Friday, May 11, 2012

Paccheri and cheese with peas and mint

After many weeks of threatening without delivering, it is actually raining in the Metroplex. This is farmerspeak for "Yay, day off!!"

I made this so long ago, I had wanted to recommend it to you guys for Easter. Obviously, I'm still trying to work out my farm/blog/life balance... bear with me. Anyway, this is a great little pasta, perfect for a gathering as part of a buffet since it's not the kind of thing you want to make an entire meal of; it's yet another glorified mac and cheese, really. Fresh in-shell peas are still in big glorious piles at Central Market, and they just scream "eeeee spring!" to me. (And as of this morning, they finally have ramps too! Eeeeeee SUPER SPRING!) Peas and mint are a classic combination, of course, made all the more interesting with a few Italian cheeses: Parmesan, Fontina, and ricotta (although ricotta is not technically a cheese). 

I'd never baked pasta in a springform pan before, but it works perfectly and gives you great built-in presentation for the table, just pop it up onto cake stand and cut into wedges. Lovely! But the best part is all the crispy edges. Because you butter and coat the inside of the pan with finely grated Parmesan, you get lots of wonderful savory brown crunchy bits. So good. 

I should note that I halved the original recipe as written below, so it only filled my springform pan halfway and wasn't as nice and tall as the one photographed in Bon Appetit. I should have used a smaller pan. Be smarter than me. Other than that, I changed only a few steps to streamline.

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus a pat to grease the pan
3/4 cup finely freshly grated Parmesan, plus about 1/3 cup to dust the pan
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (the recipe calls for whole, but I used the 2% I always have around and it was perfectly fine)
1/2 cup shredded fontina
1 small egg
8 oz dried paccheri rigati or rigatoni 
1 cup freshly shelled English peas
1 cup roughly chopped arugula
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped mint, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup ricotta
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. Butter a smaller-than-9 inch springform pan and dust with the 1/3 finely grated Parmesan, saving whatever shakes out for the top.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk while cooking for 2 minutes, then gradually add the milk. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook until thickened, which the original recipe claims will take 20 minutes but only took mine 10 at the most. Remove from the heat and stir in the Fontina and 3/4 cup of Parmesan until smooth. Let it cool for a minute and whisk in the egg (or temper it in a bowl with a little hot cheese and then pour back into the saucepan). Taste (try not to just mop it all up with a piece of crusty bread and call it a day) and add kosher salt if necessary. Definitely give it a good grind of fresh black pepper. 

When the water is boiling, salt it generously and cook your pasta according to the package directions. When there are 2 minutes left of cooking time, add the peas and allow to cook for 1 more minute, then drain everything. The pasta will cook the rest of the way in the oven. 

In a large bowl, combine the cheese sauce, arugula, parsley, mint, and lemon zest. Add the pasta and peas and stir to thoroughly combine, then add the ricotta and only loosely fold through, so there are little pockets of ricotta throughout the pasta. Transfer into the springform pan and top with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes. 

Let it rest for 10 minutes before taking off the ring, then sprinkle with fresh parsley and mint to garnish. 

Serves 4, more like 6 as part of a bigger buffet. 

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