Monthly Archives: September 2012

Asparagus Baked Pasta


8 Servings

If you have had an exhausting day at work and you are looking for a quick meal to make for your family for dinner, this is definitely not the dish for that day! 😉

But if you have some time to spend in the kitchen, let’s say on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you want to treat your family that night or you want to impress your guests or the host of a party you have been invited to, this is the perfect dish for you! 😉

This pasta can be “dressed up” the way you want. I picked asparagus and pancetta, but you can go with the vegetables and the cured meats you like the most.

I also suggest that you use a couple of different cheeses instead of just one, because they make the sauce even richer – and this pasta is all about richness. 🙂 Just make sure that the cheeses you pick melt evenly and easily, such as emmental, fontina, gouda, cheddar or gruyere.

Let me know what you think if you have the chance and the time to make it! 🙂

Ingredients:

2 lb asparagus
¼ cup extravirgin olive oil
¼ cup beef stock
1 lb of ¼ inch thick pancetta
7 cups of Bechamel sauce
2 cups each of two shredded cheeses of your choice (4 cups total)
1.6 lb dried ziti pasta (1 ½ packs)
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¾ inch pieces. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the beef stock and stir occasionally until the stock evaporates. Set aside.

Cut up the pancetta into small pieces and cook in a non-stick skillet until crispy. Wait for the pancetta to cool down and get rid of the grease. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the pasta is cooking, put the shredded cheeses into the pot with the hot Béchamel Sauce and, over very low heat, stir until the cheeses are completely melted.

Drain the pasta and put it again into the pot.

In a 9×13 inch casserole, spread some of the sauce to keep the pasta from sticking. Save 2 cups of the sauce for later and add the rest along with the asparagus and the pancetta to the pasta and toss to coat. Put the pasta in the casserole, ladle the rest of the sauce that you had previously set aside over the pasta, spreading it evenly, and scatter the grated Parmigiano over it. Bake for about 20 minutes covering the pasta with aluminum foil for the first 10 minutes.

Bechamel Sauce

Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel Sauce

Just the name was totally intimidating to me! It shouldn’t have though!

I have watched my mom making her own béchamel sauce since I can remember. And yet, up to five years ago, I had never made it. Then, one day, I went to a cooking class expecting that some magical ritual would finally be revealed to me so that I would be enabled to recreate so creamy a beauty myself… only to find out that it’s just a question of process and practice… as is the case for many things in life. 🙂

Let me pass on to you a couple of helpful tips that I retained from that cooking class: (1) keep whisking for at least 20 minutes otherwise the flour stays raw and (2) a good non-stick pot is the key to a successful sauce. I know that pots can be very expensive but, as one
of my teachers used to say, “Ladies, less shoes more kitchen tools!” – I have learned from experience that he was right, and so will you. 😉

Ingredients:

4 3/4 Tbsp, butter
½ Cup, flour
7 Cups, whole milk
Salt
Ground black pepper
Nutmeg

Directions:

In a large non-stick pot, pour the milk, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (to taste) and heat until the milk is just about to boil.

Meanwhile, in a separate non-stick pan and on a very low heat, melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the flour and stir until you obtain a golden mixture (the professionals call this mixture a “roux” – a French word that is pronounced “roo”).

Add the roux to the milk and cook on low heat, whisking continuously, until very smooth.

The Dawn of My Italian Cooking Blog

Flowers have been one of my passions my whole life. I was so into them that one July of a few years ago I took off from the gray Milan skies to attend a flower arrangement course in London (where the sky by the way wasn’t unfortunately any bluer!) When my teacher asked me what my goals were attending the course, I answered that I was there to learn any imaginable flower arrangement. She looked at me and said: “I can only teach you the basics… the rest is up to your creativity”. I treasured the concept and found it was so very true in many industries, including food. So, when I decided that I wanted to hone my cooking skills, I started from the bottom: I signed up for a basic Italian cooking course in Milan, and then I worked my way up from there, all the way to a restaurant management course.

I don’t have pretensions to teach anyone anything: I would just like to pass on some of the knowledge and skills that I have gained in my learning process. The real “secret ingredient”, creativity, is totally up to you to discover!

Since you got to start somewhere, the first recipe is that of the béchamel sauce, a French mother sauce which is the basis of many Italian recipes (such as lasagne!)  By learning how to make béchamel, you will master one of the building blocks that going forward you will need, or want, to incorporate into many delicious dishes of the Italian cuisine repertoire.

Now, quoting the great Elvis: “a little less conversation, a little more action please!” Let’s get to it, shall we?  🙂