Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season of fasting, prayer and atonement for many Christians around the world. In our Catholic family, that means abstaining from eating meat today and every Friday throughout Lent.
Fish is an obvious choice for observing this rule, but what about people who don’t care for fish (I know many), or those who may not have easy access to fresh seafood?
You don’t have to eat fish to observe the Lenten obligation of fasting, and today we’ll revisit three of my favorite meatless recipes that are easy to prepare, filling and so delicious you won’t even miss the meat.
Lemony Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach: Pasta is an excellent option for a meatless main course. Easy to prepare, affordable and filling, pasta is available in a variety of noodle sizes and shapes that makes it versatile enough to be enjoyed in both light and hearty dishes.
This Lemony Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach is a favorite in our family, and after sharing it here last March, I received more than a dozen emails from readers who made it that same week, telling me how much they enjoyed it. The combination of mushrooms, spinach and lemon creates a meatless alternative that is brightly flavored, savory and surprisingly hearty.
Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart (Pissaladière): This adaptation of the classic French Pissaladière features caramelized onions, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and olives on a bed of flaky puff pastry.
When I featured this recipe here two years ago, I used a tart pan to create an elegant presentation, but often I’ll just roll the dough out into a roughly shaped rectangle and bake it on a sheet pan. Anchovies feature heavily in a traditional pissaladière, but for this recipe I use only one anchovy, finely chopped, and if you don’t care for anchovies, you could skip this step altogether.
The combined flavors of the caramelized onions and mushrooms give this tart an almost meaty quality, making it a perfect dish for Lenten Fridays, especially when paired with the peppery spice of a simple arugula salad.
Fresh Tomato Soup: Soup is a perfect option for a meatless meal, especially when served with a grilled cheese sandwich or hunk of good, crusty bread.
This Fresh Tomato Soup is a favorite from our cruise-ship days, and while it features 3 pounds of fresh tomatoes, you could use three cans of whole, peeled tomatoes instead.
Filled with savory flavor, this tomato soup is easy to make and deliciously comforting.
Lemony Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 pound pasta, medium-size noodles are best (cassarecce, penne, rigatoni, medium shells)
2 ½ tablespoons kosher salt, divided
6 garlic cloves, sliced paper-thin (a food mandolin is ideal, if available)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 ounces baby bella (portobello) mushrooms, cleaned and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, divided
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest, divided
8 ounces fresh baby spinach
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Line a large plate with paper towel and set aside.
In a medium pan, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the breadcrumbs and toast over medium-low heat, stirring often, until evenly golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer breadcrumbs to the paper-towel-lined plate to drain; set aside to cool.
Fill a large stock pot with water, add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, about 2 minutes less than amount recommended on package. Before draining the pasta, reserve and set aside 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain remaining water and rinse pasta with cool water to stop the cooking process; set aside.
Meanwhile, as the pasta is cooking: In a large pan, add the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic becomes fragrant and lightly golden around the edges, about 7 to 9 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, once the breadcrumbs have cooled, transfer them to a medium bowl. Add the chopped basil, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; gently toss until combined and set aside to use as a garnish when the pasta is ready to serve.
Add the fresh spinach leaves, in batches if necessary, and continue cooking over medium-low heat, tossing often, until the leaves begin to wilt. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
Add the cooked pasta, ½ cup of the reserved pasta water (add more as needed), the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the pasta is hot and heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss to ensure even distribution.
Transfer pasta to serving bowl(s) and top with half of the toasted breadcrumbs. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and remaining breadcrumbs, on the side.
- The breadcrumbs may be prepared a day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use. Add the lemon zest and fresh basil just before serving.
- The pasta may also be prepared in advance and kept at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours before being added to the mushrooms and spinach.
Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart
Serves: 4 to 6
1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
15 cherry tomatoes
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 ½ cups baby button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (check directions on package for thawing guidelines)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
12 to 15 good-quality black olives (Kalamata, oil-cured, Niçoise), halved lengthwise
Set oven to broiler function (approx. 500-550 degrees).
In a medium bowl, combine the chopped anchovy with olive oil, add the cherry tomatoes and toss to combine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again until evenly distributed. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and broil for 4 to 5 minutes until the skins just begin to split. Watch carefully to prevent browning. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, slice tomatoes in half and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions, mushrooms, garlic and thyme, stirring to combine. The onions will appear to overflow the pan but will quickly reduce below the rim.
Stir in the kosher salt and black pepper, partially cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are softened and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and discard the thyme sprigs.
Place the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll out to desired size. If using a tart pan, gently press the dough into place, pressing along the bottom and edges. If using a baking sheet, place the dough on the sheet leaving at least an inch between the edges. Use a fork to prick the pastry all over and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
Spread the onion mixture evenly over the center of the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border free of topping. Brush the border with the egg wash. Place sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle with the halved tomatoes and olives.
Return tart to oven and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the edges and bottom are golden brown. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers may be refrigerated for at least 2 days.
Fresh Tomato Soup
Serves: 6 to 8
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 stalk celery, sliced into ¼-inch half-moons
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
2 ½ to 3 pounds fresh tomatoes, or three 28-ounce cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cups V8 Vegetable Juice
One 14.5-ounce can chicken stock or broth (or vegetable stock)
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 leaves fresh basil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
8 to 10 drops hot sauce (like Tabasco)
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat; once melted, add the onion and garlic and saute over medium low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the crushed red pepper and celery and continue to saute for 5 more minutes, stirring often.
Add the white wine and increase heat to medium-high; let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Add the V8 juice, chicken stock, water, bay leaf, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have shed their skins and appear soft and broken, about 45 minutes.
Remove the mixture from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Use a handheld or liquid blender to puree the mixture until fully blended. Pass the liquid through a strainer into the pot, draining as much juice as possible and discarding the pulp.
Return the pot to the burner over medium heat. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and hot sauce and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh croutons or crackers. Additional garnishes can include grated Parmesan cheese, finely chopped basil or parsley, or baked cheese crostini.
To store: Transfer soup to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
Recipe Time Capsule:
This week in...
- 2019: Winter Fruit Salad with Apple, Citrus and Fennel
- 2018: Angry Pasta: Penne all'Arrabbiata
- 2017: Pesce alla Puttanesca
- 2016: Orange Pecan French Toast
- 2015: Irish Potato Leek Soup
- 2014: Apple Spinach Salad
- 2013: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.