The book:  Crossroads, by Tal Ronnen (Artisan Press, $35.00)

The recipe:  Pasta with roasted balsamic mushrooms

Why I tried itCrossroads is a vegan cookbook.  I am (news flash!) not a vegan. But the book had enough style and promise to tempt me to hunt down recipes that might cross over into our meat-loving household.  When I saw “roasted” and “mushrooms” I instantly thought, like mushrooms, only better.  When I saw “balsamic” I instantly thought, like roasted mushrooms, only better. 

Why I loved it:  It’s not just the balsamic reduction that makes this so so irresistible.  It’s really the tomato-butter sauce too.  Do you have to use Earth Balance instead of butter? Do you have to use, or make, eggless pasta?  Of course not,  unless it’s a matter of principle.  You could make your own pasta and your own marinara sauce if you’re up for throwing a couple more hours at it.  That would make it like what I made, only better.

Estimated preparation time:   1 hour, unless you’re making your own fresh pasta first.  If you’re making your own pasta, give yourself an extra hour.  If you’re me, give yourself two.
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Photograph by Lisa Romerein

Linguine with Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms and Tomato-Basil Butter Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 (Makes 4 cups sauce)

Homemade, store-bought fresh or store-bought dry linguine

2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as cremini and shiitake, stemmed, wiped of grit, and quartered
4 large shallots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into large slices, plus 1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup Balsamic Reduction (recipe follows)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Nonstick cooking spray
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter or Earth Balance butter stick, cut into chunks
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup dry sherry
4 cups homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
8 large fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

1. To prepare the balsamic mushrooms and shallots for the sauce: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Put the mushrooms and sliced shallots in a mixing bowl and drizzle with the oil. Pour in the balsamic reduction, season with salt, black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, and turn the mushrooms and shallots over so they are well coated. Spread the vegetables out in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and deep brown. Set aside. (The roasted mushrooms and shallots can be prepared a couple of hours in advance, covered, and held at room temperature.)

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Put a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of the butter or butter substitute. When it has melted, toss in the minced shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Season with salt, black pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, add the roasted balsamic mushrooms and shallots, and toss until well coated. Pour in the sherry and cook for 30 seconds to evaporate some of the alcohol. Stir in the marinara sauce and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.

5. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, give it a couple of good stirs with a wooden spoon, and cook until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well, reserving ¼ cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if necessary.

6. Add the linguine to the sauce, tossing with tongs to coat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute and the basil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss to distribute evenly. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it with enough of the reserved pasta water so the linguine is thoroughly coated.

7. Divide the linguine among plates or transfer to a bowl. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Reduction
Makes ½ cup

½ cup agave nectar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the agave in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it thins out and is warmed, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and shallot and gently simmer, swirling the pan a few times, until the sauce has reduced and thickened to the consistency of maple syrup and coats the back of a spoon, about 50 minutes.

2. Remove the shallot and add a good pinch each of salt and pepper. The reduction can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 months.

Adapted from an excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher, from “Crossroads” by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015.