My stepson named this dish when he was about 11 years old. As with most kids, he had a tendency to like things that are sweet...but I like to avoid adding processed sugar to meals.
The secret to this dish is simply caramelizing onions and red bell peppers so that their natural sugars come out. Kids will lick their plates.
PREP TIME: 15 min
COOK TIME: 1 hour
SERVES: 4 - 6
FOR THE TOPPINGS
6 TBSP (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
4 onions, chopped
4 red bell peppers, chopped
4 yellow bell peppers, chopped
10 ½ ounces (300 g) mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Salt & pepper to season
Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan cheese
FOR THE PASTA
8-12 ounces (225-350 g) whole grain or spelt spaghetti noodles
Enough water to cover more than 3 inches
2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
START THE ONIONS & PEPPERS FIRST
1) Heat a large, deep pan over medium heat, then add 2 TBSP olive oil and the onions. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions start to brown.
2) Increase heat to medium high, add 2 more TBSP olive oil and your chopped bell peppers. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
3) Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 45 minutes, stirring often.
MOVE ON TO THE MUSHROOMS...
...while your onions and bell peppers are cooking.
4) Heat a large, frying pan over medium-high heat, then add 2 TBSP olive oil and the mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until mushrooms start to brown and their juices evaporate off.
5) Move to the side and cook garlic for 30 seconds, then mix well with the mushrooms and turn off the heat.
6) Just before starting your pasta, add your garlic and mushroom mixture to your onions and bell peppers and mix well.
7) Season with salt and pepper, and turn the heat down to low while you cook your pasta.
COOK YOUR PASTA
Bring a pot of water with 2 TBSP of salt to a boil. Add your pasta and cook as directed by the instructions on the package.
Turn off the heat, drain off the water. Immediately add your pasta back to your pot and stir in the 2 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil.
Serve pasta into individual serving bowls, top with the onion, pepper & mushroom mixture, and garnish with fresh basil and parmesan cheese as desired.
Recipe and Photo Credit: Cathy Menees
4 onions and 8 bell peppers sounds like a lot, but they really cook down and shrink in size, as do the mushrooms
COOKING TERM: CARAMELIZATION
This is the process of browning food to where their natural sugars come out. For that, you need a really high heat, and the absence of water. Why? Water can only reach 212F / 100C – that’s it’s boiling point. Oil gets a lot hotter. You need a temperature above water’s boiling point to get the desired caramelization!
You need about an hour to really let the onions and bell peppers caramelize.
I start the onions first as it takes a bit longer for their sugars to come out. I crank the heat when I add the paprika as they will release their natural juices, and I need that to evaporate off (see caramelization note).
I cook the mushrooms in a separate pan to start out with, as 1) they need less time and 2) they release A LOT of liquid at first, which, if combined at that point with the onions and peppers early on, would stop the caramelization process and create more of a ‘steamed’ effect.
Start the mushrooms on medium high. You’ll see they soak up all the oil, but DO NOT be tempted to add more oil. After a few minutes the mushrooms natural juices will start to come out, so just let them cook in their own juices until the liquid evaporates.
Adding 2 TBSP of salt to your cooking water might seem like a lot, but it’s an important trick I learned from an Italian grandma. She said, quote “your pasta water should taste like the ocean” (a clean ocean, of course). This trick is key as it adds taste to your pasta. If you skip this step, you’re likely to add much more salt after the fact, than that which would have come from the salted water.
LOVE YOUR LEFTOVERS
The onion, pepper, mushroom mix is great leftover – serve it again over pasta, stir it through cooked beans or lentils, or use it as an omelet filling or pizza topping.