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.


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


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.

Breakfast Frittata

What do you do when you can’t resist buying a lot of jalapeño peppers that happen to be on sale?  Find recipes that call for jalapeños, of course.  My wife just shook her head at the recipe for a breakfast frittata, but she asked for seconds and now suggests it from time to time when I ask what sounds good for breakfast.

A frittata is a kind of baked Italian omelet like a quiche without a crust.  There are dozens if not hundreds of recipes for frittatas.  There are varieties with chorizo, bacon, Italian sausage, salmon, leftovers of all kinds and even bananas.  Real men do eat quiche and real men and women love frittatas.

This one is easy and tasty and makes an attractive breakfast dish for visiting guests. (See the amateur photo.) If someone says that they don’t like hot peppers, give them only a tiny slice and some toast.  That will leave more for the rest of you…unless they ask for seconds.


2 large or three medium jalpeño peppers
1 medium potato
6 large eggs
1 T cold water
1/2 cup medium cheddar cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach
6 to 8 grape or cherry tomatoes
1/4 to 1/3 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and microwave the potato on high for about 4 minutes, wrap in aluminum foil and allow it to finish baking. While the potato is cooling, wash and remove the stems from the jalapeños.  Slice them in quarters, remove the membranes and seeds and dice the peppers finely (1/8 to 1/4 inch).  Shred the cheddar cheese and crumble the feta.  Wash and chop the spinach.  Peel the potato and dice.  Beat the eggs until lemon colored with the water and salt and stir into the vegetables and cheese.  Be careful not to add very much salt as the cheddar and feta cheeses are quite salty.

Grease an 8 or 9 inch pie plate and pour the frittata mixture into the plate.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle of the frittata comes out clean.  Remove from oven and garnish while hot with tomatoes cut in half and return the frittata to the oven for a minute to warm the tomatoes.  Allow the frittata to cool slightly and serve with toast or good bread.

NOTES:  You can substitute Monterey Jack cheese for the feta, which creates a different flavor combination that is still delicious.  You can substitute canned diced potatoes instead of baking your own.  Just drain them thoroughly.