Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 5, 2014

Meatless Somedays + Mushroom Penne a La Vodka

As I have written before, I often enjoy ‘going veggie’ from time to time when I cook. I don’t do it based on any kind of principle or anything like that, but because both Renata and I enjoy mixing things up, especially on our Sunday dinners, when I cook something more elaborate than the quick dishes I make every day for our boxed lunches.

If you have read my previous posts, you will see that I am not exactly a vegetarian, since I do eat seafood and poultry quite frequently, but I do have a certain fondness for meat-free dishes. Some people I know cringe when I say that I made pasta with home-made vegetarian ‘meatballs’ (my version contains shredded cabbage, chickpea flour and shredded cauliflower) or when I bring tofu skewers to a cookout, but I am definitely not the kind of person who sees – like so many state – “a hole on the plate” when there is no meat at the table.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not that hard to bring meat-free food to the table – in fact, many very well-known dishes adapt quite well – lasagna can be made with mushrooms instead of beef, and various sauces are originally meat-free in the first place, such as Alfredo or marinara. For instance, pasta with vodka sauce usually contains diced ham, but I substitute them with sautéed mushrooms and it tastes even more delicious as the mushrooms add even more flavor to the dish.

Sure, there are dishes that simply cannot be adapted – I could not imagine having vegetarian feijoada made with soy-based sausages and vegetarian bacon or bigos without real kielbasa. But when a substitution is possible, I go for it. I make about two meat-free dishes a week whenever possible, and I can ascertain that we do not miss meats when we enjoy them.
While eating vegetables is good for you, abstaining meats at least once a week is also good for the environment. According to, we can contribute to saving water, reducing greenhouse gases and also saving on fuel, because raising livestock does take a toll on these issues, for instance, “About 25 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy is used to produce 1 kilocalorie of all meat based protein, as compared with 2.2 kilocalories of fossil fuel input per 1 kilocalorie of grain based protein produced,” explains the site “The meat industry uses so much energy to produce grain for livestock that if instead we used the grain to feed people following a vegetarian diet, it would be enough to feed about 840 million people.”
So why not do some good to yourself while helping the planet out as well?


Meat-Free penne a la vodka (serves 2)

½ tablespoon olive oil
8 oz fresh mushrooms, quartered
1 12 oz. can of tomato sauce
½ cup of heavy cream
1 cup of vodka
Dried basil to taste
½ package of penne pasta.

Instructions: cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. In the meantime, simmer the vodka until reduced to about half. Add the tomato sauce and cream and reserve. Heat the oil and sautee the mushrooms until they have released their liquid. Season with salt and pepper and add to the reserved sauce. Heat the mushroom mixture and serve over pasta.

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