Friday, November 05, 2004
TORTELLINI WITH MUSHROOM-CHEESE SAUCE
To be eaten in moderation, but very good. I don’t even like cream cheese all that much, but boy does it complement mushrooms and garlic. This dish comes out a bit like a mushroom stroganoff, but freshened up by the basil. It’s been a standby favorite of mine ever since I first made it about 5 years ago, in my first apartment after graduating from college. I was cooking with roommate K, who famously proclaimed while doing the prep work, “I feel like I’m a slave to these mushrooms.” (A phrase that inevitably pops into my head when I’m chopping them now. That’s definitely the most laborious part of this recipe—the rest is a cinch.)
This can be a somewhat rich and heavy meal, but it’s easy to adjust the amount of cheese to suit your tastes. The proportions of the recipe (wherever I got it) were very unbalanced, so I’ve restructured it after extensive experimentation. It originally called for one 12-ounce package of tortellini, but all the prepackaged refrigerated fresh tortellini I see at the store (DiGiorno, Buitoni, etc.) comes in 9-ounce packages. A ratio of just 9 ounces of tortellini to 6 ounces of cream cheese is grossly overcheesy (believe me), so I got in the habit of using two packages of tortellini (18 ounces). Last night, in fact, I used a “family pack” of 20 ounces of tortellini, because that was all I could find at the store, and I used even less than 6 ounces of cream cheese (maybe 4-5 ounces). I upped the mushroom amount slightly, too—the “baby portobellas” I like to use come in 6-ounce packages, so I bought three and used all 18 ounces instead of 16. I also put in more than the required 1 tablespoon of basil, because I like basil. And everything turned out great. The very health-conscious among us could probably use even less cheese, but I prefer to just eat small servings of the final product and then have a green salad on the side.
Note: I always try to use brown mushrooms, like cremini—it adds more mushroom flavor and prevents the cream cheese from dominating, and it also makes this a slightly more sophisticated dish and less like something made with a can of Campbell’s cream-of-mushroom soup.
18-20 ounces fresh cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon butter
1 to 1¼ pounds mushrooms, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
3-4 ounces cream cheese (reduced-fat is OK here), cubed
¾ cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil a large pot of salted water for cooking the tortellini. When it boils, add the tortellini and cook according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. When it's melted, add the garlic and mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are soft and all the liquid they release has evaporated (recipe says 10-12 minutes).
3. Add the cream cheese (add it gradually, to avoid using too much), milk, and basil to the skillet, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce comes to a gentle boil. It should definitely be liquid and saucelike (if it’s not, you’ve used too much cheese), but not runny and watery (if it is, you don’t have enough cheese). Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper.
4. When the tortellini is done, drain it, add it to the skillet with the sauce, and toss everything together well. Serve garnished with additional basil and black pepper if desired.
Time: 30 minutes