Mushroom, Spinach, and Sausage Penne

When I was growing up, every kid I knew loved Popeye the Sailor Man. We followed the comic in the Sunday newspapers and roared with our friends when a Popeye cartoon came on the screen before the matinee at the theater Saturday afternoons. When we tried to cadge a Coke at the drug store, we loved to promise, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday,” but since the soda jerks knew us we were less successful than Wimpy who loved to beg for hamburgers.

Adults liked the comics ands cartoons too. By 1938 Popeye was a more popular cartoon character than Mickey Mouse. He got his strength from eating canned spinach. When his girlfriend Olive Oyl was in danger from the nasty Bluto, Popeye needed only to gulp down a can of the green stuff to get the best of his foe.

Popeye was capable of great things. One miraculous thing he did was to increase the consumption of canned spinach in the US by nearly a third during the 1930’s. The most popular brand was Popeye Spinach, which was the kind my mother forced us to eat at least once a month. “It’s good for you, it has lots of iron to make you strong like Popeye.” I figured that he had to be strong to eat the stuff.

After we were married, Jerri continued the torture. Every couple of weeks she served canned spinach with a chopped hardboiled egg and vinegar. Though it’s still not my favorite, her recipe for canned spinach made it palatable if not exactly a gourmet food.

Then one day I discovered that I liked spinach, fresh spinach to be exact. A friend sneaked some into a salad and when I asked what the dark green leaves were that tasted so good, she told me that it was spinach from their garden. I have been hooked ever since.

The recipe below is further evidence that lightly cooked fresh spinach is a food of the gods.

INGREDIENTS:

1 T olive oil
1/2 lb. breakfast sausage
8 oz. penne pasta
Water and salt to cook the penne
8 oz. mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
12 oz can cream of mushroom soup
2 – 3 T dry white wine
2 – 3 cups chopped spinach
Grind or two of black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Start warming the water for the pasta over low heat.

Clean and slice the mushrooms and put them into a medium bowl.

Wash and coarsely chop the spinach.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and break it into small pieces. Cook it until it is no longer pink, seven to eight minutes.

Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Add the mushrooms to the sausage and cook them for four to five minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another two or three minutes.

Bring the pasta water to a boil while the sausage is cooking. Add a teaspoon of salt and the penne. Cook until it reaches the al dente stage, about ten minutes, then drain it.

Add the cream of mushroom soup, wine and Parmesan cheese to the sausage and stir for two or three minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the spinach and pasta. Grind some black pepper into the mixture and stir to mix well until the spinach has wilted.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

NOTES: Spinach may not make you as strong as Popeye, but it has significant amounts of vitamins A, C and K, so it really is good for you.

We use either sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay wine. In a pinch you could use vermouth, but avoid any of the sweeter wines like Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

This recipe benefits a lot from the spinach, so don’t be afraid to add a generous three cups of it, but if you are cooking for people who announce that they don’t like spinach, use only two cups and tell them that the green stuff is kale. If they say that they don’t like kale either, you might offer them peanut butter sandwiches.

Lorrie’s Roosevelt Beans

Once in a while I admit to being a “heat and eat cook.” Here is a recipe that combines the convenience of opening cans for supper with the added flavors of freshly sautéd sausage, bacon and onion plus the zip provided by condiments that you are almost sure to have in your kitchen.

Lorrie emailed me a photo she took of the recipe for Roosevelt Beans printed on the menu at the Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. She was also kind enough to explain how she modified the recipe and even shared the results of her research about it. A comment about Roosevelt Beans on Recipelink states that Roosevelt Lodge got the recipe from a cookbook published by a Lutheran Church at McIntosh, Minnesota and attributes the dish to Naomi Jean Thompson (Hillgartner).

Considering the courage and ingenuity of the ladies who bring dishes to potlucks, I think it’s very likely that Naomi Jean did bring this bean casserole to church one Sunday morning and was urged to share the recipe with her friends and neighbors. A few days ago a lady told me that the “old” First Lutheran Church cookbook had the same or a very similar recipe, so it may be one invented by many different ladies once beans were being sold in cans.

I like both the name and flavor of this dish, it is easy to prepare and the different beans make it attractive. You can set it proudly on the potluck table or serve it as a main course for five or six with a salad and bread.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 lb. country pork sausage
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion (2 1/2 inch diameter)
1 (16 oz.) can pork and beans
1 (16 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (16 oz.) can lima beans
1 (16 oz.) can butter bean
2 T brown sugar
2 T cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 tsp. garlic powder, optional
1/2 cup ketchup
1 T spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Salt to taste

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 325º and chop the onion into a half inch dice.

Cut the bacon into quarter inch pieces. Fry the sausage and bacon together over medium heat, breaking up the sausage as it cooks. When the sausage is about half done, add the onion and continue frying until the onion is translucent but not brown. Remove the meat mixture from the heat but don’t drain it.

Drain the liquid from the butter, kidney and lima beans and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add the can of pork and beans with their liquid. Stir in the meat mixture along with the sugar, vinegar, garlic, ketchup, mustard, black pepper and water. Add a little salt if you wish.

Transfer the beans to a three quart casserole and bake uncovered at 325º for forty-five minutes.

NOTES: Lorrie said that she used a cast iron skillet so she could use the same pan to fry the meat and onion and bake the casserole. I like one-dish recipes, but our cast iron skillets are not large enough.

Be very careful with the salt. The meats and beans have plenty of salt for us, but you may want to add a little. Some versions of Roosevelt Beans give you a choice of substituting ground beef for the sausage. In that case, I would definitely add at least a quarter teaspoon of salt.