Spaghetti with Mushroom and Meat Sauce

I have many wonderful memories from my years in undergrad, and making this pasta is one of them.  We didn’t cook a lot back then.  There wasn’t any meal-planning or pantry staples in any of our apartments.  There were random trips to the grocery store where all of us would pile into one car, wander aimlessly around the store, pick up whatever looked good and try to make a cohesive meal out of it when we got home.

This pasta was one of the best things to emerge from those trips, not necessarily because it tasted better than anything else, but because it was easy and reproducible, involved minimal ingredients, no fancy cooking techniques and fed all of us quickly.  Now, graduate degrees later, with an adequately stocked pantry and absurdly organized grocery lists, I still love making this dish.

Because, when it’s all said and done, all a college student (or anyone) ever really wants is a full belly and to be surrounded by people they love.  So whether it takes you back to college or simply provides you with an easy meal to feed your family on a busy weeknight, this pasta dish is one that will not leave you longing for anything else.

Spaghetti with Mushroom and Meat Sauce
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Yield: 6-8 servings

This recipe is highly adaptable and suited to whatever you have on hand (or whatever you randomly grab from shelves at the grocery).  In college, our main staples were Prego Three Cheese Marinara, plain button mushrooms and pre-grated Parmesan.  Since that time, our tastes have matured a bit and we have switched to cremini mushrooms and freshly-grated Pecorino.  But who’s to say mature taste is better?  Make it however you like, just be sure to share it.

1 lb spaghetti
1 24 oz. Jarred Marinara
8 oz. mushrooms
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
oregano or italian seasoning, to taste
Parmesan or Pecorino, freshly grated

1.  Bring a large pot of  salted water to a boil.  Once boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.  Before you drain the pasta, reserve about a cup of pasta water and set it aside.  (I like to use a coffee cup for this, a large measuring cup would work, too).

2.  Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan.  When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms.  Saute for about 10 minutes, adding a pinch of salt to help the mushrooms release their juices.  When they are done, they will be dark brown and most of the liquid in the pan will have evaporated.  Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

3.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Add the ground turkey to the pan, breaking it up with a spoon.  Cook until it is browned on one side, then stir it around and continue to cook until it’s all cooked through.  Add the mushrooms back to the pan, along with the jar of marinara.  Reduce heat and simmer sauce for a little while, adding salt & papper, oregano or italian seasoning as you see fit.

4.  Add the drained spaghetti to the sauce in the saute pan, along with a 1/4 cup or more of pasta water.  (Adding the water helps the sauce stick to the pasta).  Toss to coat.  Serve family style, with grated Parmesan over the top, alongside toasted french bread.

Source:  Anna Maria & Friends original

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