I *just* had my first recipe request! How fun! A “recipe to improve the dating life of a random college student out in Washington, DC“! I racked my brains for the perfect dish that would be affordable on a student budget, relatively easy to cook but still feel special, and of course, be super tasty.
I was reminded of a pasta dish I used to regularly make (why did I stop?!?), I originally named it “If salad and pasta got together and had a baby…” but that sounds a little weird so Arugula and Goat Cheese Pasta it is. The peppery herbaceous flavor of the arugula cuts through the slippery pasta rich with the creamy goat cheese. Fun fact – arugula is known as rocket in the UK.
This is a very flexible recipe, if your date happens to be vegetarian you can easily skip the bacon (just start cooking the onions in a little olive oil and butter) and swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock and it’s still really delicious. If you’re fond of mushrooms you can add more (I usually do the full 10 oz – half regular white mushrooms and half whatever looks good in the store – chestnut, shitake, oyster). You can kick the taste up with thyme or parsley, pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice but if you don’t have those ingredients, it won’t ruin your date night.
Not pictured – chicken stock, butter, optional – parmesan cheese, lemon and a small onion – because they wouldn’t fit 😉 If you have a long day of classes, you can get some of the prep done in advance the night before – finely chop the onion, mince the garlic, chop the mushrooms, grate the cheese and store them all separately in the fridge (wrap tightly in plastic wrap, foil or baggies)
If you’re an experienced cook, you can chop as you go but if you’re newer to cooking I’d recommend having everything prepped (onions, garlic, mushroom chopped, cheese grated/crumbled) to remove any stress. Bonus – if you’d like to cook together, you can assign mushroom chopping or cheese grating to make it into a team-effort dinner.
Cliffnotes: cook the bacon until crispy, remove and set aside, cook the onion in the bacon fat, add the mushrooms and cook until nutty and brown with a little garlic, remove and set aside. Add chicken stock and reduce by 50%. Add mushrooms back to pan. Add freshly cooked pasta (reserve cooking water!), butter, parmesan (if using) and toss. Add arugula, crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts (if using). Salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. If dry, loosen with pasta water. Top with crumbled crispy bacon and a little more goat cheese.
And there are just enough breaks in the cooking for excellent conversation…
arugula and goat cheese pasta
Note all of the ingredients give an approximate range, if you like more bacon, use more bacon, if you’re ambivalent about mushrooms, use less 😉
4-6 oz of bacon (preferably center cut which is less fatty)
1 small onion (or half a large onion)
5-10 oz of mushrooms (any combination of white, chestnut, shiitake)
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp butter (~1/4 of a stick)
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bag of baby arugula (3-5 oz)
1 small log of plain goat cheese, usually 4oz
Your choice of dried pasta – linguine, fettucini, tagliatelle
Optional: fresh herbs (thyme or parsley), a lemon, pine nuts, small piece of parmesan cheese
1. Chop the bacon into bite size pieces (kitchen shears make this much easier)
2. Chop the onion into a fine dice and crush the garlic in a garlic crusher (or slice as finely as possible)
3. Brush any dirt from the mushrooms and chop them into slices. Remove the woody stems from shiitake mushrooms if using.
4. Grate the parmesan cheese (if using), crumble the goat cheese into little pieces like small popcorn.
5. Put a large pot of water on to boil and add a good tablespoon of salt
6. In a large pan (large enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients AND the pasta), cook the bacon over a very low heat for a few minutes. The fat will start to render out and you can turn the heat up higher until the bacon reaches the desired level of crispness. Stir regularly to stop the bacon sticking.
7. Remove the bacon and set aside. Lower the heat and add the onions, cook until they are translucent (about 3-5 minutes), stirring regularly.
8. Add the mushrooms (salt and pepper too!) to the onions and continue to stir regularly over a medium heat. If your pan seems dry, you can add a glug of olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are just starting to turn golden and then remove the mushroom/onion mix and set aside.
9. Add the chicken stock (don’t worry if there are a few pieces of mushroom or onion left in the pan, they’ll add more flavor) and turn the heat up high, stir to loosen any tasty brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Cook until the chicken stock is reduced to about half (about 5-10 minutes). Turn the heat way down to the lowest setting and add the mushrooms/onion mix back to the pan. Taste and add salt/pepper if necessary.
10. Put the pasta in the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain in a colander and try to save some of the cooking water (set a mug under the colander).
11. Add the pasta to the mushrooms, add a large knob of butter and parmesan (if using), toss vigorously (tongs or a couple of forks). If things seem dry, add a good glug of the reserved pasta water (the starchiness will help bind everything together).
12. Add 3/4 of the crumbled goat cheese, arugula, pine nuts (if using) and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Toss again. Add the bacon. Final toss.
13. Serve in warmed bowls/plates (from the oven on the lowest setting), with the rest of the crumbled goat cheese on top.
Excellent with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ
Mushrooms are tricky little fungi, they usually go through a mushy stage when they’re officially cooked but not looking too appetizing. You can stop cooking at this stage and it won’t have a major adverse effect on your dish but if you can bear it, keep the heat high and stir regularly, watch the mushrooms like a hawk and you’ll be rewarded with a just browning/nutty tasting mushroom that will be absolutely delicious.
The last few steps all happen in a matter of seconds (adding the pasta, butter, parmesan, arugula, goat cheese, pine nuts) so having everything ready and bowls/plates warmed and ready to go will make your life easier.
Do we have any other cooking suggestions or recipe ideas for our college student? Will the cooking work out? More importantly, will there be a second date? Stay tuned…
If you have your own recipe requests, I’d love to hear from you. You can use the contact form above or email mainelyeatingblog @ gmail.com (remove the spaces!)