When life gives you tomatoes, you make homemade tomato sauce. This meatless Creamy Tomato and Mushroom Pasta with spinach is a filling weeknight dinner you can make without needing to buy a jar of sauce.
Last month I talked about how I barely made it to any farmer’s markets this summer. That post really got me thinking – why not? Why haven’t I taken the time to enjoy what makes me happy? Why was I not feeling motivated? As I made more of an effort to go to the markets, I realized it was the timing. There is supposedly a great farmer’s market in the city on Thursday afternoons, but the problem is it’s downtown during a weekday. Parking will either be nonexistent or cost me $10. Then I have to time it just right so I don’t get caught in lunch or late afternoon rush hours. Not exactly motivating. Saturdays are also popular for farmer’s markets, but Saturdays are also my busy days for errands usually not near these markets. What about Sunday? Sundays are my slow days, days where I can take my time. My errands are done, so I can have more time to relax. Turns out there is a Sunday farmer’s market about 15 minutes from me with free parking on the side streets. This isn’t a tiny market either. When you first walk in, there’s a handful of tents. As you walk towards the end, you realize that isn’t the end and there are even more tents in the back. Tents full of produce fresh from farms! Yes, there are a few people selling bread, jams, fresh coffee (cold brew!), and pizza for lunch, but the farmers outnumber the other tents. There’s also a wide variety of produce available, more than just your zucchini and corn – tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes, bean sprouts, chard, a variety of peppers, fresh cut herbs, the list goes on. I even went back the very next weekend with a friend because I wanted to share this market with someone.
Just walking around that market made me feel inspired again. I love cooking with fresh garden tomatoes. When it’s summer, I try my best to buy tomatoes from farms and not the store because I can taste a difference. Most of the time I end up making a quick pasta sauce with tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil – very simple to highlight the freshness. Even though my go-to recipe is similar to a marinara, I was in the mood for a creamier sauce; however, I didn’t want a super heavy sauce for summer. That’s when I came up with this Creamy Tomato and Mushroom Pasta with fresh spinach leaves. It’s the tomato sauce you will want to make when you don’t have any jars in your pantry. It won’t take you hours to make either, making this dinner ideal for those busy weeknights.
Lately I’ve been crushing on shiitake mushrooms, which have a meaty, earthy taste to them. You often see them in Asian cuisine, but I bent the rules a little and went Italian because I love them so much. I’ve seen them once at a farmer’s market because a mushroom farmer was there, but you can also find them in grocery stores. Asian grocery stores sell them a bit cheaper than regular stores if you have any nearby. If you don’t want to use shiitake, you can use any type of mushroom you want; most people love using button or portobello mushrooms in pasta.
Speaking of pasta, there are certain shapes I like to eat over others, mainly because some shapes pair better than others with tomato sauce. I knew I wanted to use a tube-like pasta to help hold the creamy tomato sauce, so I used Barilla Penne, a company that’s been around for more than 135 years. Pasta sometimes gets a bad rap for being unhealthy, but pasta can certainly be healthy when portioned correctly with a fresh sauce, like with my fresh tomato sauce, superfood spinach, and nutrient-filled mushrooms. Pasta also supplies steady energy to get you through the rest of your day, especially if you have evening activities planned.
Although I’m all about fresh tomatoes for this sauce, I have no problem using canned tomatoes when it’s not tomato season. I do prefer using fresh spinach leaves, but in a pinch you can also use frozen spinach. When the pasta is 1 minute from being done, add the frozen spinach to the boiling water and cook for 1-2 more minutes. That way you don’t need to dirty another pot.
For more information about Barilla pasta, please visit their website and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Time saving tip - While waiting for the water to boil, chop your onion, garlic, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
30 minPrep Time
20 minCook Time
50 minTotal Time
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces or 1/2 box) uncooked Barilla Penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
- 2 medium tomatoes*, seeded and chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cups fresh spinach leaves
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook penne as directed on the package until al dente, roughly 11-12 minutes. Drain into a colander.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onion and mushrooms. Cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, basil, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes (if using). Stir until the tomato paste is smooth with the broth then bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the cream cheese and Parmesan cheese. Stir until melted.
- Add the spinach leaves and wait 30 seconds before stirring (as the spinach cooks, it'll shrink and be easier to stir). Cook for another 2-3 minutes or until wilted and bright green.
- To serve, in a large bowl mix together the cooked penne and sauce. Serve immediately.
*If you don't have fresh tomatoes, you can use one (14 ounce) canned tomatoes with juices.
More Pasta Recipes
Caprese Pesto (Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella)
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Barilla. Thank you for supporting me and the companies I work with as sponsored posts help pay for the costs of running Chocolate Moosey, including website hosting and groceries for recipe development.