Pennete and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce


My school has just opened it’s new and improved canteen last week. I have taken advantage of the faculty discount and enjoyed the daily lunches.  This has made it a bit easier for me to prepare my home meals. Moreover, I am not easily bored now by what I cook because I only eat it for dinner versus twice a day.  Living on my own has taught me quite a bit about managing weekly menus. It was challenging in the beginning because I was accustomed to prepping family-style meals back home in the States. Vegetables here also go bad quicker - thanks to the lack of preservatives, etc. in the food. Nevertheless, I’ve trained myself to shop for most produce that will be eaten within few days.

This weekend my taste buds fancied a cream sauce dish. Quick, fresh and very easy to prepare. This is quite similar to a penne ala vodka - but I didn’t feel like trekking to the liquor store to get a cheap bottle of Uzbek moonshine so I left it out and it still came out quite good.


  • 1 box pennete (mini penne) or regular penne
  • 1 tomato - diced
  • 1 13oz bottled tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves for garnish (the basil used in this recipe was fresh from my own plants)
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
  • 1-2 cups button mushrooms sliced (depending on how chunky you like it)
  • salt
  • cracked pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  • In a stock pot, bring salted water to boil and cook pasta until it’s al dente (8-10 minutes). Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water. When cooked, drain pasta and set aside.
  • Heat a skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  • Saute garlic until it becomes aromatic.
  • Add mushrooms and coat them evenly in the oil and garlic. Throw in a couple pinches of salt.
  • When mushrooms are browned, add the tomato sauce. Throw in a few more pinches of salt and cracked pepper.
  • Once the tomato sauce reaches a simmer, add the cream and parmigiano. Stir to blend the cheese and cream into the sauce evenly. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the fresh diced tomato and reserved pasta water, lower the heat, and allow it to simmer for a 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will also allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.
  • In a large bowl mix pasta and sauce together. Roughly cut or tear basil into pieces in the mix as a garnish. Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy with fresh grated parmigiano reggiano on top, a crusty slice of bread and/or salad. Makes 6 servings. This also goes well with any protein - sauteed italian sausage, bacon, or chicken breast.

Bistek: A Tashkent Dinner Party Hit!


Two very good friends of mine - George and Amanda - invited me and a bunch of other pals to their new house for dinner this past Saturday.  Amanda, a former caterer in Australia prior to her life in the classroom, informed me that she was prepping the following menu:  roast chickens, roasted beet root, mashed potatoes, roast feta (this was DIVINE), and salad. Knowing that this was not enough for the 17+ guests, she requested that my contribution be a main dish.  I’d previously thought of inviting some friends for dinner this week for some Filipino food since it is our Spring Break, so this seemed like the perfect vehicle to kill two birds with one stone.

I originally thought to prep asado, but I couldn’t get Dad on Skype in time as they had a busy weekend as well in California. So, I decided on Bistek.  

Bistek has Spanish roots spanning all of its colonies. It’s not uncommon to see Bistec Encebollado on any Mexican or Latin menu.  The Filipino version is quite what I call “Filipinized” as we prefer ours tangy over its salty counterparts from the other Spanish colonies.  We use citrus juice, garlic, cracked pepper and soy sauce quite liberally for the marinade. And of course, we eat it over a steaming bed of rice.  This is one of my comfort food favorites. Easy to make and satisfies many. By the time the evening was over - it was gone and even my friends who don’t usually eat beef commented on how good it tasted. :)

Given the number of people - I bought 4 kg of beef (1 kg set aside for my dog’s food) at the Alayskiy Bazaar here in Tashkent. Unfortunately, they don’t butcher their meat in any recognizable Western cuts, but this definitely had plenty of marbling and easy to cut which leads me to believe it was tenderloin.  Beef tenderloin is the best for this dish because you get the right amount of fat and meat. Also, feel free to modulate the amounts of ingredients according to how many people served. :)


  • 3kg beef tenderloin sliced thin (about 1/4 inch thick)
  • The juice of 3 lemons (substitute for calamansi)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup of soy sauce (or until meat is covered)
  • 2 large onions cut into rings
  1. Peel garlic and mash together w/ peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.  Toss together in a bowl w/ salt and meat to coat evenly.  
  2. Pour lemon juice and soy sauce onto the meat. Mix together to ensure meat is fully coated.
  3. Marinate for 3-4 hours.
  4. Heat wok/large skillet w/ 2 tbsp vegetable oil on high heat.
  5. Cook beef about 2-3 minutes on each side. Do not cook for too long to avoid tough meat. Once it is cooked, set meat aside in a serving dish. NOTE: do not get rid of the marinade.
  6. Lower the heat in the wok and throw in the onion rings. Cook the rings until they start to soften and get a nice char - but not until they’re translucent. Remove from pan and place over the meat.
  7. Now throw in the remaining marinade from your bowl/container. Allow this to reduce to thicken slightly and pour over bistek/onions.
  8. Enjoy with white rice.