One of the Saturday morning rituals at our house is to watch the mélange of cooking shows on our local public television channel, KQED. Many times we are inspired to take dishes that are prepared on the show, dissect the ingredients and give a critical personal analysis of the cooking techniques used in their preparation… and ultimately create something deliciously new! This past Saturday proved to be one of those days.
We watched one of our favorite chefs prepare a Mediterranean-inspired pasta dish rich in cheeses and resplendent with a variety of mushrooms, briefly baked in au gratin dishes in a hot oven. Since we both love great cheeses and the wonderful earthiness of mushrooms our attentions became focused. At the end of the segment we looked at each other and said simultaneously and emphatically, “What? No garlic…?”
This dish, 4-Cheese Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, is the exquisite, velvety and flavorful result… with crunch! Admittedly, this decadent marriage of ingredients is sinfully rich in calories… but what a spectacular way in which to occasionally indulge! Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, tangy goat cheese, creamy ricotta and nutty fontina add the smooth complexity of their flavors to beautifully sautéed golden chanterelle, shiitake and porcini mushrooms. Seasoned with fresh thyme and minced garlic, the mushrooms are folded together with fresh cream, al dente orecchiette and… the surprise ingredient… Swiss chard. Topped with crunchy savory bread crumbs this dish is a must for those who love pasta… for those who love cheese… and for those who love mushrooms!
4-Cheese Baked Pasta with Mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 400°. Place in a small glass bowl:
- 1-1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
Cover with water and place in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Set the bowl to the side and allow the porcinis to rehydrate, approximately 20 – 30 minutes. Place in a large mixing bowl:
- 1 8-oz log goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, packed
- 1 C shredded fontina
- 1 C ricotta
Clean and trim the stems, then cut into 1/4-inch slices:
- a 10 – 12-oz combination of golden chanterelles and shiitake mushroom caps
Fill a pasta pot with water and bring to a boil, then salt the water. Meanwhile, as the pasta water heats, melt in a heavy 12-inch skillet over moderate heat:
- 8 T (1 stick) unsalted sweet cream butter
When the butter has melted and begins to bubble add:
- the sliced mushrooms
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
Toss to coat then add:
- 6 whole garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/2 bunch thyme leaves, stems stripped and discarded
- the reconstituted porcinis, drained and coarsely chopped
Chef’s Note: Reserve and refrigerate the porcini liquid for future use. Don’t throw it away… it is filled with flavor! Add to sauces and gravies for an extra dimension of flavor.
Sauté until the mushrooms are beginning to brown. Remove from the heat and set to the side.
When the salted pasta water has returned to a boil add:
- 1 1-lb box orecchiette
Parboil for 8 minutes, then drain.
Chef’s Note: The manufacturer’s recommended cooking time for this pasta is 11 minutes. The pasta however, should be al dente… and it will finish cooking during the time it is in the oven.
- 1 bunch Swiss chard leaves, stems removed
Heat in a medium pan on the stove or in a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave til hot:
- 3 C heavy cream
To the large mixing bowl containing the cheeses, add:
- the hot parboiled pasta
- the Swiss chard
- the hot cream
Mix well and season to taste with:
- salt and white pepper
Transfer to a baking dish. Process into crumbs:
- sourdough bread or baguette to total 2 – 2-1/2 cups
Chef’s Note: For this recipe fresh bread works fine! Cut sliced bread into pieces and pulse in the food processor until desired crumb size is achieved.
- 2 T unsalted butter, melted
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 C chopped parsley
- 3/4 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
Mix well to combine all ingredients. Sprinkle over pasta casserole:
Bake in preheated 400° oven for 35 minutes. The top will be golden brown… and the pasta bubbly:
Serve piping hot with a crisp salad… greens with arugula are a marvelous accompaniment. The pepperiness of the arugula is superb with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the suave velvety tones of the cheeses… Bon Appetit!
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