans (or flageolets), rinsed and drained
12 large mushrooms, sliced
1 jar of artichoke hearts, rinsed and patted dry, cut into bite-size pieces
Dried tarragon
Parmesan cheese (Kraft Parmesan will do in a pinch, since Parmigiano-Reggiano is pricey)

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding 1 tsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. oil. Add pasta when the water is at a rolling boil. Follow package instructions for timing, usually 9 minutes for thicker pasta.

- While the water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add minced/crushed garlic and sautee until it starts to colour (but do not overcook to the point of crunchiness or burning). When the garlic starts to smell and colour, add the mushrooms and sautee until browned.

- Add lima beans and artichoke hearts, sautee for a few minutes to allow the garlic to flavour them too.  If the pan starts to get too hot and you're worried about burning the vegetables, you can ladle in some of the boiling pasta water.  Season with salt, pepper and ample tarragon to taste (I usually use at least 1 Tbsp, but be liberal and taste as you go).

- When the pasta is ready and drained, add the amount you want into the sautee pan (pasta is easier to estimate after cooking than when dry). When well-mixed with the beans, add parmesan to taste – I would estimate at least 2 cups. Since there is no ‘sauce’ the cheese is very important.  

Now... Enjoy!  Don't forget that this recipe is all to taste - don't be afraid to experiment or adjust.  If you're a really big fan of beans, go ahead and use two cans.  If you don't like artichoke hearts, just leave them out and add more mushrooms.  It's all about flavour, and tarragon marries beautifully with so many different things. 

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