Creamy baked four-cheese pasta

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by Susan Hanna

 Now that the temperature is dropping, I’m craving soups, stews and baked pasta dishes, including this Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta from Cook’s Illustrated. Cooked penne is mixed with a cream sauce and four cheeses, topped with bread crumbs and baked. This is a great vegetarian meal served with a salad, and would also be an excellent side dish.

Avoiding Additives and Preservatives

Some breads contain sulfites or other additives, so be sure to check the ingredients. Cheese can contain colour, so read the label carefully. Use butter with a single ingredient: cream. For more recipes made with all-natural ingredients, visit www.eyeforarecipe.ca.

Ingredients:

Bread Crumb Topping:

  •  3 or 4 slices white sandwich bread with crusts, torn into quarters
  • ¼ cup (15 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) table salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 ml) ground black pepper

Pasta and Cheese:

  •  4 ounces (113 g) fontina cheese , shredded (about 1 cup, 250 ml)
  • 3 ounces (85 g) Gorgonzola cheese , crumbled (about ¾ cup, 187.5 ml)
  • ½ cup (30 g) grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 ounce, 28 g)
  • ¼ cup (15 g) grated Parmesan cheese (½ ounce, 14 g)
  • 1 pound (454 g) penne pasta
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) table salt
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups (375 ml) heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground black pepper

Preparation:

For the topping: Pulse bread in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer to small bowl; stir in Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Set mixture aside.

For the pasta: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.

Bring 4 quarts (3.8 litres) water to rolling boil in stockpot. Combine cheeses in large bowl; set aside.

Add pasta and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) salt to boiling water; stir to separate pasta.

While pasta is cooking, melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in cream, increase heat to medium, and bring to boil, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 1 minute to ensure that flour cooks. Stir in remaining ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) salt and pepper; cover cream mixture to keep hot and set aside.

When pasta is very al dente (when bitten into, pasta should be opaque and slightly underdone at very center), drain about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Add pasta to bowl with cheeses; immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl with foil or large plate and let stand 3 minutes. Uncover bowl and stir with rubber spatula, scraping bottom of bowl, until cheeses are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.

Transfer pasta to 13 by 9-inch (33 cm x 22 cm) baking dish, then sprinkle evenly with reserved bread crumbs, pressing down lightly. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6 as a main course.

From the January 2003 issue of Cook’s Illustrated