1 pound whole wheat pasta, like penne or farfalle
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch chard (about 1 pound), stems removed and diced, leaves cut into ribbons
2 sausage links (8 ounces), sliced (optional)
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces cream cheese, marscapone, or other soft creamy cheese
1/2 cup pasta water, saved from cooking pasta
freshly cracked black pepper
Cook the pasta in a large amount of boiling water with a good palm-ful of salt. Just before draining, use a measuring cup to dip out about a half cup of the starchy pasta water, and set this aside.
Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat . Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, the liquid has boiled away, and the mushrooms are turning golden. Stir in the diced chard stems and the sausage. Cook until the stems are softened and the sausage is warmed through. (If the sausage is not pre-cooked, cook it along with the onions instead.)
Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the garlic. Cook just until the garlic is fragrant, then stir it into the rest of the vegetables. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the chard leaves. Continue stirring frequently until the leaves are bright green and wilted.
Stir in the cooked pasta and the cream cheese. When the cheese has melted, pour in half of the reserved cooking water to make a creamy sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, pour in the remaining pasta water a little at a time.
Grind the fresh pepper right over the pasta. Don't be shy! Taste as you go to gauge how peppery the pasta has become and how you like it. Season with additional salt, if desired.
Leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to one week.
(Image: Emma Christensen)