Choose Your Own Adventure Cooking

Last night–for reasons that are boring and would not make the live studio audience laugh–I had to make dinner on the fly. And while I’m a very self-assured cook, the only way to really know if a dish is successful is just go ahead and make it and eat it. So I looked in my fridge, gauged what needed to be used up (Swiss chard, mushrooms), and made a pasta dish with those ingredients plus a few more goodies.

Pasta with Mushrooms, Swiss Chard and Walnuts


  • 3 pieces bacon
  • 1 big shallot, chopped
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, rough-chopped
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
  • 1 pound penne
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup reserved pasta water

Here’s what I did:

  1. I  cooked the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, I fried the bacon in a large skillet. I removed the bacon, set it aside, let it cool and chopped it up.
  2. I added a bit of olive oil to the leftover rendered bacon fat and sauteed the shallot ’til tender and translucent.
  3. I added the mushrooms to the pan and sauteed them until they started to brown. Then I deglazed the pan with the sherry and threw in the chard and garlic. (I had meant to use the garlic as  last minute fresh addition, but accidentally added it too soon. Cooking on the fly!)
  4. I toasted the walnut pieces in a small skillet.
  5. When the shard and mushrooms had cooked down, I turned off the heat and added them to the cooked and drained pasta.
  6. To the pasta-chard mixture I added the toasted walnuts, cooled bacon, the juice of one lemon, the Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, and reserved pasta water, to loosen the sauce a bit. I tossed it all together until everything was combined well.

I thought it was great but could have used a bit of sweetness somewhere–caramelized onions or maybe a little syrupy balsamic vinegar…

Anything you would do to tweak this if you were making it?

UPDATE: Prefer vegetarian cooking? Leave out the bacon. I think this dish would still be terrific without it.


9 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Adventure Cooking

  1. Sounds like a great meal. How about some golden raisins? One of my favorite dishes is broccoli rabe parboiled, then sauteed in olive oil with garlic, pine nuts and either golden raisins or dried currants. The same treatment would go well with Swiss chard.

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