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A second chance: asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

8 Servings

High school is over in our neck of the woods and last week we went to a graduation party of the son of one of our neighbors.

High school graduation ceremonies, proms and parties are totally new to us. In Italy, we do not have a graduation ceremony after our high school finals and, usually, there is no prom or party afterwards.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaYoung Italian girls and boys abruptly transition from being high school teenagers to wannabe adults 😉 at university (in the sense of postgraduate school, like Law School, Med School, etc.) without any particular celebration or event to be remembered by. We think it is kind of sad and we are starting to enjoy this American tradition thinking that, one day (far, far away in time! 🙂 ), Stefano and I will proudly be going to Her Majesty’s graduation ceremony. 🙂

Anyway, my neighbors really like this asparagus and pancetta baked pasta. So I decided to bring it to the party to put an Italian touch on their buffet. 😉

This dish was my first pasta post on this blog.  Looking back at the photo of the dish that I asked Stefano to take almost two years ago, I have to admit I wasn’t very pleased with my presentation. This pasta deserves so much better! 🙂

I have been wanting to retake the picture with a different setting for more than a year but I’m a very lazy person, some may go as far as to call me the queen of postponement! 😉

This graduation party was the perfect occasion to shake my royal status away, make this pasta again and work on a different presentation. I like this presentation much better than the old one and I hope you will agree with me.

To make your life easier in case you decide to give this dish a try, I decided to republish the recipe, so you won’t be driven crazy by links going back and forth!

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

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.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaCut 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.

Let me know what you think!

F. Xx

A Heavenly Cake

I’m NOT a morning person! Never have been and never will be. Anyone who knows me (teachers, bosses, friends) can vouch for me. I think that the last time I got up early was when I was breastfeeding and, let’s be honest, I was not happy. If asked, I don’t even think I would be able to tell you exactly what is the color of the sky in the early morning. In the place where I live, this is such a big no no, but I can’t help it. That’s just who I am.

I no longer work in an office, but I still have a teeny problem: my daughter has to go to school. Every morning, after I manage in a way or another to send my daughter to school, my only neuron awake wanders across my mind begging only for two things: caffeine and something sweet. All the years I spent in the United States have not changed my breakfast habits: my palate loathes cereals and any kind of proteins and craves croissants, pastries, cookies or… a slice of cake.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is of a cake that was one of Stefano’s favorites in his childhood. Growing up in Genoa, he loved to eat this cake on any occasion he could lay his hands on one. When we happen to be there visiting his family, we always make sure we stop by a pastry store called “Bar Magenta” where they make a version of this cake that is really to die for. So, if you are planning a trip to Genoa, just drop us an email if you need the address and then pay them a visit: you won’t regret it!

By the way, I wish I could take credit for this recipe! Although (please forgive my modesty) I do take credit for a pretty good execution of it 😉 Well, anyway, the recipe comes from lovely Patrizia, the daughter-in-law of the wife of my father-in-law… does this sound too complicated to follow? Yeah, it probably is, but the thing is – we are a pretty complicated family which found its own way to get along… but this is another story 🙂

Too much digression. Back to the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup, powdered sugar
¾ of 1 cup, blanched almonds
4 eggs
12 and ½ Tbsp, butter, softened
½ cup, flour
⅓ cup, potato starch flour
1 pinch, salt
1 Tbsp, baking powder
½ Tsp, almond extract
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Put the almonds in a food processor or a blender and blend them until you obtain a smooth powder.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the almond powder and mix until they are perfectly blended. Add the eggs and mix until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add the butter and beat until the butter is completely blended with the egg mixture. Add the flour, the potato starch flour and the salt and mix for a few minutes. Finally, add the almond extract and the baking powder and mix until well blended. Stop and scrape the bowl.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 9-inch round baking pan. Do NOT preheat the oven. Bake at 350 F for 30/35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake completely cool and remove it for the pan. Put the cake on a big round serving plate and dust its top with the powdered sugar.

A few more words: I happen to have a sweet tooth only in the mornings. I usually finish my other meals with fruit (that’s what most people do in Italy). That does not mean that you cannot eat or serve this cake at dinner time. If you would like that Stefano suggest you a wine to go with it, just leave a comment below or drop him an email and he’ll be glad to!

Green Bean, Olive and Goat Cheese Quiche

6 Servings

I have a confession to make: I’m a party girl and any excuse is good for me to host one! That’s not because I’m this fabulous socialite, quite the opposite to be honest. I’m more on a bear hibernation status, except that mine is kind of perpertual. The reason I like to throw parties is for the inner pleasure of hosting: getting the house ready, picking and arranging the flowers (my mother taught me that the right flowers are one of the key components for a successful party), cooking my signature dishes and… enjoying some alcohol of course!

Stefano makes sure that our guests are offered a captivating selection of wines, often starting off with some bubbles to set the mood of the party. So people wind down, relax and enjoy chatting and eating.

Well, Halloween is around the corner and who said that only kids should have fun? Let’s just say that Halloween is the opening of my party season.

When I throw a party, I like to serve food that my guests don’t cook at home on a regular week day. That’s why a quiche is always appreciated. It’s a casual yet chic dish, it has a wonderful look, it’s very satisfying for the palate and goes beautifully with the right glass of wine.

As for the ingredients, you can put basically whatever you like in a quiche and have fun trying out different combinations. Quoting Chef Gusteau from the Disney movie Ratatouille, “your only limit is your soul”.

The following recipe of a green bean, olive and goat cheese quiche is just meant to be a suggestion to get you started. Oh, and just so you know personally I love single-portion quiches: they are the perfect size for one guest and they look great on the plate. That’s why, for this recipe, I used a 6-tart pan, with each individual well having a diameter of 4 ½ inches.

Ingredients:

1 ½ sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
8 oz fresh green beans
3 ½ Tbsp of extravirgin olive oil
1 leek
3 eggs
¾ cup whole milk
¾ heavy whipping cream
0.3 lb crumbled goat cheese
24 pitted seasoned kalamata olives
salt
ground black pepper
nutmeg

Directions:

Wash the green beans and cut off both ends. In a medium pot, heat some water until it boils, add the beans and keep boiling for 4 minutes. Strain the beans, rinse with iced water (to stop the cooking process and retain the green color) and cut them into ½ inch pieces. In a medium skillet, heat 2 ½ Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, add the beans, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add 2 Tbsp of water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

Cut off the green top of the leek and the root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the two halves well under water, being careful to leave them intact. Place each half, with the flat side facing down, on a chopping board.

Slice the leeks thinly and evenly with your knife so that you end up with thin strips. In a medium skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, add the leek, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add ½ cup of water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

In a bowl, put 3 eggs, the whole milk, the heavy cream, add some salt and season with black pepper and nutmeg (to taste).

Whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat the pan wells with butter.

Lay the sheets of pastry on a floured surface. If there is any crack in the pastry, press together to seal and roll over the sealed part so that you have a smooth sheet.

Cut each pastry sheet into four 5×5″ squares. Place the pastry squares in the tart wells, neatly shaping the pastry into tart shells. Cut off any excess pastry with a sharp knife.

Using a spoon, put some leek into each tart shell, spreading it out evenly. Then, add some beans, spreading them out evenly. Cut 4 olives in half and put them on top of the beans. With a spoon, add some goat cheese and finally pour the egg mixture.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, let the quiches cool down a little and serve while they are still warm. Enjoy!  🙂

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.