Pasta Gratin with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Herbs

Welcome to the September edition of Food ‘n Flix, a group of bloggers who find culinary inspiration in films.  This month we watched Words on Bathroom Walls, hosted by Wendy at A Day In The Life on the Farm.  You can read her announcement post here.

I really only knew that this film dealt with a young man’s struggles with schizophrenia.   That’s all.  So I wondered what kind of food tie-ins there would be.  The simple answer? There’s a ton.   Adam, the main character is at peace when he’s cooking.   That’s when the voices in his head cease.

His mother is relentless at trying to help Adam and reads and researches everything she can find.   Finally, both Adam and his mother agree to a medical trial.   Adam finds relief and the characters that flood his imagination begin to fade away.   He also is being tutored by a lovely over-achiever from his new high school.    Things start happening (in a good way) for him until he starts to experience some side effects.  Then he begins to take matters into his own hands.

I thought the film did a good job of making Adam believable.  His realness was probably achieved by those one-on-one therapy sessions that we sit in on.

Really, the amount of food in the film was enough to offer a plethora of inspiration.  While some of the dishes had very little screen time, they all looked delicious.  That is, they all did except for the tray of institutionalized creamed goo that is plopped before him in the hospital.  More delectable dishes and food references follow:

  • Eggs
  • Tomato soup
  • Tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, radishes
  • Stir fry
  • Raviolis
  • Beet salad
  • Pasta (Looked like pappardelle.)
  • Ramen
  • Bread, bell peppers, tomatoes
  • Cumin
  • Bowl of fruit
  • Lobsters
  • Martini (that the horny imaginary character holds)
  • Sushi
  • Salad
  • Coffee
  • Iced tea
  • “Final dish on the Titanic”
  • Cheese camp
  • Vegetable au gratin (new dish he’s working on, earthy and smoky with fontina cheese)
  • Bagel
  • Eggs benedict  and hollandaise with cayenne
  • Lobster frittata
  • TV Dinners
  • Marinated chicken in olive oil and garlic, salt and pepper, a little butter (maybe in chicken pot pie)
  • Stir fry on a griddle
  • Wine
  • Macaroni dish he brings as a peace offering to Maya
  • Prom punch
  • Fruit kabobs without the skewers
  •  Prep table a Canard Rouge:  parsley, onions, celery, carrots for Mirepoix 

I decided to focus on a couple of dishes that I spotted:  the vegetable gratin with Fontina and the macaroni dish he brings to Maya.

Adam presents a dish that he’s  “working on” to Maya.  I perceived it as some sort of gratin because of the toasted bread crumbs on top.  She states it’s “earthy and smoky”.  Adam names his secret ingredient as fontina cheese. 

I also wanted to use pasta as a riff on the macaroni dish he slides in front of Maya in the school cafeteria.  It’s his peace offering.

Alas, I could not find fontina at our grocery’s cheese counter.  I subbed in Gruyère and some smoked gouda.  I decided that smokiness would be good with the earthy mushrooms.   I used a Trottole pasta but any spiral pasta would work.  We grilled some local Italian sausage as a side.

Pasta Gratin with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Herbs

Based on recipe here

Earthy and smoky with smoked gouda and mushrooms.


  • 1/2 lb. spiral pasta
  • 10 oz. grapes tomatoes, halved
  • 2/3 c. fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 T. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 (8 oz.) containers baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 T. all-purpose flour
  • 3 T. tomato paste
  • 2 c. half and half
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 c. Gruyère, grated
  • 1/2 c. smoked gouda, grated
  • 2/3 c. seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c. parmesan, grated
  • 1 T. olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a 4-quart kettle bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes. (Pasta will cook more when baked.) Drain pasta in a colander and rinse well under cold water.  In  medium mixing bowl, toss drained pasta with tomatoes and herbs.  Set aside.
  3. While pasta cooks, make sauce.  In a large heavy saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes in butter over moderately low heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt to taste and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and give off their liquid. (If needed, add a bit of olive oil.)  Add flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, half and half, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil, whisking. Add cheese.  Simmer sauce, whisking until cheese is melted.
  4. Butter a 2-2 1/2 quart baking dish.
  5. Pour sauce evenly over pasta and and stir gently to coat pasta mixture with sauce.  Pour into prepared baking dish.
  6. Make topping.  In a small bowl use a fork and stir together bread crumbs, parmesan and oil until crumbs are evenly moistened.
  7. Sprinkle topping over pasta mixture and bake in middle of oven 30 minutes. (If bread crumbs get too brown, cover with foil.)  Cool gratin 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4-6

We sliced up the grilled sausage.  I had mine on the side (with some salad).  The Hubs put his on top.  We also broke into our bottle of Stag’s Leap Chardonnay that I had been saving (from way back in May).  

Would I make this pasta gratin again?  Absolutely.   We loved it.  I think I might add a bit of red bell pepper next time to the mix but I will never leave out the mushrooms.   🙂

Thanks for hosting, Wendy.  I enjoyed the film.

I can’t believe we only have three more films in 2021:

October: Only You hosted at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
November: Friendsgiving hosted at All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
December: The Family Stone hosted by me

Definitely think about viewing and cooking with us!


8 comments to Pasta Gratin with Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Herbs