Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Penne Bake

With winter and its freezing* cold temperatures still looming outside, today’s dinner had to be warm and comforting. I’m not really a pasta fan, like I kind of hate it (potatoes are a totally different story…), but I saw this recipe and was intrigued. It contained several of my favorite ingredients; onions, mushrooms, 2 kinds of cheese, red wine, how could this be bad? After a day of errands and grocery shopping, I got home and realized that I was still without some of the ingredients so a few quick substitutions, lasagna was out and a penne pasta bake was in.

(* – It did not get above 60/15 (it was 52/11 to be exact) today, therefore everyone in Southern California reserves the right to complain profusely about how cold it is and wear any amount of ridiculous layers and ‘winter’ clothing as they see fit. The fact that there was snow forecasted for much of the state totally justifies any and all complaining.)

I started making this earlier in the day, caramelizing the onions while I made lunch, but the rest of the meal came together surprisingly fast despite the seemingly daunting list of  ingredients and directions. I think making this a bake, as opposed to a real lasagna, definitely helped speed things along.

I’m fairly certain I would make this again, but there are a couple of things I would want to change. Mainly the ricotta and spinach mixture. The original recipe called for salt, but in interest of cutting down sodium, I left it out. I had no idea how incredibly bland ricotta is. I think some garlic and a pinch of salt would fix all that. The smell of the mushrooms and red wine, however, was absolutely amazing. I would have been more than happy to eat the mushrooms and onions by themselves. They definitely could be used as a pasta sauce or on top of a baked potato.


Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Penne Bake
Inspired by this Eating Well recipe

  • 1 box of penne pasta (I used gluten-free penne)

Onion and Mushroom ‘Filling’

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 onions, sliced
  • 12 oz. mushrooms, washed, stemmed, diced (I used regular white button mushrooms)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 tsp. salt

Cheese ‘Filling’

  • 10 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
  • 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil

White Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. flour (all-purpose or gluten-free substitute)
  • 2 cups non-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/3 cup walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
  2. Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain. Return to pot and cover with cold water.
  3. Onion Mixture: Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to caramelize. Stir in mushrooms and cook until just beginning to soften. Stir in wine and 1 teaspoon salt and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in pepper.
  4. Spinach Filling: Place spinach, ricotta and basil in food processor and process until smooth.
  5. White Sauce: Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir until bubbling whisk in milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking, until the sauce has the consistency of thick gravy (it will be slightly thinner if you’re using non-fat milk). Add Gorgonzola and gently whisk until it is melted. Remove from the heat. (The sauce will continue to thicken as it sits.)
  6. Drain noodles again and dry on towel.
  7. Mix noodles, onion mixture and ricotta mixture in large bowl.
  8. Coat large baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer pasta.
  9. Pour white sauce over pasta and top with walnuts.
  10. Bake until hot and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  11. Serve and enjoy!

I enjoyed my penne bake with a glass of my favorite Santa Barbara Winery blend ZCS (Zinfandel, Carignane, Sangiovese). It definitely made the meal.

Now I’m off to cuddle with puppies and watch some Dateline Mysteries…

Jersday Polenta Pizza

Jersday is probably my favorite day of the week. In honor of my favorite day, I decided to make something vaguely Italian, just like the cast of Jersey Shore.

Tonight pizza sounded good, but the whole yeast, dough rising thing just seemed like too much work. I thought that polenta might make a comparable crust, so we headed to the kitchen to experiment.

Polenta Pizza Crust

  • 1 cup Polenta/Cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup parmesan (the grated/powdery kind, I used the parm pecarino blend from Trader Joe’s)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. I prepared it like normal polenta. Boil salted water on medium high heat, stir in polenta, stir constantly so there are no lumps, let ‘cook’ on low for about 15 minutes, removed from heat, stir in parm. At this point I split the polenta between 2 parchment lined pie dishes and baked in the oven for 12 minutes. I then removed the crust from the pie dishes, keeping it on the parchment and put them on cookie sheets. I put the cookie sheets back in the oven for about another 15 minutes in the hopes of ‘crisping’ up the crust

Once the crust was a little harder, I added the toppings. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and some kalamatas went on one and the other one had caramelized onions, gorgonzola, toasted hazelnuts and sliced pears.

For some reason the tomato based one held together a bit better. Over all the crust was pretty good, but nothing super special. I think this recipe is going to require a little more tweaking to get the consistency I want.

Does anyone have any polenta crust recipes or any suggestions?