Quick and Easy Pasta With Light Cream Sauce Recipe

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

I was having a meal with friends a while ago at Pasta Pomodoro. My girlfriend ordered their Penne Portobello and told me it was one of her favorite dishes. I asked for a taste and decided that I could probably make this at home.

I had already been making pasta dishes that I learned from Fine Cooking Magazine based on their “Cooking Without Recipes” article titled “How to Make a Light, Creamy Pasta Sauce” (Fine Cooking, Issue number 50). So I had the right building blocks to figure out how to make Penne Portobello myself.

For the pasta, I’ve used penne as well as farfalle. You are totally free to interchange them as you please or use any other shape of pasta.

Quick and Easy Pasta Recipe

This recipe is a quick and easy dish. From start to finish, I can normally whip up this meal in half an hour or less. Basically, while your pot of water is boiling for the pasta, you can be prepping all the ingredients and when you put the pasta in to boil, you can start to cook the sauce. Once the pasta is done, all you have to do is incorporate the pasta in the sauce and add a little cream and that’s it, you’re ready to eat! Easy huh?

And the ingredients that go in the sauce is really up to you. In this one, I am going to use mushrooms and (because I do like lots of veggies), I also add onions, bell peppers, asparagus, sundried tomatoes, and spinach. I find that any combination of these veggies (other vegetables I’ve used include zucchini, peas, cauliflower and fresh tomatoes) make a really yummy pasta.

You can also vary your protein. I normally try to go with two different types of meat to complement the rest of the ingredients. Sometimes, I will throw in some bulk Italian sausage (about 1/2 lb) and some kielbasa sausage or bacon. At other times, I’ve just used chicken and sausage or made it a seafood dish by adding shrimp. When I use shrimp though, I keep it more simple—just a veggie or two and let the shrimp be the star. Play around and find your favorites!

Linguine with Pancetta, Zucchini, Shallots, and Homegrown Cherry Tomatoes

Linguine with Pancetta, Zucchini, Shallots, and Homegrown Cherry Tomatoes

The Trick to Tasty Pasta

The trick to making your pasta sauce taste really yummy is to give it a nice liquid ingredient. I always keep a bottle each of dry and sweet vermouth in my pantry (they last a lot longer than a bottle of opened wine as they are fortified) and they really add a delicious flavor component to the finished dish as well as in helping to scrape up all the nice brown bits while cooking. Other liquids you can choose to add include chicken stock, marsala wine, brandy, vodka, and clam juice. After adding your liquids, you do want to reduce it to really give it a punch.

Right at the end is when you add the cream (and not too much–about 1/2 cup is plenty) to enrich the sauce and give it some body. It won’t make the sauce so thick and heavy the way a lot of cream sauces are in restaurants but it will give your pasta a more luxuriant mouth feel.

Finally, don’t forget to toss all the ingredients together and add final touches like grated cheese or leafy herbs to add one more layer of flavor to your final pasta dish.

Penne with Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

Penne with Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

How to Boil Pasta

One word on boiling pasta. Growing up, my mom used to boil pasta in a medium sized pot and add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil. I didn’t know any better for a long time and did the same. After watching Food TV and also reading cookbooks, I’ve come to realize that how you cook your pasta is KEY to how the whole dish will taste.

If you plan to cook the whole pound of pasta, you will need:

  • a big pot of water (4 quarts).
  • to salt liberally (at least 2 Tbsp–I never bother to measure, I just taste my water, if it tastes like the sea, you’ve salted it enough).
  • to forget the oil. Oil does nothing for the pasta.
  • to stir the pasta several times through the cooking time-this helps ensure the pasta doesn’t clump together.

And when it’s cooked through (follow cooking times on the package but also bite into it to make sure it’s cooked through), save a cup of the water and drain. Do NOT rinse in cold water. The saved water can be added if the pasta starts to clump a little (I use this more when I’m making spaghetti or other noodle pasta, I don’t need it as much with farfalle).

Save a Cup of Pasta Water

Save a Cup of Pasta Water

Brighten Up the Flavors

One final trick—soy sauce. Yes, soy sauce. Right at the end, I always add a bit of soy sauce to my sauce. You won’t notice it but it will brighten up all the other flavors because of its umami. If your sauce still doesn’t come alive after that, you can do my second trick and add a bit of lemon juice. That always works for me. But try the soy sauce trick first. You’ll be amazed.

Farfalle with Mushrooms and Sausage in a Light Cream Sauce

adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine

1 lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta (I’m partial to Barilla brand pasta)
4 qts water
2 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage or 1/3 lb bacon, sliced to cubes
1/2 lb polska kielbasa, large diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup asparagus, sliced on a diagonal (about 8 spears)
2 cups sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas this time but you can use white button or portobellos or even shiitakes if you want)
1 bell pepper (any color you like), diced
2 large handfuls of spinach (about 1 bunch or 2 cups baby spinach)
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (the ones packed in olive oil), make sure to get some of that oil into the pasta too (it adds a lot of flavor)
1 tsp Italian seasoning (or combination of your choice of dried herbs)
1/2 cup dry vermouth (sweet vermouth will work too)
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste and don’t forget the dash of soy sauce (about 1 Tbsp)
Garnish: grated Parmesan and chopped parsley

1. Bring water to boil in large pot. Add salt and throw in pasta. Give it a stir every so often while cooking. Follow timing on your pasta box. Check to make sure pasta is done. Drain pasta and do not rinse in cold water.
2. While water is boiling, prep ingredients and start cooking. Add pasta to cook as you continue to make your sauce.
3. In a large stainless steel pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon or Italian sausage and sauté till bacon is slightly crisp or sausage is halfway done. Add kielbasa sausages and continue to cook till lightly browned.
4. Throw in diced onion and sauté till onions are soft. Add Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Toss in the asparagus, mushrooms and peppers. Sauté for 1-2 minutes till mushrooms start to wilt.
6. Add sundried tomatoes.
7. Add vermouth and chicken broth. Bring to boil and then simmer till reduced by about half.
8. Throw in the spinach now and let it wilt in the sauce.
9. Add cooked pasta to sauce and toss around to coat pasta. Add in heavy cream and additional flavorings (like soy sauce or lemon juice) and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Plate up and garnish with parmesan cheese and parsley. Sometimes, the pasta is so flavorful already that I omit this step.

If you want to spice up your pasta, feel free to add some dried red chili flakes or Tabasco to your sauce.


Cheers, Annie

This article was entered into the Presto Pasta Nights roundup, hosted this week by Ben of What’s Cooking

21 thoughts on “Quick and Easy Pasta With Light Cream Sauce Recipe”

  1. >Ha! A little bit of soy adds body to many things! This looks good and healthy. I find the pasta at Pasta Pomodoro can sometimes be too thick, so this looks like the perfect balance!

  2. >wow!Looks delicious.I didn’t know soy sauce could brighten up the pasta.Hmm nice recipe.Will try this for the kids.

  3. >Gorgeous recipe. And completely agreed about the pasta. I always think the secret to a good cream sauce is not too much cream. This is an excellent balance.

  4. >@all – thanks for your comments!

    @Chef Ben – we add a touch of soy sauce in a surprising number of Western dishes.

    @Mark – thanks!

    @Nila – yes, it’s my weakness too…

  5. >Hi Annie,
    I’ve been visiting your blog for inspiration and I’ve recently created my very own blog. May I link you to my blog please? Reena (KC)

  6. >All the options look wonderful, but I think the sausage, spinach and mushroom is my favorite combination. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  7. >My late-Dad would have gotten a kick out of this. He always added a touch of soy to his Thanksgiving gravy to give it great color and an even more savory taste.

  8. >Wow guys! All those dishes look amazing! You are making me hungry this early in the morning, hehe. I guess that was the point, right? :-p

  9. >@Sid – well, if it’s good on pizza, it should be good in pasta!

    @Ruth – my pleasure!

    @Gaga – just a little bit of soy sauce to taste.

    @Carolyn – we’ve been known to boost our turkey gravy with shoyu as well!

    @Ben – yep!

  10. Great recipe, well written and easy to follow. I love this simple pasta dish. Thank you.

    Have to admit, I haven’t tried the soya sauce though. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *